Can the elephant dance again? Twenty years ago, Louis Gerstner transformed IBM by emphasizing consulting and technology services — not just technology — to solve customer problems. Today, as the wave of digitization continues to grow and envelope all the world’s enterprises, IBM is at a crucial juncture once again. CEO Ginni Rometty is leading the company into new areas, betting big on its Watson software and cloud computing. But these new services have yet to grow fast enough to supplant the profit declines in the company’s eroding legacy products.
This time, the transformation IBM faces is far more difficult, for two reasons. The first is simply the profound scope and depth of the change. IBM is leading the charge for a radical (and therefore risky) transformation in its client companies: using automated expertise on a large scale to efficiently solve problems too huge and complex for humans to conquer on their own. The second is that IBM’s cloud-based services will likely cannibalize three IBM mainstays: computer hardware, software, and data center services. By making such a bet, IBM will face much greater resistance than Gerstner faced, both internally (business units protecting turf) and externally (investors decrying the poor short-term results and future risks).