"A year ago, it was an assertion. We've moved well beyond assertion into adoption and reality," Palmisano said ofduring a keynote address at the IBM Business Leadership Forum here. IBM itself expects to cut $7 billion in expenses from 2003 to 2004 by employing the idea, Palmisano said.
Big Blue expects one outsourcing area of its on-demand work, in which IBM takes over components of a company's business, to be a $150 billion market in 2004 and to grow 12 percent to 14 percent each year for the next five years. Among IBM customers for this "business transformation outsourcing" area are UPS, Procter & Gamble, Hewitt Associates, FedEx and Lincoln Financial Group.
But Palmisano acknowledged that IBM has had some trouble explaining its on-demand concept, and he devoted much of his time onstage to defining it. "Our own message was a little bit compromised and confused," he said. IBM has heavily laced its corporate communications and advertising with the idea.
On Wednesday, Palmisano gave his vision of what a company that has embraced on-demand principles would be like. In that vision, formerly separate operations such as customer relations, component orders and accounting not only share the same computing infrastructure, but each division's operations are also tightly integrated with the others' operations. IBM, bolstered by in-house technology and expertise acquired when it bought PriceWaterhouse Coopers Consulting, will either sell equipment to achieve the goal or run such equipment for its customers.
"You must eliminate the gaps and seams and spaces in the interaction between your customers, partners and employees," Palmisano said.
On-demand computing dovetails with theidea, which has it that customers should be able to pay varying prices for computing power depending on how demand for that power waxes and wanes. IBM's on-demand effort competes with idea and plan.
Palmisano chafes when IBM's on-demand idea is lumped in with utility computing, though. "It's more than that. The computing element is only the enabler," he said. "The big idea is not the tool, it's the business model."
Some analysts applauded Palmisano's words but were also attuned to his attitude. "There was a little bit of defensiveness," Forrester analyst Ted Schadler said. "It's a much better articulation of what technology-enabled business process improvement is."
Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice said IBM's vision is sound and that the problem has been the speed at which the rest of the world catches up to the company. "I think it's to their credit that they're fighting the fight of 'What does it really mean?'" Eunice said.
The distinctions can be difficult even for IBM employees to grasp, though. "It's a bit of a struggle to get the message out to 185,000 engineers at IBM. They're much more comfortable with the concept of tools than concepts," Palmisano said.
Palmisano said another obstacle for the on-demand vision is cultural momentum in companies--particularly when it comes to the entrenched idea of breaking up companies into autonomous divisions, each with its own profit and loss. "We have to get people to behave beyond the profit and loss centers. There's not this level of sharing that's required," he said.
Big Blue's vision is much clearer today,
and 320,000 employees are energized to
win the business and data center deals
that ensure the company's future.
UPS endorsed the idea. "We can be hungry and young and nimble," CEO Mike Eskew said in a videotaped statement.
In recent weeks, IBM has begun boasting of its on-demand customers. Among them:
Men's clothing retailer Ahlers, which set up a self-service Web site through which its retailers can quickly get product information and track orders
Holiday gift specialist Harry and David, which installed IBM mainframes, Unix servers and Intel servers to deal with an annual traffic surge before the gift-giving season. About 65 percent of annual sales take place between mid-November to late December
Russian transportation company Mostransagentstvo, which built a new system that lets customers immediately make travel reservations
Swets Blackwell, which set up a new online system to let customers see immediate responses to searches for information in library collections of periodicals.