IBM and Microsoft: Random Interesting Observation

I am down at IBM Connect (formerly Lotusphere) and was having lunch with four gentlemen from Sogeti, the global consulting company. We were talking about the evolution of IBM ‘s business.

I’ve been following IBM and Microsoft professionally for 25-1/2 years now. It dawned on me during this conversation that IBM had undergone an almost complete transformation while Microsoft has done none. Microsoft, then and now, is a Windows and Office company. They’ve increasingly become a provider of enterprise solutions, but still, it’s Windows and Office. Ironic, isn’t it, that the historic champion of the user, has become slow moving and enterprise-focused even while the market has embraced the consumerization of IT.

Meanwhile, the IBM I first knew was… well, at least the mainstream is a constant. But they’ve moved from hardware to services and software. From big enterprise systems (e.g., DB2) to a vast array of tools, middleware and platforms. (As an aside, it delights me that my spell checker accepts “middleware,” as I was in the room at Gartner when that term was coined.) And even the things they’ve always done have been refreshed and repositioned, although they might argue that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Anyhow, it’s interesting to think that the company we think of as the innovative upstart — Microsoft — is actually the stagnant one, while the one we think of as the stodgy old company –IBM — it’s probably the best example of a big company transforming and continually reinventing itself. Master narratives are slow to change. Maybe it’s time to rewrite this one.