James Governor's Monkchips

IBM Software Group: The Baby Eating Starts Here

Share via Twitter Share via Facebook Share via Linkedin Share via Reddit

One of the things i most admire and like about IBM is that its such a broad church. All views are present (and correct). All views are tolerated. Part of this is down to a 100 year culture of respecting the individual. The company lives diversity; I often think of the Guidry brothers (hello Calvin), all of them black and proud and more than six feet tall, and all working at IBM as software engineers back in the day.

This post is not about race though; its about tribes and the future of IBM. Its about creative destruction and feeling free to play, to associate or disassociate. to couple or not to couple. Freedom of disassociation, if you like. IBM is a federation of tribes in a way that Microsoft isn’t.

Microsoft has some technical diversity and is full of amazingly bright people, but when Microsoft employees talk to each other about drinking the cool-aid its a tacit admission the company pushes towards a more singular vision; one driven largely by the history, character and experiences of leaders such as Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Jim Allchin. These guys have established articles of faith. Dogma. The cathedral is one reason the Scoble phenomenon continues to amaze.

Compare with IBM; there is no linguistic corrolary to “drinking the coolaid” at Big Blue. IBM doesn’t really have an equivalent spiritual leadership. Any day of the week i can talk to mainframe bigots, TPF gurus, Windows and IE Only true believers, J2EE nazis, RPG freaks, unabashed Unix uber alles gnarlheads, and people that think technology doesn’t matter (my big beef with IGS… of course technology matters) . IBM is how i described the future yesterday- “fractured, diverse, legion.” Not much dogma.

There is not really an “IBM line” on any subject technically. Of course IBM has attempted to, and continues to, build frameworks that will notionallly tie everything together – SSA, SNA, Tivoli etc. Sometimes IBM has even succeeded in such endeavors–System 360, for example. I would advise you to read Adam Bosworth on the subject of complexity and arabesques of the Alhambra

So what is the alternative to once and future frameworks, the latest of which is the WS-I stack? I try and keep an eye on the situation. I recently wrote these words:  “IBM could ask Sam Ruby to establish a RESTful service integration strategy. WebSphere is an increasingly powerful platform, but it isn’t always necessary.”

For an argument as to how IBM is already doing this, you should read  Koranteng’s Toli. Restful WebSphere indeed… Well it seems Sam is ready to articulate. This is a very powerful presentation when you consider the context and the billions of dollars at stake.

The more i think about what service oriented architecture means the more i realize loosely coupled has to go beyond lip service. Organizations as much as as architectures must be decoupled, so they can be remixed. Its just so much horse manure to talk about SOA without a formal commitment to loose coupling. That is, open documented interfaces across granular components or services, with no funny business and hidden calls. Interoperability is not just a marketing term. You can’t have SOA and attempt to drive lock in.

The more i think about the problems of SOA the more its clear the culture of a company will be as important in delivering it, from a vendor perspective, as any set of technical assets. Monoliths are not service oriented. But, we can’t break them down without freedom of disassociation. That is why Sam’s work is so important to the future of SWG; he will drive change into the mindset. RedMonk advises enterprises that SOA is not strictly technical, so much as an organizational approach and mindset. What i am now arguing is that cultural change is just as necessary for vendors in the space. If i am right, NetWeaver will get into trouble; SAP just isn’t bazaar enough. 

When IBM first adopted open source technology in the shape of Linux, it was clear the effects would be far reaching and deeply disruptive. But really the disruption is only just beginning. Open source is not just a technology, its a state of mind. IBM’s new SWG meme is Radical Simplicity. PHP as a beneficiary.

All Hail The New Simplicity.

Freedom of Disassociation – no wonder Tim uses the term loyal oppositionist.

Middleware- can i see it? Not if Sam has anything to do with it. But i will be able to view the source code…




  1. Got a headache now!

  2. Just ego-surfing here and noticed this post…

    Thanks for the insight… and yes the culture ostensibly is great and tolerates the diversity of a bazaar.

    That being said, I’d note that there are many who feel like “prophets in the wilderness” and occasionally I do; or maybe it’s simply that not everyone knows how to play the game…

    By the way, Blogger in its infinite wisdom, has disappeared my REST intervention post into the ether… If you want to see what James was pointing at… try this http://koranteng.blogspot.com/2005_03_01_koranteng_archive.html

  3. No dogma at IBM? No cathedral at IBM? IBM culture has such features too and they are older, more subtle and more effective than at new comers like M$FT. For example, IBM is infested by a large and powerful network of Scottish Rite Free Masons, that are technical quacks and political radicals, dangerous warmongers, that think that a nice little war once in a while is good for business. etc. This covert network in IBM does tolerate other views as long as such views do not challenge theirs. Other corporations infested with such networks are EDS and the pre-Enron Andersen Consulting, just to name a few. The IT industry is riddled with covert networks. I have found them everywhere in North America over the 30+ years that I worked in this industry. These networks overlap and vary from extreme quackery (e.g., believing in little green martians) to the big boys (e.g., military intelligence). If you want to look at *culture* in the IT industry, you must consider the covert networks.

  4. The problem for any IT services or product company is that the business models are predicated on conserving complexity. Cringely, bless him, nailed this in a roundabout way when he pointed what made the big SIs weak were their dependency on head count and that consequently outsourcing delivery to India was tactic with a shelf-life problem.

    Simplicity, transparency and adaptability are the scarce resources in the enteprise. Any technology that fosters those properties is by definition disruptive. Technical and architect types frame the debate against the technology as ‘that won’t X’, for some X or another, but technology is not the bottleneck. With the exception of an adequate Grid stack, there’s cheap usable software technology like no other time before. It’s effectively on tap.

    Really the core disruptions have to be in the business and operating models – how you get paid and how you deliver.

    One of my favourite companies are Ryan Air. They based their models on South West Airlines and effectively turned the industry in Europe on its head (just like South West did in the US). Aer Lingus, the national Irish carrier, nearly went to the wall before management realized that moving up the cost ladder wasn’t viable and adjusted their operations accordingly. I don’t see the corrsponding models coming through for the IT industry, certainly not in the spaces you’re talking about. With two notable exceptions, Salesforce and Basecamp, all the Web2.0 plays are mass-consumer. Even Collabnet seems like an optimized way of doing the same old thing. The open source in a box plays are not sufficiently disruptive and they’re in danger of failing if they think the game is making OSS enterprise worthy. The game is to redefine what consitutes enterprise worthy and break the models.

  5. Interesting that Bill mentioned Ryanair, since the following story gave cause for much head-scratching on Friday 😉

    Assault on batteries

    The budget airline Ryanair today took its no-frills approach to new heights by banning its staff from charging their mobile phones at work. In justifying a move likely to underline its Scrooge-like image, Europe’s largest discount airline said it did not believe using a mobile phone charger at work was acceptable.

    oh well… back to lurk mode…

  6. Can you please qualify your remark about IGS:

    “people that think technology doesn’t matter (my big beef with IGS… of course technology matters)”

    IGS has approximately 180,000 employees worldwide. Some of these employees work in business consulting and business transformation and are less concerned with technology than they are with business strategy and business processes. There are also many IGS employees whose purpose in life is to write custom software for clients, migrate applications and hardware to more modern platforms, and design and manage complex data centers. Do you think these people think IT doesn’t matter?

    Even the aforementioned executives in BCS are very aware of how IT can help companies achieve strategic goals and optimize business processes.

    If anything, Global Services is indeed eager to shift its image from that of a pure IT services company to a business *and* IT services firm. Hence the “The Other IBM” marketing campaign.

    But IT is itegral to everything we think about and do. Your comment about IGS saying technology doesn’t matter completely baffles me.

  7. i must have replied to this at the time – perhaps directly. i have had conversations with senior execs in IGS from the BCS that said just that…. that technology doesnt really matter. i think things have changed a bit but its a position i find wrongheaded when it comes from an IBMer

Leave a Reply to jgovernor Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *