Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Choice of Not Being an Elephant

Lou Gerstner described in his book Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?: Leading a Great Enterprise through Dramatic Change
how to make even a very large organization more agile, more adaptive to changing conditions. IBM had no other choice since some of their old business models stopped working. When I speak with people who were decision makers in the 1970s they unanimously told me that there was a time where the sales guys in dark blue dresses almost walked in to their customers and just said "sign down here". The customer had little choice.

Even if these stories are exaggerated - I'm not a sales guy but I'm sure their stories are always true! - there is one interesting aspect to this. I'm also mentioning this since I just came back from a trade show and there I spoke to a manager of one of the largest vendors in that particular industry. Somehow that person made me think of those stories from the past about IBM.

Like IBM in the IT industry this person's company is a key player in their industry. And the way the person came across was almost as if he was saying: "We know what is good for the industry, for you. Just do what we say, sign here and everything will be right." Sounds to me a little bit like "We are the center of the universe and all other companies better lign up around us."

The conversation left me wondering by when their CEO will write a book about how she had to turn their company around? Maybe they haven't noticed yet that the downturn in the industry probably requires them changing their attitude as well. But maybe I'm totally wrong and they still have full order books and the customers are lining up to the horizon. Not long ago, however the news were saying they are in the process to make a large number of people redundant.

That doesn't sound to me like full order books... The news of redundancies along with the attitude of the person I spoke to appear more like a company that isn't yet set up flexible and adaptive enough. Maybe reading Lou Gerstner's book helps.

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1 comment:

crabbydog said...

Your comment about IBM in the 1970s is not exaggerated. I consulted at a large UK insurer in the early 1980s - IBM had a sales team co-located at the customer's offices. When IBM had new or updated product they told the customer what to buy and they did so. When the customer had any issues with their set up they contacted the sales team, who sold them consultancy and the consultants told the customer how much extra equipment to buy.

When I was assigned to organise some new printing capabilities for a new offshoot of the insurer I reviewed non ibm product and was promptly told not to.

IBMs dominance of the computing market was far more extensive than Microsoft's. IBM dominated almost every branch of computing until the early 1980s - mainframes, PCs, mini computers, many specialised systems most software. And what they did not own they influenced because of total ownership of the platform.

There was choice, but the business market chose to be safe within IBMs comforting embrace. Their support was exemplary (if costly) and people knew that with IBM they were safe.

I believe at one time IBM provided around 70% of everything related to IT globally.

During the 1980s as innovation gathered pace IBM stopped innovating and was eaten alive by the sharks of Microsoft, Oracle, SAP etc.

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