Understanding IBM

Part 7. Doggy Tails

The old story goes something like this: the dog was so excited, its tail was moving at such a feverish pitch, that it seemed that the tail was wagging the dog instead of the other way around. This saying has come to describe any situation in which something minor ends up controlling something much bigger, far out of proportion to its rightful degree of influence.

For example, look at the money, the manpower, the publicity, and the facilities dedicated to athletic activities in the modern American university. Here an institution that in theory is supposed to be educating minds becomes centered on glorifying the exploitation of young men and women and their physical prowess. The tail (athletic department) wags the dog (university administration) at far too many campuses in the U.S. It is not that athletics itself is bad; but rather, the emphasis is out of proportion to the importance of each part of student life.

A similar situation may exist in the marketplace, if one company begins to rely too heavily on a few big, regular customers. If a few of these customers make a particular demand or hint that they may switch to a different supplier, the entire focus of the company may shift just to keep these few customers happy. The role these few customers play in the bottom line is so out of proportion to the entire market that these customers may become a tail wagging the dog, so to speak. The needs of smaller customers may be sacrificed just to keep a few powerful customers happy.

One example of dog-wagging seems to be the relationship between IBM and several large European banks. Instead of focusing on their position in the U.S. market with regards to PCs and operating systems, IBM has designed an entire spectrum of products that work very well with these behemoth customers, but at the sacrifice of public image as a supplier of consumer PC products here in the U.S. Has IBM learned anything from this experience?

Indeed they have. Rather than allow Microsoft a free hand in the server marketplace, particularly in the area of back-office server applications, IBM has become the single biggest customer of Microsoft's WindowsNT product. This means that IBM can now become a tail wagging the Microsoft dog. In fact, this has already occurred to some extent: Microsoft has given IBM the rights to view WindowsNT 4.0 source code, the "family jewels." Already the Microsoft dog is beginning to gyrate wildly.

Most recent revision: January 9, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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