I've read a couple of blog entries recently that seemed to misunderstand some matters related to IBM, enterprise architecture, IT consulting, and some other important IT-related topics. I've decided to spend a few blog entries trying to shed some light on a few common misconceptions.
This first entry was inspired by a post by Microsoft's Rich Turner, where he asserted that IBM doesn't desire to make it's products easy to use. Though I suggest that you read the full post for context
, here's the important quote that I'd like to discuss:
While IBM and others claim that their platforms and technologies are extraordinarily powerful and easy-to-use, they’re making extraordinary revenues from their services divisions. Why? If their products and technologies are so powerful and easy to use, why do customers need so much assistance? Further, what interest would a company making around 50% of their annual revenue through services have in making their products so easy to use that their customers need fewer services? I suggest that there isn’t a true desire within many such companies to truly invest in making their products and technologies easy to use. I also suggest that many such companies perpetuate the concerns of some that new == risky and that new == difficult.
First, let me say that I'm disappointed that someone from a respected partner/competitor like Microsoft would so casually question IBM's commitment to making our products simpler to make our customers more successful. IBM has three corporate values and the first of these is Dedication to every client's success
. We take this value very seriously, and if someone here treated this value as cavalierly as Rich asserts, that person wouldn't work here long.
Other priorities: IBM Software Group has three areas that we're focused on for 2006 and the first of these is to increase the consumability of our products. Though "consumability" isn't my favorite term, the intent is right. To quote from an IBM SWG Intranet page:
... we need to deliver products that are more effective and have immediate value for our customers. Customers need to be able to "consume" our offerings more quickly with greater satisfaction.
Now, if you don't want to take my word for it that IBM wants to make its products easier to use and integrate, that's fine. But let's examine some facts and then see if indeed it's IBM's interest not to simplify.
IBM has three logical business units:
- Software Group - creates software products (WebSphere, Rational, etc.) and does small-scale consulting to support those products.
- Systems and Technology Group - creates hardware (xSeries, etc.) and technology (cell processors, etc.)
- Global Services - provides a whole host of service including application development, maintanence, business consulting, enterprise architecture, application hosting, strategic outsourcing, etc. etc. etc.
Software Group has one Senior VP (Steve Mills) who's basically responsible for making as much money as possible from software licenses and a smaller portion of money from product-specific consulting. Global Services is actually three separate units and is run by three Senior VPs (Ginny Rometty, Mike Daniels, and Bob Moffat) who are responsible for making as much money as they can from service contracts.
All other things being equal, customers prefer to buy software products that will provide the best cost/benefit ratio where the benefit it measured by however the software product helps their business succeed and the cost is the total cost of ownership
. Although clever marketing helps, when a product is not easy to install, easy to integrate, and easy to upgrade over its lifecycle, it drives up the cost part of the cost/benefit ratio, and a customer is more likely to go with a competitor's product. When too many customers buy competitors products, Software Group's revenue and profit go down. Guess what happens when profits and revenue go down? Steve Mills' bonus drops. The GM's of the brands (WebSphere, Rational, etc.) see their bonus drop. The Software Groups sales folks see their bonus drop, and in fact everyone (even we poor developers!) see our bonuses drop.
Now you may make the argument that complex products still help Global Services because they are sometimes the folks that collect on the cost side of the software product cost/benefit ratio. Don't get me wrong - Steve seems like a really nice guy, but I don't think he's so nice that he'd sacrifice his bonus and everyone else in Software Group's bonus, just to help increase the bonuses of Ginny, Mike, and Bob and the Global Service gang. Now in the spirit of full disclosure - I do believe that at the senior exec level, part of the bonus is determined by cross-business unit teaming, but this much less a factor compared to business unit revenue. So ultimately it's a simple matter of organizational structure and incentives; it's in Software Group's interest to make our products simpler. Not to mention that simpler products lead to happier customers and happier customers tend to become long-term customers and buy other IBM products and services over time.
Another point that Rich seems to miss is that IBM Global Services provides services for other vendors' products. Guess who is the largest service provider for Microsoft products? IBM Global Services. Guess who benefits when Microsoft's products don't easily integrate with products from other vendors? IBM Global Services.
What some folks still don't seem to understand about IBM Services is that we don't simply service IBM products - we service Microsoft, Oracle, Sun, HP, and homegrown applications. Lou Gerstner and others realized that we had huge growth opportunities if we provided services that met customers needs, regardless of vendor. Being vendor agnostic is what allowed us to become a $40 billion business in the first place!
So to Rich I say... keep up the good work on InfoCard. I'll respectfully and without sarcasm assert that I expect that you and the rest of the InfoCard team will try your best to make your product functionally rich, yet as simple as possible for customers to use and integrate. But innevitably someone out there will choose InfoCard and, easy though it may be, decide that they need some help installing/configuring/integrating it. When this happens, there's a good chance that they'll ring IBM Global Services.
And we'll be ready to help.