Changing Corporate Systems

Recently, I started a new job at IBM. It strangely reminded me of joining Microsoft a decade ago:

  • Running into lots of people I’d worked with in several former lives in several other places
  • Getting a few company-provided things: laptop, car park, business card, credit card and cell phone
  • Becoming a member of a number of extended teams; locally, regionally and globally 
  • Being allocated a set of customers and getting up to speed with their recent account activity

Many folks have told me that tier-one US technology vendors have much more in common than I thought. I’m beginning to see what they mean. At least IBM & Microsoft both have a strong sense of identity built into their culture. They also both have deeply entrenched ways of doing things supported by common worldwide business-processes and a company-standard technology infrastructure.

Throughout the 1990s, Microsoft grew up from being a very-high-growth young company into a more mature, slower-growth company. In the mid-1990s, The Internet in general and the Web in particular was transforming the ICT industry. By 1997, Microsoft was fully engaged in removing paper from its business. Their then-COO (Bob Herbold) led an effort to commonize business process across the Microsoft world. He began by devising a global shared standard business vocabulary and a common data taxonomy for all Microsoft subsidiaries. A worldwide Intranet connected to a single SAP ERP instance was the chosen solution set. Later, a globally-deployed Siebel CRM became part of the toolset. Other applications, for things like electronic procurement, sales management and time & expenses, ran off the SAP/Siebel engines on the corporate Intranet.

Of course, the latest versions of Microsoft Windows, Office, Exchange and SQL Server were always the technology platform. I always felt sorry for the CIO at Microsoft; they were compelled to implement the core-business, mission-critical services on early releases of the newest Microsoft product set whilst providing a world-class IT utility. The Microsoft Way, as it was known, was defined by these paperless common processes implemented through the standard tools & latest technologies. This, combined with Microsoft’s extraordinarily leveraged business model, was a key to their ability to scale their business. It was a far cry from how Microsoft used to run in the early 1990s – a mainframe, a lot of AS/400 applications, Microsoft Mail, a huge number of disconnected Word/Excel/PowerPoint files on lots of file/print servers and a whole lot of paper.

These days at IBM, I sense similar (but different) changes are afoot. It’s early days for me to tell what this all will mean, but I have a feeling of deja-vu about it. I guess time will tell. Using Lotus Notes these days after using Microsoft Outlook for over a decade has been one of the most visible changes.

For at least the last ten years, IBM and Microsoft have led the industry in the development of the Web Services standards. The WS-* stack is now becoming mature and complete. Nearly every major vendor and a growing number of the larger customers have embraced Web Services and the corresponding Service-Oriented Architecture. Recent editions of IBM’s Websphere and Microsoft’s .NET product sets implement either all or most of these standards. SAP (among many others) are aggressively adopting both SOA & WS-* in future products.

I wonder when global companies like IBM & Microsoft will run (mostly) on Web Services in a Service-Oriented Architecture. The challenges are significant. Moving to SAP/Siebel and the Intranet during the 1990s at Microsoft was largely beneficial. I have high hopes for the transition to Web Services and WS-* in the enterprise going forward.


About Fred Pugsley

AI & Quantum guy. Foodie, skier, voracious reader.
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