If you are over 40, there’s a good chance IBM will have been a big part of the computer industry when you first touched a keyboard. My first day in the industry in the 1980s was spent with Compaq, a key player in the PC business before HP consumed them, who spent an inappropriate amount of the day talking about IBM, their major rival.
IBM were top player in not only the PC business, but mainframes and the midrange market (something which looked like a LAN but with dumb terminals instead of PCs). They shifted more ‘tin’ than anyone else, sold more software and were talking a great deal about services.
The next 20 years were rough for ‘Big Blue’, as they liked to be known. Their PC market share slid rapidly until they eventually sold the division to Chinese firm Lenovo. Mainframes stopped selling and the midrange market was eaten, first by ubiquitous forms of multiuser unix and then by PC networks.
It was, therefore, with some considerable surprise that I read this week that IBM’s market capitalisation had edged to within 99.7% of Microsoft’s, a proximity they have not enjoyed for 15 years.
IBM realised their future was not in manufacturing, or even writing software (to an extent), neither of which they were particularly proficient at, they became a services company. Now, if you are a government, health board, bank, army or other such large organisation, there is a good chance IBM is keeping your systems ticking over.
Microsoft have no equivalent service division. Service on their products are carried out by partners (like Why Settle), who work closely with Microsoft to plan and support client environments. This model allows enterprise standard service to reach even the smallest businesses, which is great for the entire business ecosystem, but apparently not so good for Microsoft’s market cap.