If you believed all the hype IBM put out at its Business Partners' conference last week, you?d think that everything was rosy at the biggest computer company in the world.
Would that were true. Although chairman Lou Gerstner told the 7,500 BPs from across the world that he will offer them new incentives, the fly in the ointment may well prove to be the channel staff at IBM itself.
Last week, we were privy to an insight from an internal source at Big Blue that belies all the good words. When Lou Gerstner spoke at last year?s BPEC conference in San Diego, the message the reseller troops received was clear and unequivocal. So much so, that a vox pop we conducted failed to find any trace of dissent in the ranks.
This year, the dissent comes from within IBM itself. The channel division in IBM, set up as storm troopers to breach internal defensiveness from the old guard, now finds itself frustrated at every turn.
Although Nick Coutts, who heads up the European channel group in Paris, Mike Lunch, who heads the IBM PC Company here in the UK, and Steve Voller, now UK channel manager, continue to fight the good fight in an attempt to turn round the company and make it compete with its far more aggressive rivals, the word is that they are losing the battle.
When Barry Morgan resigned as UK country manager a few weeks ago, for the first time ever outsiders were brought in to run the ship. There is a reason for that. Sources at the company say that the UK's poor sales figures are disguised by manufacturing at Greenock and Hursley.
Nor, the source said, will IBM grasp the nettle. ?I would like to know why IBM is not pushing NT more,? he said. ?Even though it lacks some technology capabilities, the fact is that it is winning market share and political problems within IBM are preventing the company realising that.?
Those political problems, he claimed, are compounded by the old guard at Big Blue, which prevents Lou Gerstner from ever understanding the machinations happening in the hierarchy below. He said that Ned Lautenbach, an IBMer of the old school, was promoted to a very senior marketing position in the company, which prevents the channel staff Gerstner appointed from achieving anything in the organisation.
There is still severe competition between the different divisions of IBM, he said, whether it be RS/6000 machines, AS/400s or even IBM PCs. ?It would be logical if IBM just said that it can run NT on AS/400s,? he said. ?That will never happen because people are still confused about hardware and operating systems.?
The matter came to the boil just before Christmas last year, when Peter Crane, headhunted away from Novell to handle pan-European distribution, quit after six weeks. He was led to believe that his brief was to push channel ideas into the European market but frustration apparently made him leave.
An IBM representative confirmed Crane had left but said the matter was still in the hands of the legal department so he could not comment.
The latest gaff, in the eyes of the channel division, is the appointment of Ingram Micro as a pan-European distributor, a deal enabling Ingram UK to sell RS kit here. ?They have no channel,? the source said. Even though UK distributors Bytech and CST have had the opportunity to build up their own channel for the last four years, if Ingram ever gets serious about this business, their RS carpet could well be pulled from under them.
The NT operating system continues to be the thorn in the side of IBM. Different forces within the company are still pushing OS/2, primarily as a cross-platform thin client for Big Blue?s network computers. But these, the source said, have also suffered from the politicking at IBM. Because Lou Gerstner pushed NCs so strongly at Comdex 95, he managed to create a whirlwind effect within the compay. But whirlwinds cause devastation and the ructions in Big Blue are waiting to happen.
Yet, on the face of it, all seems well. Gerstner, talking to the partners in Miami last week, was ebullient about their future. But in the meantime the creeping disease of "interleaved management", as Mike Briercliffe - now a consultant at CST - calls it, continues.
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