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What can GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple) learn from IBM from a technology prerogative?

We get impressed when some companies operating from decades are in news for creating a positive impact to the society at large. The surprise element which ponders in all of us is how exactly they are able to make gigantic strides especially in a fast-changing industry like information technology.

I quote IBM here which we are a proud business partner -BP as well, which traces its roots to the 1880s. It has grown up massively from three small firms to a multi-billion-dollar information technology services company today. It has had its share of ups and downs down lane and has along the way offered some precious insights into the global technology industry at large.

Importantly from a strategy and vision perspective they contain a lot of hands on instructive anecdotes for up-and-coming digital giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple which are far younger millennials than IBM.

A must read book for entrepreneurs is “IBM: The Rise and Fall and Reinvention of a Global Icon,” which explores the company’s history of creating and selling data processing equipment and software.

There is a difference between individual products namely successive models of PCs or typewriters and the underlying technologies that make them work successfully. Over a 130 year span IBM has released more than 3,600 hardware products and nearly a similar yet astonishing amount of software and thus outgrown itself being called as a legacy company.
However these services over time were created on a handful of real technological advances and shifting from mechanical machines to those that relied on computer chips and software, and later to networks like the internet. The transitions between the platforms took place far more slowly than the steady stream of new products might suggest.
These historical transition or migration from the mechanical, to the digital, and now to the networked economy reflects an ever-growing ability to collect, use and consume greater amounts of information easily and quickly. By this move IBM moved up a stratum ahead from manipulating statistical data to using ground level technologies that teach themselves what people want and are interested in seeing which created a revolution itself.

- They have a adaptive focus
The management at IBM in-between 1914 and 1918 decided that the company’s business interest would be in data processing. In today’s terms it has come to be “Big data” and analytics which still collects, organizes data and also performs calculations, computations on it.

Post 1920s; IBM took a deep dive disciplined approach to better product development and research which focused on developing nascent technologies for its data processing products. Word was abuzz that nothing was seemed to be done by accident at IBM which validates even today.

In its first half-century of operations IBM’s basic technology platform from which many products emerged was the humble punch-card, tabulators, card sorters, card readers and the famous IBM Card.

In its second half-century of operations it sprawled its outreach to the basic technology platform via the Computer which also included mainframes, minicomputers, PCs and laptops which are popular even today.

Only in its recent 30 years has the computer sales been on a decline mode which has made IBM take transitions to providing more internet-based services. These include software and technical training and managerial consulting by sub contracting these service lines to technical expertise vendors like us who represent IBM officially as their Channel partners globally.

With the rise of each succeeding technology there also came maturity and decline of its predecessor which IBM took it in open stride as it had a plum basket as reasoned by many investors. From computers to tabulating equipment computers and to new untapped areas like e-learning, management and process consulting, information technology management IBM ensured that its expansion was in a go get it mode 24/7/365 as long as it assured them ROI.

It wasn’t only until the end of 2018 that IBM announced that 50 percent of its business now came from services and software, most of which were new offerings developed in the previous decade which we proudly provide to corporates via e-learning modules thus helping them successfully in their Upskilling journey.

This strategic multi offering approach is not uncommon among players. Apple infact has been selling personal computers for more than 40 years. Its management, of course, talks much more about its pivotal role in the Smartphone business, which is already beginning to level off. Apple however may soon need a new technological focus to remain relevant in present scenario considering the number of times they have revamped their platforms in the last decade itself.

Legacy vs. The future of the giants
Microsoft, like Apple, evolved away from selling just computer software and operating systems and started internet based projects. Bing which was a search engine and One Drive a cloud storage for providing cloud-based computing services for businesses were not able to create a spark and soon fizzled out.

Companies that started on the internet may also face similar transitions. Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook at times claim to have transformed themselves, but haven’t yet fully left their original businesses.

While Amazon still makes most of its money selling physical items online, though its internet-based cloud services division is growing rapidly. Amazon is one such player who has invested in a wide range of other business that might grow in the future, such as health care and entertainment content.

While Google and Facebook still make most of their money by selling information about how users behave to advertisers and groups that want to attract people to a particular point of view. Both are also exploring other avenues, whether its Google’s self-driving cars or Facebook’s experiments with virtual reality which needs a significant pool of tenured staff who have expertise on multi platform usage where we can definitely be of assistance via niche Domain IT consulting.

But at their core, all these new age internet giants are still finding new ways to capitalize on the vast quantities of information they accumulate about customers’ activities and interests just as decades earlier IBM found new ways to use tabulating equipment and computers. If they’re to last decades or centuries into the future, the companies will need to probe, experiment, innovate and most importantly keep abreast technologically to find new ways to profit from technologies.

What’s your take On GAFA vs. IBM? Please share your valuable comments here.

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