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Fri 4 Aug 2000 04:00 AM

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Call The President

Big Blue, Coaches, Pillows, Headaches & Doctors. With the launch of WebSphere, Jon Westley, editor, Windows User Magazine Middle East takes a looks at the new technology and the future of IBM.

By Jon Westley, editor,
Windows User Magazine Middle East

I like IBM. I really do. It's something about that famous story of how Big Blue first started. Hard to believe that once, not only was it not a giant, but a company fighting for its life.

It did one thing to save itself - ship in every person in the company in coaches whenever one of its customers - large or small - had the slightest problem. From secretaries to the president, from technical support to marketing, everyone got on the bus.

Can you imagine calling up your PC manufacturer today with a question about how to change Windows wallpaper and finding yourself visited in coaches by 400 people committed to helping you?

No. But that's the story of how IBM grew to being the company it is today.

All the old marketing campaigns about being able to sleep safely, lying on your pillow dreaming about sunrises and holidays, confident that IBM is there for you whenever, and whatever, the problem, have lasted even to this today. They have also shaped a world in which the watchwords of reliability and service are now second nature.

In the serious world of the Enterprise, life is about solutions ,not box-moving - and it's Big Blue that is largely responsible. Of course, whether IBM's romantic history quite matches up to the IBM of today is unlikely.

I have not heard of any stories of IBM Middle East's entire personnel suddenly jumping into coaches to help customers in trouble. No doubt they'll correct me if I'm wrong.

These thoughts about IBM though do have a contemporary relevance. This week IBM delivered two things that no other manufacturer in memory has done for us. Here's the story in a nutshell.


IBM has launched a product called WebSphere; basically a software package that enables anyone to launch a website like Amazon's. It's made up of modules - the more you plug in, the more sophisticated it all gets.

At its best it will create websites that will read the pages to surfers over the Net - a particularly wonderful technology for blind people, we thought.

Good so far. But here's the important part. Usually, when manufacturers come to us with these amazing solutions, it takes us ten years asking two key questions before we eventually give up.

The questions: How much does it cost? How long does it take to make it work? IBM, however, didn't play coy. In fact, they went away and came back with clear, simple details of what you need, how much it costs, how long it takes.

The point is that WebSphere is not like a game, or Microsoft Windows. It is complicated and not inexpensive. Ultimately it is a solution, not a piece of software. It will take any business and put it completely online, perfectly. Well, that's its aim.

Our argument is simple. Just because something is a solution, should not mean that people do not have a right to know clearly, and in simple terms, the fundamentals of 'how', 'what', 'who', 'when' - and the cost of making it all happen.

And more than this, and finally what really inspired, IBM told us that, if anyone was worried about setting the system up, they would guarantee to get it all working in a fixed five days at a fixed $5000.

Somehow we could still imagine those coaches racing in …

We cannot say whether WebSphere actually works. IBM has promised us the complete solution for testing in our Labs, and we'll let you know our verdict.

Cost and Time

The point here is different. If you are a business, large or small, you have the right to know with crystal clarity the cost, how long it will take - and that someone will do it for you at a fixed cost, if it all goes wrong.

You have the right to know what something will do for you. If anyone blinds you with science, we say, forget it. If you cannot understand it, do you think your customers will? If someone will not quote you a guaranteed price, forget it. If they do not know how much it is going to cost, they cannot know what they are doing - or something even more worrying is going on.

And, finally, if they do not offer you the chance - at a fixed price, to sort it out for you, then also forget it. If they cannot set it up, who is going to look after you when things go wrong?

There's one last thing about solutions.

The word is not a marketing concept. It is about solving a problem. And a problem is not a marketing concept. A problem means anything from a difficulty to a nightmare. If you need a solution, you are in some degree of trouble.

Those companies who talk of providing solutions better wake up to this. They need people who speak every language in the region from English to the many variations of Arabic. They need people who understand that in the solutions game it is about listening, understanding and, ultimately, being honest.

If they cannot solve the problem, whatever the money at stake, they need to go. If you're not a surgeon, you do not mess with people's hearts. If you're not a psychiatrist, you should not mess with people's heads. If you're a hospital, you do not send in a bicycle to bring the victim of a car accident to hospital. It's no different for business.

The simple fact is we don't just need pillows. We expect them. And maybe, just maybe, we need the coach, the marketing people, the secretaries - and the president too.

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