IBM's software business contributes $20 billion of IBM's revenue and 40 percent of its profits. Suffice to say, it's an important part of Big Blue's market strategy to ensure that the software division performs at or above expectations every year.
Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive, joined IBM in 1974 and has helped shape the software business as its grown to more than 50,000 employees, including 25,000 software developers and 15,000 sales and technical support personnel in more than 150 countries. That total includes the products and personnel from the more than 50 companies IBM has acquired since 2000.
In 2009 alone, IBM acquired no fewer than five companies: Lombardi, a privately held provider of business process management (BPM) software, data discovery software firm Exeros, database security firm Guardium, security provider Ounce Labs, and analytics provider SPSS.
The company also launched a number of cloud-oriented products and services in 2009, including a new lab in Hong Kong, a Cloud Academy program designed to help educators and students pursue cloud-computing initiatives and better take advantage of collaboration technology in their studies; and a number of additions to the LotusLive hosted collaboration service.
In an exclusive interview with CNET News, Mills shared how the company is looking at the technology landscape in 2010 and beyond.
Question: Software strategy is obviously an important part of IBM's business model. How long of a time-to-market horizon does IBM look for with new software products? Mills: We tend to look at product groupings and product families--customers don't use a single product. Enterprises are looking for complete solutions even if they don't buy them all at one time. That means that we're looking for leverage in software we create or acquire--how do the products complement each other and how can plan ahead for what customers need.
As you probably know, IBM is big on process (laughs). The software business is no different, and we have a method to how we develop markets: customer, volume, revenue, and profit. You have to set the baseline to figure out how the product fits into the marketplace, you learn this from talking to customers. Time to market and rapid iteration are important aspects that come into play in relation to the other components but you always learn more in the market from customers than in the lab.
When we look at how well a piece of software is doing, as well as its potential, we look at volume of customers, industries, installed base, etc., and what's the trajectory of the installation. Growth objectives are unique to each product, and you rise on a series of plateaus. You have to fill the gaps that inhibit the growth. And it's not always obvious. We pay a lot of attention to our customers and also the trends in the market.
How does cloud computing play into your technology focus areas? Mills: Cloud computing is a transformative part of the Darwinian IT phenomenon. Many companies are not interested in operating their own infrastructure as they don't see it as a competitive advantage. In which case they want to get the job done at a lower cost. Businesses realize they can grow because of IT and they want to continue to use IT to keep things growing, but that doesn't mean they need to own and manage every piece of their infrastructure.
Companies like American Express, Salesforce.com, and ADP are great examples. We see those types of system designs and customer interactivity as common models. IBM has long offered managed business process services and supported other big enterprise services.
These offerings make logical sense, but they don't always solve every problem. The hybrid public/private model is very appealing to our customers and not dramatically different than using a hosting provider.
Not everyone will be comfortable with the cloud model--it's all part of a continuum. There will be Salesforce.com on one hand, and on the other customers that run everything behind the firewall. Success doesn't mean that corporations will push everything into the cloud but the inherent cost-benefits are there and more companies are interested. That's part of the evolution.
How do you look at open-source projects/products/companies? Mills: The hybrid companies like Red Hat have interesting models for open source. They take all the code and put it together for you, but we tend to look at open source as building blocks for larger solutions. IBM ingests a lot of open-source code and we provide a huge amount of development and engineering expertise to the various projects that we support--like Linux and the Apache server.
We focus a lot of our energy on open standards and platforms. And if there are open source projects that we believe in we'll invest resources to support them. … Read more