IBM Impact, Big Blue’s annual service oriented architecture (SOA) shindig for customers and partners held in Las Vegas this week, was a model of Big Company corporate messaging. The broad story was pretty technical – but with IBM’s Smart Planet agenda at work – there were also plenty of broad business and societal perspectives to think about.
Gerry Mooney is the guy tasked with managing IBM efforts around the US economic stimulus plan. In his main tent keynote session on Tuesday he used a phrase that got under my skin.
“We need to create a legacy for the 21st century.”
Think about it for a second. Are we finally set to reclaim the word “legacy” from connotations of failure? The question has a personal relevance. When I was a reporter in the 1990s my news editor used to jokingly refer to me as “legacy boy”. I had the mainframe beat, and so had to cover all the companies and technologies like Boole and Babbage, job scheduling, MPE, SSA, SNA, VAX, virtualisation, VMS and so on. Anything “legacy” was handed over to me to cover. No problem. Of course – now, 15 years after I came into the business most of the cool new companies my colleagues at the time covered have long receded into history, sucked into the long maw of tech industry mergers and acquisitions. Not so IBM. Not so IBM’s mainframe, z.
Over time I grew to realise that “legacy boy” was a badge of honour, not an insult. What is more, the mainframe has contributed a lot of dollars to my coffers over the years. Not bad for something “dead”. As the current recession has kicked in the mainframe continues to win new customers and new workloads in a way that not even IBM mainframe executives truly believed 10 years ago.
Legacy technology always seemed an overly negative term. After all, if I had a great aunt Maud that left me a legacy I would be darned happy about it. But legacy has been unambiguously used as a pejorative term in the tech industry. Feeble reframing efforts emerged such as “heritage” technology. For someone that loves language as much as I do however, the idea of legacy meaning “bad” always seemed dissonant.
The Legacy Turning Point: Stimulus
Well perhaps the the legacy turning point has been reached. A legacy is a good thing, one that should not be squandered. IBM’s Mooney, in his speech on Smart Planet and economic stimulus, squarely made the point that after the Great Depression huge capital expenditure projects left America with a positive legacy of new dams, parks, roads and essential public infrastructure that stood the country in good stead throughout the 20th century.
We mustn’t waste the money we’re (printing and) throwing around today. Whether or not you agree with the details of the current economic stimulus package, it’s clear that much of America’s infrastructure is creaking. Road bridges, for example, are in an absolutely parlous state, as are dykes, as Katrina showed us all too clearly. The legacy of the New Deal is evidently running out, so its surely time to build a new one.
Food on The Table In Tough Times
IBM is a company that is built to last. America can learn some valuable lessons from one of its greatest industrial champions. At this point I will note that IBM is RedMonk’s biggest client. The outstanding performance of the firm in this excruciatingly tough financial environment has been, I must admit, somewhat of a relief. The way I see it RedMonk is feeding 3 kids now, with the arrival of Tom Raftery at the firm last year, with his two lovely little boys, joining my own son as a RedMonk dependent, so we need to keep the revenues coming in. Our man in Austin, Coté, and his lovely wife Kim are planning to bring us another mouth to feed in the near future.
I take my responsibilities as a shareholder very seriously indeed – we all need to pay the bills, and put food on the table for our families. At RedMonk we don’t hire people for a year, we hire them for the long term – which is one reason we grow so darned slowly. The strategy has held us in good stead though, and I thank my business partner Stephen for keeping his feet on the brakes over the years. Some other analyst firms had been using rolling lines of credit to make payroll- bad idea. Since November 2002 when we founded RedMonk we have never borrowed a dollar. Of course being a people services business we don’t have significant capital outlay to worry about; we are certainly not capital intensive – but Stephen still makes an awesome risk averse chief operations officer.
Smart Planet, Stuff That Matters
IBM may be cautious, it may take its time to turn in a new direction, it may sometimes seem a little out of touch, but no bloody wonder- its building a legacy. If you were Sam Palmisano, the company’s current CEO, you wouldn’t take unnecessary risks either. Built to last – indeed.
With over a hundred years of history IBM has been here before, and it seems to be making the right moves in the face of some brutal challenges. Other firms have fallen apart under less stress.
Its time for all of us to work our collective asses off to dig ourselves out of a hole, and i make no apology if that sounds socially minded. The recession is just one manifestation of some of the short-sightedness wreaking havoc with so many environments around the world. Its time to build some alternative approaches. Tim O’Reilly – one of the guys in this business I most admire, has been beating a new drum lately. Rather than talking about Web 2.0 his new mantra is Work On Stuff That Matters.
Tim and IBM’s core narratives are evolving in similar ways. Just as is IBM moving from a technical discussion, SOA, to a societal one, Smart Planet, Tim is also talking more about really big issues and less about bits and bytes.
Proud to Be Legacy Boy
I am prouder than ever to be “legacy boy”, and its nice to know that Mr Mooney is doing such a fine rebranding job for the term. We all have a role to play. Now, more than ever, we need to Work On Stuff That Matters. Ignore Everybody. Get Excited and Make Things.
For too long we have confused wealth creation with increases in debt. Our environmental credit card debt grows by the day. This tiny dot of blue and green is fragile. Legacy is not a bad thing, its the very best thing. It is something we leave to those that come after us.
special thanks to Matt Jones, Dopplr’s design genius, for the Get Excited and Make Things image.