The times, they are a’changin’! In the shifting sands of technology, IBM is proving to be the Rock of Gibraltar.
CNN Money just conducted their annual survey of technology and investment experts to determine which 4 technology companies are the best investments in the industry. Apple, Amazon, Google, and IBM are what they describe as “The Four Horsemen of Tech”.
Microsoft and Dell are no longer on that list. And as recently as 2 years ago Research in Motion might have been expected on that list. The CNN article describes the changing of the guard is due to the shift from PCs to mobile and cloud solutions. I think it goes deeper than that.
Apple, Amazon, and Google are all following the same track that led Microsoft to its fame and glory days by riding the fast-but-fickle success opportunities provided by the consumer market. They are simply the latest fashion trends. In this list of top performers, IBM is the dark horse, being the only one not involved in consumer products whatsoever. They also just celebrated their 101st birthday this year. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Rides on the consumer wave are relatively short. Google is 16 years old, Amazon is 18 and Apple is 36, though Apple’s great surge came in the last 6 years starting with the introduction of iOS. For reference, RIM and Dell are 28 years old and Microsoft is 37 and they are already declining. They too, based their success heavily on consumer products and are now feeling the consequences. Yes, RIM’s BlackBerry is intended to be a business tool, but it is a consumer device first and foremost. It is considered even more personal than a personal computer (PC). One might argue that Microsoft also makes software for business, but their primary focus has always been on consumers and their foray into the business product market has depended on consumer-driven brand recognition. Also, because many of their products service both business and consumer needs, they are driven by consumer markets. (See RIM.)
Similarly, the focus that led 3 of the current Four Horsemen to their place in the lineup has a consumer emphasis: mobile devices and advertising. Apple’s iPhone and iPad redefined mobile. Google has Android devices and search (advertising). Amazon is into selling (and advertising) along with the Kindle for a mobile presence. All of them are also dabbling in cloud services for businesses. Then there is IBM, the seasoned veteran of business solutions. What makes them part of this leadership crowd? I isn’t just for their SmartCloud solution, I think it is the fact that they have stayed true to their earliest beginnings. Unlike all of the other players, IBM has focused their attention, with laser beam precision, on the proven stable base of the business market.: They provide business solutions for businesses. IBM has resisted the temptation to cross the line into the consumer market, even at the urging of experts and loyal customers who pushed to have Lotus Notes repackaged for consumers. Doing so in the short term would certainly win consumer approval and thus fend off the consumer-led push for the Microsoft Outlook mail client to be used at both work and home. But that would have forced IBM to chase the whim and fads of consumers rather than staying focused on long-term needs of businesses.
When it comes to technology, IBM is all business.
I predict we will see a rise and fall of all 3 of the consumer-driven horsemen in CNN’s list, replaced with 3 new ones as the what’s-hot list changes. I also predict that IBM, with it’s exclusive commitment to serving up business solutions, will continue to stand at or near the top as it has for decades. For consumer products, you shouldn’t care. But for your business, it matters.