IBM Misses the Thumpers

In Frank Herberts great science fiction novel, Dune, the Fremen had the advantage that they could live anywhere including the many desert regions of the planet. There secret was Thumpers that allowed them to not only detect but also summon the  dangerously huge SandWorms. This ability allowed the Fremen to track  and control the most important trends in their desert dominated world. IBM is missing its Thumpers.

There is no doubt that the company is acutely aware of the trend that computing technology in ever more sophisticated automated forms dominates innovation and economic opportunity. Their many ads in the trade press and on TV clearly indicate that. But IBM has abandoned its Thumpers. Starting  with former CEO Lou Gerstner and completed by CEO Sam Palmisano IBM has gotten out of all the major consumer marketplaces it was in formerly[printing, desktops, laptops,  etc]. But Consumers are the Thumpers of  IT innovation and have been so since the 1970’s.  They lead well ahead of almost all organizations the adoption of new,  people-facing IT technologies. IT is constantly playing catch up.

It used to be the 60-40 rule but in the past decade it has become the 80-20 rule for CIOs and IT operations – 80% of the budget is spent on just operating and maintaining sometimes  rapidly obsoleting systems. With only 20% of their budgets available for new IT innovations and  investments, CIOs have little time for social media, Web 2.0 JavaScript Frameworks, or all the varieties of smartphones. But employees bring Blackberries and Facebook and Twitter to work, and organizations are having a hard time keeping up. Most have very reluctantly embraced if not completely missed the Social Media and Mobile revolutions.

So now when I watch those IBM ads  with their people proclaiming with enthusiasm all the advanced projects they are working on during the Sunday morning Meet the Press or  This Week news programs, I sort of wonder – “yeah I know you are working on new ways of delivering energy efficiency or making hospitals more IT effective – but what level of the state of the art in technology are you aware of or allowed to bring to bear on these problems?”