I’m at IBM Connect 2016 this week, and I was fascinated to watch the pre-event images pass across the screen identifying IBM Champions. These aren’t IBM employees but IBM advocates inside IBM customer companies. These are folks who are elected to these positions for extraordinary efforts. I’m very impressed with this effort, largely because this was my idea, not at IBM unfortunately, but at Microsoft. The reason I’m seeing IBM Champions but not Microsoft Champions showcases the contrast between idea and execution.
Let me explain.
Steve Ballmer and Microsoft Champions
Nearly a decade and a half ago, I was friends with Steve Ballmer and I was spending a great deal of time thinking about how to fix what, at the time, was a horrible image problem the firm had. Microsoft had become dominant and arrogant; changing a bad attitude inside and a horrid image outside was a major problem and I had what I thought was a brilliant idea: The Microsoft Champion. I pitched my idea to Ballmer and he loved it.
Now, one of the advantages of being an analyst is that we can come up with ideas but we aren’t responsible for executing them. This is like pitching a movie but not being responsible for the script or the selection of actors. One of the big disadvantages of being an analyst, however, is that we often have nothing to do with the execution, and this was a case in point.
What Ballmer did was, without preparation or preamble, or apparently even talking to these folks before the identified them, called out and recognized the Microsoft Champions at a huge event. Each person stood up and had a look on their face like they were about to be sacrificed to lions. Not only didn’t this work, instead of conveying status it opened these folks to potential ridicule and the effort failed.
This was the core problem with Ballmer’s reign at Microsoft: good ideas badly executed. Though sadly, at the end, Ballmer seemed to get the execution part, which was why Surface was successful while Zune failed.
Let’s start with the fact that IBM doesn’t have the image problem that Microsoft had. Yes, it is in the midst of a turnaround effort, but the company is generally loved by its customers and, unlike the early 90s when I worked there, the brand once again conveys quality and excellence in execution. Connect is a software-focused event and at its heart is the idea of collaboration.
Here, the idea of champions is particularly powerful because this is the group that sells tools that measure and help create customer advocates, and enable social interaction and communication, and it is at the forefront of applied artificial intelligence.
The opening talk was focused on “The Future of US,” to look at the exponential change that is coming and see it as exciting. But to drive the needed change, IBM must take these ideas and concepts and use the tools it is selling to spread them through the organizations it serves, and through that change not only sell IBM products but convert these customers to this new vision.
Unfortunately, this time around, I can’t take any credit for IBM Champions. The company came up with this on its own, but the pride that these Champions are showcasing and the engagement that this program is creating illustrate that the idea was a good one; it just needed excellent execution to make it work.
Wrapping Up: Ideas vs. Execution
The lesson, and this is a lesson as much for me as it is for anyone else, is that when someone comes up with a big idea, they likely should have some engagement in the execution. The kinds of tools IBM is showcasing at Connect 2016 would be core to such a concept and IBM’s Champions are a core part of showcasing how an advocacy program interconnected with social tools drives change both inside and outside of an organization. Given that this is an election season, I’m left wondering whether these tools could be used to create a better outcome in the U.S. and the world. Properly applied with the right vision, I think they could.
The title of this session was “Turn Moments into Momentum” indeed.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+