James Governor's Monkchips

Businesses Don’t Demand Industrial Strength Technology

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And in many cases nor should they. Ed Brill picked up on the should IBM expand its purview to include “consumers” argument, by pointing to some recent statements by IBM Software Group boss Steve Mills. Apparently Mills said:

“There is a level of industrial strength that’s demanded in business,” Mills said. “There’s a very different and distinct set of characteristics for these kinds of technologies in business as compared to the stateless public Internet. We can’t confuse these things.”

IBM may not confuse these things but the market evidently does. I am a bit worried because I have heard nearly identical arguments from IBM before before in dismissing Microsoft as “not enterprise class”. Many industry analysts, reporters and IT people in the 1995-2001 timeframe would dismiss the latest Microsoft technologies- oh no they aren’t enterprise class, SQL server doesn’t scale, and so on. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Enterprises kept buying this software and it continued to become more scalable. ActiveDirectory – doesn’t scale. unhuh. Windows Server doesn’t scale. Right. Yup. But enterprise kept buying and deploying.

Well the internet today is what Microsoft was in 1995. Immature in some areas perhaps, but growing up fast. Ironically today Microsoft uses the very same arguments against open source that IBM used to use against Windows, but to no avail. Buyers aren’t looking for a stamp that says “industrial strength”, they are looking for a technology to get the job done, and immature technologies become mature techologies over time. Good enough remember. The simple fact is that in many cases “industrial strength” just means overkill. Industrial strength purchasing patterns create barriers to entry, but these are also barriers to participation in the network. Was Linux industrial strength when IBM first crowned it ready for the enterprise? Nope. QED. Ready or not here comes Google.

One of Ed’s commenters, Jeff Picco says:

Interesting article and comments. The company I work for is expected to hit 200,000 users by the end of the year and we are fighting the “consumerization of IT” big time. In fact, it’s so strong that we are starting to lose some key battles because of costs. Not the cost of Lotus product, but because the business units will use their credit card to buy services from their vendor or choice while paying full retail because they can’t get the product/service/support internally using the enterprise selected vendors.

To add fuel to the fire, the inclusion of client side Java in some products is causing people to move to other competing technologies that have better backwards compatibility. (sorry – current sore point of mine)

Another point that has been raised is a “quality of life” for the end users, meaning that if they can use products at work that they use it home it will make them more comfortable and hopefully more productive. We are all about making people feel good, ya know. So, the Outlook at home argument is still there and a win for the other team.

Google is another big discussion topic. No, we aren’t going that direction today, but it will be used at the weapon of choice when talking to IBM, MS and the others when discussing tech roadmaps, feature sets, tech requirements and price.

We are even thinking of providing the “best” two or three solutions per segment internally and letting the adoption rates dictate what we use. Expensive? Yes, but eventually it will find the solution that works best for our user base, legal and security and give us the user confidence to shut down the outside services. Of course, that is just a theory still.

Meanwhile Henry Bestritsky says:

I just spoke with a friend of mine that runs a 100K+ Notes shop and we are both of the same opinion that 5 years from now Google will be a huge competitor to Exchange and Notes. IMHO users will be living out of the “clowd” not only for email but for CRM, ERP and more. Ed, please do not make the mistake of calling Google a 5 user solution. You cannot continue to undersestimate them and should treat them as a real threat now before it’s too late. You are correct that the trend is towards web-based mail for personal use. Windows 98 had Outlook Express for personal use and look where Exchange is now.

disclosure: IBM is a client. Microsoft is a client.


  1. And looking one generation further out: the 3D internet as currently exemplified in Second Life is where Microsoft was in perhaps 1992. Oddly enough IBM is one of the companies that seems to be getting involved there as a long-term investment rather than as a short-term marketing play.

  2. Sounds like it’s about results again. 🙂

  3. Sounds like an example of the Innovator’s Dilemma–the “good enough” product improving to keep up with customer requirements while undercutting the “better than required” product on price. This lesson should be learned by now.

  4. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and we all look at things through the lens of our experience. In this case, I’d suggest you’re retro-fitting facts to suit an argument I certainly did NOT see in that timeframe:

    “Many industry analysts, reporters and IT people in the 1995-2001 timeframe would dismiss the latest Microsoft technologies- oh no they aren’t enterprise class, SQL server doesn’t scale, and so on.”

    MSFT was not dismissed per se but as I’m sure you’ll recall, there was a battle royal over databases in particular and that at least up to SQLServer 6, MSFT was very much a bit player with dubious credentials.

    That changed when the product stepped up several notches in terms of features, functions and yes…scalability across a number of dimensions.

    So while the general argument holds some pointers to what *might* happen, I’m not buying into Google Enterprise just yet.

    But to the more substantive point – what do you mean by ‘industrial strength?’ That’s a loaded term I could apply in equal measure to a 50 person business or a 100K person business. Folk I am dealing with on the buy side don’t think that way. They want mature products where 80-90% functionality and stability are proven. That, to them, is industrial strength, and is what they will buy.

    Hence today, no-one thinks about MSFT as anything other than a seasoned player on baseline technologies needed to run the business – at least up to a certain point.

    Oracle and SAP posturing aside (of course.)

  5. Having worked with Microsoft technologies directly in the mid-90’s, I can assert that their software (think pre-4.0 NT and pre SQL Server 6.0) DIDN’T scale past, say 20-30 users. They really didn’t have it together on an enterprise scale until around 2000. And your point on these lines was what, again?

  6. […] Governor made a similar point a few weeks ago, when discussing IBM  “industrial strength” and on […]

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