Understanding IBM

Part 9. The Broom Closet

Everyone's ideal image of a business is a growing, prosperous company with thousands of happy, productive employees, right? Not so! Theoretically, the ideal business would have zero employees, just an owner. (This cuts down on Human Resources costs, taxes, pensions, etc.) The ideal business would not require any time or effort to be exerted by the owner, either. (This leaves more time for really important things like family and personal interests. You remember family, don't you?) The ideal business would simply be *a machine in the broom closet.*

Yes, the perfect business for somebody who just wants to make money would be a reliable machine, perhaps a computer, that does all the work automatically. The machine never fails, doesn't get sick like real people do, and never needs a vacation. It just sits in the broom closet doing whatever it is that machines do when they're not failing or crashing or requiring constant upgrades. Just plug it in and close the door!! The checks and the cash just keep rolling in.

While not realistic, this model of a perfect business machine in a broom closet has some strong similarities to some IBM products. For example, take the case of LAN Server. One employee reported a situation in which an office was being moved to another building, and a security guard was required to unlock a series of bolts and locks on a small broom closet. What was inside? One PC running IBM LAN Server, plus a large layer of dust. The door to that closet had not been opened in over *two years*. Now that's reliability!

However, like all ideal solutions, this near-perfect machine has a drawback. How do you market something that is essentially invisible? A product which does its job without failing never gets any headlines in the press, and it doesn't require advertising for lots of new hires in the support department. Remember, the 10 o'clock news will cover a plane crash, but it will ignore the thousands of planes that landed safely the same day! In a market-driven environment, such stellar reliablity becomes a liability instead of an asset. Whoever said "the squeaky wheel always gets the grease" was right. A competing product with regular needs and upgrades basically markets itself -- just like an infant "marketing itself" by crying and howling every two hours.

If you think it takes good marketing to sell something as shoddy and obsolete as the Windows family of products, try selling something that actually works! You can't make partnership deals with software utility vendors, because the product doesn't fail. You can't make partnership deals for repair training, because the product doesn't fail. You can't make partnership deals for upgrades, because the product is a solid and adequate performer over the long haul. You might as well try selling shaving kits to The Invisible Man -- it just isn't going to happen.

Most recent revision: January 17, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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