The company that invented the memory and hard drive in your computer, the magnetic strip on your credit card, the punch cards developed for Social Security, the … well, a whole lot of things, International Business Machines (originally the Computing Tabulating and Recording Corporation) today turns 100.
The brand's marketers have created a rich array of materials to celebrate the centennial, including corporate citizenship projects, producing a terrific series of short films, making Watson a celebrity, producing an e-book and a hardcover book, a social marketing campaign, and (of course) a company-wide celebration.
Some of the press coverage today looks at another significant number — the fact that CEO Sam Palmisano is turning 60 — which is the age that IBM CEOs generally retire. He’s been in the position since 2002.
“Palmisano has tried to tamp down speculation that he's ready to step aside,” the AP reports.
"Sam is very much in charge and is having fun," says Bob Djurdjevic, president of Annex Research Inc. and someone who has studied the company for years, the AP notes. "It's ridiculous to have some artificial deadline for someone to retire because creativity is not proportional to age."
Whenever Palmisano decides to step down, the AP has a handy list of possible heirs for the company, which includes Ginni Rometty, the leader of IBM's global sales operation; Mike Daniels, who leads all of IBM's services business; and longshot Steve Mills, who is in charge of all of IBM's hardware business; as well as Mark Loughridge, IBM's chief financial officer.
So how has the company stuck around for so long? USA Today notes the 100 years of technological innovation, while the Wall Street Journal points to how Big Blue has lived up to its "Think" tagline over the years, as it joins the elite club of century-old brands today.
Bernie Meyerson, IBM Fellow and vice president of innovation, told AllThingsD that it was really about creating a culture that nurtures, values and rewards innovation. “You have to have a diversity of projects under way,” he commented. “You can’t make all your bets on something five or 10 years out, but similarly you can’t place them all on something this quarter. Over the years we’ve basically developed structures that ensure we have that diversity, and it has served us very well.”
One area that IBM has poured a lot of resources (over a decade, $60 million in R&D and $14 million in acquiring 25 analytics-related companies) and is seeing some payoff is in data and analytics. One example Meyerson gave of a success in this area is a hospital in Toronto that deals with premature babies with underdeveloped immune systems.
“How does a nurse working in the intensive care unit spot these infections early enough to treat the child so they don’t die?” Meyerson asked. IBM compiled all the data of all the babies in the hospital and was able to find a recurring trait in those that died. “Now they’re able to see 24 hours or more when one of these children is getting ill before the best trained ICU nurse could ever spot it. It makes the difference between these children living and dying.”
As for the future, Meyerson tells Computer World that IBM is spending a lot of resources on quantum computing, something the publication defines as “systems that use the behavior of subatomic particles to conduct calculations now performed with transistors on a chip.”
"It's one of our most significant fundamental research projects now, and may be one of the largest fundamental ones," said Bill Gallagher, the senior manager of quantum computing at IBM Research, according to Computer World. “There's been "good progress, but a long way to go.”
One thing you can be sure of is that when there is a long way to go, IBM will surely still be there when the journey ends.