Reporter’s Notebook: Yahoo, IBM, IEEE and me

presspull

I haven’t been writing as much lately. This has been for several reasons, some of which may surprise you. It’s true I’ve had to spend a lot of time fending-off attacks from IBM corporate (more on that below) but I’ve mainly been at work on two secret projects. One is a new documentary series for PBS and the other a new technology startup I’m doing with a partner. The PBS series will be announced when PBS decides to announce it but most of the shooting is already done. The startup has taken the traditional VC route and looks, surprisingly, like it will actually be funded. Evidently if your idea is wild enough and your partner is smart enough it’s still possible for an idiot (that would be me) to make it in Silicon Valley. This project, too, will be announced when the money is dry, hopefully in a week or two.

In the meantime I’ve been working on several columns. One of these, about Yahoo, has been especially frustrating. There was a time when companies actually wanted reporters to write about them, but I guess those days are past. I e-mailed Yahoo corporate communications (twice) and have yet to hear back from media@yahoo-inc.com. I called (again twice) the number they give on Yahoo press releases, leaving messages both times but have yet to get a call back from 408-349-4040. For awhile the Yahoo press site was completely down.

So if you work at Yahoo please ask someone in the press office to give me a call at 707-525-9519.

Back at boring old IBM, heads continue to roll in the current reorg. I don’t want to waste a whole column on this but stories reach me every day showing both the mean spirit and delusion that seem to be the dominant themes these days in Armonk. I’ll give you two examples here, the first being mean spirit:

In June of 2011 IBM gave every employee seven shares (about $1000) worth of restricted stock options, a gift to the workforce on IBM’s 100th Anniversary.  Normally the vesting period for such options would be four years.  But IBM in this case moved the vesting date back to December, 2015 (4.5 years).  It is now like the 401K employee contribution match but unlike any IBM option program I know. So if you’ll still be on the IBM payroll in June but won’t be in December, as looks to be the case for tens of thousands of IBMers, the company gets to keep your money.

And now delusion:

Here’s a VentureBeat story: IBM makes a big bet on software-defined storage and hybrid clouds. It’s a good idea but IBM, being IBM, is doing it exactly the wrong way.

Where IBM has it absolutely right is that managing storage between a data center and a cloud service can be tricky.  The cloud folks use very different technology making this an area where most cloud services are not quite ready. So this announcement from IBM could be exactly the right idea. Its XIV technology is very good and if it can be applied to this challenge it could be a big win with corporations wanting to move to the cloud.

But there are two things about this announcement that bother me -- five years and $1 billion.

If IBM takes more than six months to produce its first iteration of this service it will be too little too late. In the cloud world, especially given IBM is years late to that market, IBM needs to move at Internet speed.

Also the $1 billion investment is way too high. Even IBM should be able to do this product for $50 million. I think the truth here is that $1 billion is a marketing number intended to impress big customers, to pre-sell some expensive XIV systems, and to keep those big customers waiting years until the technology -- by then completely obsolete -- is finished.

Finally, pity the poor IEEE, which picked-up information from my Forbes column only to be almost crushed by a negative reaction from IBM. I give the IEEE a lot of credit here for sticking more or less to its (in this case our) guns, but the point I want to make has to do with the varying burden of proof in the case of such business stories.

IBM of course hates me and has worked hard to discredit my work. Yet there is an interesting disparity in how the burden of journalistic proof is being applied. IBM says I am wrong yet consistently won’t say what’s right. Exactly how many employees have been RA’d so far in 2015? How many have been fired outright? How many have been pushed into early retirements by being rated a 3 for the first time in their long careers? And how many of these affected people are age 50 and over? IBM refuses to give any of this information.

If stories are pro-IBM, anyone can write anything without substantiation.  If they are anti-IBM, then it has to be wrong. IBM can say it’s wrong, get ugly about it, and not provide any proof of what it says. Ironically, this is exactly the opposite of mainstream news, where the more negative the news, the fewer details seem to be needed.

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