Meg Whitman and Ginni Rometty in 2016

We are at a historic point in the industry’s evolution. Two strong and accomplished ladies are leading our biggest and most iconic tech companies, HP and IBM. As I read and heard about Meg Whitman at Gartner’s event in Orlando and about Ginni Rometty at an IBM event for CMOs in Paris last week, I pondered where they and their companies will be in 4 years.

Ginni, it appears, is on cruise control on a well paved highway and can afford to be chasing after new buying centers and making stylistic changes at IBM as Fortune describes below. HP is, in contrast, on a rocky road. Meg said last week 2013 will be a “fix and rebuild’ year. But so was 2012 and 2011.

Fortune:

You wouldn’t catch Lou Gerstner or Sam Palmisano trying to smooth over someone else’s faux pas. Rometty’s two predecessors also are unlikely to have hosted a sales meeting in a loft, and they definitely wouldn’t have described the proceedings as “neat.” But they surely would have approved of Rometty’s agenda that June day. She had assembled some familiar faces, the chief information officers who buy billions of dollars of software, tech services, and hardware from IBM (No. 19 on the Fortune 500), but she had also invited their chief marketing officers. (Thus the trendy venue.) Her ambitious — and yes, unusual — plan: Get the marketers to use IBM tools to sort their data for nuggets that will help them better reach customers and sell more stuff.

But appearances are deceptive.

What Fortune, and for that matter most of the media which follows IBM, do not point out is Ginni’s substantial challenge is not just to change the top soil, but redefine the aging core her predecessors have left her with. IBM Marketing does a good job presenting its Smarter Planet, Watson, digital marketing initiatives. But put together they make up less than 20% of IBM revenues.

The “core” is made up of 10, 20, 3o year old assets IBM continues to milk. An SAP practice which grew substantially with the PriceWaterhouseCoopers acquisition in 2002. The mainframe DB2 database which was first released in 1983. Lotus Notes first released in 1989 and acquired by IBM in 1995, Data Centers designed in the 80s and 90s with Cold War bunker mindsets.

Customers continue to utilize these products, but few of them are pleased when they see the IBM invoices for them. IBM still expects premium prices for these products, way past their prime. Ginni’s biggest challenge will be to get IBM customers to say “Neat” again.

Meg, in contrast, has an undisciplined portfolio of products that has been difficult to prune. However, she still has plenty of engineering talent important in a Polymath world where Apple, Google, Microsoft and Oracle are showcasing innovation via blended hardware/software and cloud capabilities. She also is well positioned as consumerization continues to influence the enterprise.  IBM has, in contrast, by spinning off its PC and printer divisions has been shrinking that engineering and consumer footprint over the last decade.

Also, what is considered Meg’s big weakness – its EDS heritage services and Ginni’s biggest strength – Global Services – may soon be flipped around. Meg realizes IT is still her major buying center. At Orlando, as an example she said “marketing chiefs matter, but HP will also work through the CIO.” IBM in contrast, is using its IT centric services to sell to the CMO – a bit of a stretch unless its acquires some digital agencies and social analytics tools.

Both HP’s and IBM’s services group are challenged in 3 market segments – infrastructure outsourcing, application management and BPO.  The first and fast movers with rapid growth over the last five years have been cloud companies like Amazon, Rackspace, SaaS vendors like Salesforce and Workday (that are cannibalizing upgrade and application management services) and firms like Cognizant and Appirio. Granted they are growing from smaller bases, but they are growing explosively. Then there is another early trend – companies which outsourced to legacy service providers are bringing the support back in or are increasingly “churning” it. GM’s recent decision to bring 3,000 jobs in from HP may be a harbinger. Meg’s smaller footprint in the legacy service provider space may actually turn out to be a blessing.

Both Meg and Ginni have unique opportunities and challenges ahead.  I would love to do a book in 2016 cataloging how both of them have fared. No, nothing to do with the next Presidential race – but will be a good checkpoint for their performance in their new jobs and also fit well with my every 2 years book schedule.

(Read this and other articles @ Deal Architect)

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CEO of Deal Architect, a top advisory boutique recognized in The Black Book of Outsourcing, author of a widely praised book on technology enabled innovation, The New Polymath, prolific blogger, writing about technology-enabled innovation at New Florence, New Renaissance and about waste in technology at Deal Architect.  Previously Analyst  at Gartner, Partner with PwC Consulting. Keynoted at many business and technology conferences and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, The Financial Times, CIO Magazine, and other executive and technology publications.
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