IBM and the Upstarts

October 8, 2013

I read that some folks think IBM can challenge Google in search. I offered my view of that interesting idea in the write up “Google Vulnerable to IBM Watson: Interesting Sort Of.” To add some support to my assertion that IBM may have a tough time knocking Google out of the ad search ball park is a report that Amazon stomped Big Blue in a Washington DC deal.

Navigate to “Cloud Computing Judge Rules for Amazon Web Services over IBM in CIA Cloud Case.” If the story is accurate, Amazon and its Web services operation won a deal for cloud computing infrastructure for the US intelligence community.

I don’t want to get into my concerns about the stability, performance, and engineering underpinnings of Amazon’s cloud operation. What I want to highlight is that IBM has thousands of folks working Washington DC and its environs. When I lived in DC, I tried to avoid Route 355 and Quince Orchard Road to escape the traffic jam caused by IBM Federal Systems’ workers heading to and from work. IBM has altered its “everyone has a desk and a cube” policy, but there are lots of IBMers in the DC area.

Amazon, on the other hand, has a smaller number of folks walking the now shuttered green hallways. And Amazon is a consumer outfit that has designs on plump government gigs. Some of those in the US government have had their eye on Amazon for many years. Does anyone remember that now discontinued function that allowed a person to see the books that workers at companies had purchased? I do. Nifty stuff indeed.

Regardless of the logic used by the US Court of Federal Claims, IBM may have lost a significant, prestigious deal to the WalMart of the Internet. If the contract goes to Amazon, IBM’s legal eagles will become active. Amazon take heed: Eagles can kill deer. Reversals do happen, so I am pointing out that IBM will have to find a way to win over upstarts like Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, etc.

When it comes to Google, IBM will have to do more than punch the PR button about Watson as a search system. Winning a game show on TV which uses post production is one thing. Choking off the life of Googzilla is quite another in my opinion.

If IBM does not start winning sprints against these upstarts, IBM’s stakeholders may become less and less comfortable with IBM’s traditional place on top of the revenue league table. As chaotic as Amazon and other upstarts are in their approach to technology, IBM has to close deals.

Elephants can dance but can they search and deliver tasty cloud services to the US government customers? Anyone out there remember IBM’s search efforts? Anyone remember IBM’s approach to its online store? I do. Lessons may be there I believe.

Stephen E Arnold, October 8, 2013

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