You know the drill: Sometimes if you say something often enough people start to believe you. But when it comes to big hardware companies making big promises about big digital business transformations, I'm frequently skeptical.
It happened again this week. A smart, well-meaning hardware executive told his partner ecosystem this week:
"We see the digital future."
Frankly, those are the five words absolutely destroy the "digital business transformation" magic for me. The hardware company he represents was...
- Somewhat late to the shift from hardware sales to subscription services.
- Somewhat late to the shift from physical devices to software-defined demands.
- Distracted for several years with consumer devices that didn't sell.
- Unable to establish a beachhead for success during the early days of mobile, SaaS, PaaS and IaaS.
Hardware Spin Control
You'll hear similar messages from most of the major hardware vendors right now: Cisco Systems, Dell Technologies, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, HP Inc., IBM Corp., Oracle (Sun), etc.
Each of those vendors have introduced, acquired or expanded successful subscription platforms. Examples include OpenDNS for security (from Cisco); Boomi for application integration (Dell); BlueMix (IBM); NetSuite for SaaS ERP (now owned by Oracle); device as a service from HP; and Azure managed services from HP Enterprise.
Still, those major hardware vendors (and others like them) were often late to the cloud and mobile games. Much like the customers they serve, the hardware giants are working overtime to succeed in the digital future. If the hardware giants truly "see the digital future" they would have had effective digital strategies in place roughly five years ago.
Instead we've seen moves like...
- IBM focused on a long-term earnings-per-share goals that nobody believed, before changing course and finally addressing modern IT trends.
- Dell acquired and sold companies (SonicWall, Quest, Perot Systems, etc.) the way the rest of us traded baseball cards as kids.
- HP Enterprise acquired and sold companies or pieces of companies (Compaq, EDS) multiple times. First, HPE said bigger was better. Now, the company says breakups make for nimble businesses. Which is it?
- And the list goes on.
Yes, each hardware giant is now working hard on R&D to address all the obvious trends (cloud, mobile etc.). But if you represent one of those companies please don't tell me that "we see the digital future." Recent IT history (circa 2005-2015) suggests otherwise.