While we doubt the wisdom of having IBM buy Sun, we’re intrigued by Big Blue’s recent announcement that it is going to sell systems that will monitor water resources [see 1, 2, 3]. Water systems are leaky enough and, in general, inefficient enough that better management could provide significant benefits, and the Obama administration’s economic-recovery plan will make sure that funds are available. IBM already has relationships with many of the municipalities that will be the buyers. It has the expertise to handle such complex sales. It also has the professional services capabilities to help install and manage the systems.
There are some curious ideas being bruited about in the computer industry these days. It seems that cash is burning a hole in the pockets of healthy companies such as IBM and Cisco. Rather than have the cash sit around earning basically nothing at today’s low interest rates, the companies have decided to start looking for acquisitions. While that can be a splendid strategy in the right circumstances, the combinations being discussed don’t make much sense. Shareholders would be better off if the companies followed Oracle’s example and declared a dividend.
IBM surpassed $100 billion in annual revenue in 2008, which is laudable–but 18 years late. Therein lies a tale about the dangers of what author Jim Collins labeled Big Hairy Audacious Goals.
In the early 1980s, IBM’s then-CEO John Opel declared that IBM would hit $100 billion in revenue by 1990. Although it may be hard to remember back that far, IBM was the world’s most profitable company in the 1980s. Its market capitalization accounted for roughly three-quarters of the value of the entire computer industry. Opel wanted to keep IBM from getting too complacent, so he challenged the company to increase in size from $40 billion of annual revenue in 1983 to the magic $100 billion mark by the end of the decade.