I just got back Connect 09, IBM’s annual Software Group (SWG) analyst event. After a couple of days of intensive briefings and discussions across the entire IBM Software portfolio its hard to know where to start in summing up what I learned. Our man in Austin, Coté, has already put together some sweet roundups of the information and themes covered.
What I would say is that, in agreement with Coté, that the event was meaty, and I don’t just mean burger slides (that is, architectural stack diagrams). Signal to noise was high. Speaker after speaker had something to say, real products and customer problems to talk to. Smarter Planet informed the event, without being splatted over every slide.
Less vertical industry focus was good for the audience. Many of us have spent a career learning tech, only to be told by IBM last year that verticals were now the lens for viewing all tech purchases.
Well this year IBM went back to basics, with a more horizontal integration story. Good job. I know this decision came right from the very top. And the boss likes dorking out just as much as any industry analyst.
In terms of managing the event I want to particularly commend Sarita Torres, who runs SWG AR, and John Simonds, her point man for managing Connect this year. The event had flow. A cursory glance at the #connect09 hashtag makes it pretty clear the audience got a lot out of it.
At this point I should say that what follows is clearly not a Connect roundup. I will get some specifics down tomorrow.
The House That Steve Built
Steve Mills is IBM SWG Senior Vice President and Group Executive. Connect, now it its eighth year, is very much his event, just as SWG is very much Steve Mills’ organisation.
He built SWG from the ground up. I remember driving back from meeting him for the first time in the Autumn of 1999 with Jonathan Eunice, my boss at the time. I turned to Jonathan while we were driving down to the airport to fly back to Nashua:
“You know what. I think IBM is actually serious about software.”
The statement might seem ridiculous given IBM had already made major acquisitions, in the shape of Tivoli and Lotus. But at the time it was not a given that SWG would be a real competitor to the likes of Oracle and Microsoft. IBM was a hardware company, right? IBM was a services company, right? IBM clearly wasn’t a software company, or financial analysts would have given the firm a decent multiple. Mills had an awful lot to prove, and not everyone at IBM was convinced.
Fast forward ten years and software is at the very heart of the IBM mission. While other firms went into this recession claiming they would win market share, IBM kept fairly quiet, but started turning the screws on competitors. It has been a very good downturn for IBM, as it mops up stimulus dollars, but the upside as we emerge should be even better.
IBM has a sense of mission, a sense of purpose, that goes far beyond crushing competitors, or putting a PC in every home and office. The mission can be summed up in two words – Smart Planet. IBM has had successful ad campaigns before, but not ones that drove opened doors to governments and boardrooms in the way Smart Planet has.
Nothing New in IT
Its important to note that the core tenets of Smart Planet are nothing new. Instrumentation, Intelligence, Interconnection. Indeed, the IBM Software leadership team has been banging on about the same key themes since, well, forever. Probably my clearest single memory of meeting the team (which not incidentally is largely the same today) back in 1999 came from Danny Sabbah, now general manager of Rational (of which more later). He told me:
There is nothing new in IT
And there really isn’t. My own version of the dictum is implement, reimplement, rinse, repeat. People tend to think of Tim Berners Lee as some kind of godlike genius, who came from nowhere with a coherent view of the networked world, and a markup language to support it. But if you read Vannevar Bush’s seminal work on the Memex in 1945, you realise that Berners-Lee’s achievement was not vision, but implementation.
A stack of index cards, hyper linked throughout in a great skein of memory. Vannevar saw the WWW before it existed.
Well – if there is nothing new in IT then IBM’s expertise is just as relevant as it ever has been. More importantly the expertise of the team running the business is just as relevant as ever. And these guys have serious continuity. No other company in tech has people that stay in one place for so long.
These guys cut their teeth in mainframe tech. Now they are reimplementing for a global networked world of sensors, processing and storage. A world in which software is the basis for potable water availability. Where high availablility describes utility networks rather than computers.
Cloud- business as usual. Virtualisation- invented here. Non-relational data stores… That’s what IBM used to have before one of its mathematicians, Edgar Codd, invented Relational Theory, the basis for modern databases and SQL (and Oracle’s SQL franchise).
IBM is confident. Mills is confident. SWG is confident. It really showed through at Connect this year. Expect some specifics tomorrow.
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