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IBM Couldn’t Care Less About Being Cool. But Should We?

by Daryl Plummer  |  August 18, 2009  |  10 Comments

For years I have had to interact with IBM as the “Big Dog” or the “Stodgy Legacy Guys” or the “Mainframe guys” or some such appellation that exists somewhere outside the range of any sense of coolness. The last three years have seen a change in the “grand old dame” of IT and I have to wonder if they suddenly – got game.

If you’re wondering, all of this comes from a dream I had last night when I fell asleep with the David Letterman show blaring on my TV. So, then I start dreaming and wind up doing a Letterman routine about IBM in my dream (apparently, a lot of IBM commercials run during letterman – go figure). For those not interested in Letterman or my dreams, just snip on the doted lines below and jump down to the section called “Now here’s the real part”.


So, in the dream I had delusions of grandeur and decided I was letterman and I would do a “Top 10” list about IBM. I mean, even the real Letterman had done one about the “Top 10 signs you work for IBM“, so I figured I was good to go. Even in the dream, Paul (the venerable sidekick) tried to talk me out of it but I did it anyway. And here is the result. Remember, it was just a dream.

Top Ten Reasons Why IBM couldn’t care less about being “Cool”

10.“Competition? What competition?”

9.“So you bought Java, what do you want me to do about it?”

8.“Would you kvetch about “cool” if YOU owned Hursley Park?”

7.“We ran out of standards committees to lead.”

6.“So what if Gartner coined the term SOA. We turned it into coin.”

5.“When we learned cool vendors don’t always make a lot of revenue, we said, ‘Screw it'”

4.“IBM means business because if you write it backwards, the initials almost spell out MBA!”

3.“Yeah…open source…it’s free…suuuure!”

2.“Talk to us again when we run out of other companies to buy.”

And the number one reason, why IBM couldn’t care less about being cool…

1.“IBM Global Services. Our motto is: ‘Don’t hate the player! Hate the Game!'”

By that time I had to wake up because in the dream several guys in blue pinstriped suits riding Gecko’s while talking on iPhones and screaming “there’s an App for that!” were advancing on me in two by two cover formation. Damned commercials!


So, here’s the real part.

IBM has started to deliver some interesting solutions. Sure, they are a big company with lots of issues but I found myself this week wondering if we should give them more credit than we do for some of the things they get right. Even our competition has done this recently so I don’t feel alone in suggesting that a number of areas warrant something more than just tacit approval. 

  • Business space is a credible and interesting introduction from a company with all the technological pieces to pull off a business operations platform. Sure, it could be less techie-oriented but when you see it, you might want to keep looking.
  • BlueWorks is new but even BPM mavens are starting to take a look with an excited sense of hope for something that actually solves problems they have had to deal with for years. Others got there first (Lombardi, Software AG) but IBM is starting to make some really interesting noises around this “BPM platforms in the Cloud” thing. Check out a take by Bruce Silver from BPMS Watch.
  • SOA: IBM made SOA a major marketing theme and it has worked for them. Sure, there are people who question the success of SOA but those people are apparently not actually looking at what is happening out there. SOA has entered the mainstream and IBM has ridden it there.
  • LotusLive is just cool. Collaboration, people!
  • Smarter Planet is an interesting way to talk about the ecology, business, people, styles of work, and technologies all rolled into one. Usually those kind of big campaigns go nowhere but at least this one starts with real world examples of stuff that the last 40 years of computing has made possible.
  • Cloudburst….well….nobody’s perfect. But at least they got in the game. Oracle? SAP? Please say something soon. Please?

Now, I await friends and associates from other major technology companies to comment on this but I want to hear it. Post a comment to tell me whether or not you think IBM got cooler in the last three years or if you think they haven’t changed.

If I get enough responses I just might do a Top 10 list about Microsoft’s Cloud strategy – I think they may have something there.

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Category: cartoon  cloud  comic  emerging-phenomena  emerging-trends  music  service-orientation  soa  soa-governance  

Tags: blueworks  cloud  cloud-computing  cloudburst  david  ibm  late-night  letterman  lotus-live  microsoft  oracle  sap  smarter-planet  soa  

Daryl C. Plummer
Managing VP & Gartner Fellow
18 years at Gartner
35 years IT industry

Daryl Plummer is vice president, chief of Research and chief Gartner Fellow. Mr. Plummer manages the Gartner Fellows Program, which is designed to allow senior analysts the opportunity to explore new research ideas and to elevate… Read Full Bio

Thoughts on IBM Couldn’t Care Less About Being Cool. But Should We?

  1. I love it Daryl, great post…

    IBM is absolutely no cooler than it was 40 years ago. Neither am I (I just turned 41)

    But after the topsy turvy Internet bubble and crazy economy, it’s very hip to be very square. Boring is in.

    IBM makes no effort to be cool. That’s why they are cool.

    Oh, the pot belly on men is back too..,31648/

    Best Regards always,

  2. Steve Able says:


    Letterman might want to use your Top Ten List!

    It is better than some of his lists…

    Having visited Hursley Park several times myself, you do have to admit the place is “Wicked Kool”… Not sure who really “Owns” the place.

    Just another chronic, whining complainer from Oklahoma that wants to be Kool and leave a comment on your site!


  3. Vince says:

    Hey Daryl, this is an excellent top ten list, so funny. I like #2 the best, I think IBM will continue to be dominant in the future and gobble up companies like Pacman. You can cross-post this to our site and link back to your site. We are trying to create a directory for top ten lists where people can find your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

  4. Sandy Carter says:

    Darryl; Once again you nailed it! Of course, SOA is so very alive!

    And have you seen the new version …. of Lotus Notes! It has widgets for LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.

    Stay cool!


  5. Amy Lipton says:

    Hi Darryl – great post and love the comments on BlueWorks !! I personally have never really thought of myself as a stodgy legacy guy – more of a gadgetier.

    Look forward to chatting again soon !


  6. Daryl Plummer says:

    Miko-man, you are too cool for words. Thanks.

  7. Daryl Plummer says:

    Yo, Steve. Ain’t nothing wrong withcomplaining as long as you know you are doing it. I wonder who does own Hursley park?

  8. Daryl Plummer says:

    Thanks, Sandy. I had a big, big client who loves Lotus notes and was worried I would trash it in front of management. hen I started talking about “connections”, colaboration, and social interactiion with Notes, they just started grinning ear to ear. Cool stuff.

  9. Daryl Plummer says:

    Yo Amy. Stodgy you ain’t. But gadgeteers hook up at Comic Con more often than not. See you soon.

  10. Amy Lipton says:

    Daryl – don’t forget that before BPM I ran marketing here for the digital media emerging business opportunity and the media and entertainment industry. So I got all the Comic Con blow by blows from my facebook friends who were there 🙂

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