Sadly this is not the first time. Have they no customers left? Is it time to sell IBM?
IBM UK and Ireland has told the Global Technology Services team that all travel to customer sites must be approved by divisional general manager Tosca Colangeli irrespective of "value or business justification". This is a more extreme version of the previous directive issued by IBM for its calendar Q2 that all employee trips …
In my experience with many large companies, I have found that austerity measures only work when they apply to both the proles and upper management.
When it becomes obvious that upper management has the same restrictions as the proles, morale improves and there is an enjoyable "we're all in this together" motivational camaraderie that is wonderful to experience!
Technically it's the same at IBM; the rules apply at all levels.
I traveled to Vegas from Europe recently for InterConnect (meeting a customer). I traveled economy. FIVE client execs were on the same aircraft, all traveling business class. As I knew one of the the client execs we got to chatting in the boarding queue, I asked how he got business class. He said he didn't technically get business class, but as he travels intercontinental about 8x a year and had no intention of flying prole, he negotiated for a pay rise equal to the cost of buying the ticket himself, and got that - as his manager agreed it would be bad for image if he flew in the back. He now pays the difference himself. The other execs were doing the same.
So while it's technically true that it's one rule for everybody, execs simply get compensated through salary for the price difference.
Posting anon as a current employee.
IBM in the UK has an organisation called the Technical Consultancy Group (TCG), which is supposed to be the collection of the most senior technical people in the UK (Distinguished Engineers and other senior staff, upcoming technical stars voted in (mostly) on merit etc.). Every year they hold 1-2 face to face meetings, where they get together and talk technology, issues facing the business and so on. This spring's meeting - to be hosted at a business partner - was unceremoniously ditched in favour of a "virtual" gathering (which must have pleased the partner immensely) due to the new travel restrictions.
To me, this was an inflection point: it's long been clear that IBM senior management views the idea of its technical staff getting together in anything other than a customer-funded project context with suspicion and disdain; that TCG can no longer run its talking shop is a sign that the beancounters have overrun the last holdouts of the technical side.
As others have noted, the idea of a divisional GM personally approving all travel requests is ridiculous, and any organisation that is even in the position where it thinks something like this might be a good idea is deeply unwell. Let's not forget the chain of managers that every such approval must pass through also. The amount of non-productive crap that IBM managers have to deal with is already immense.
Retrograde steps like this travel policy, in combination with the switch to running redundancy programmes on a statutory minimum basis, are hollowing out the façade from the inside out.
As a former UKTCG member and member of the IBM Academy of Technology, I remember fondly the time in about 2008 when they moved the Annual IBM Academy of Technology annual meeting to 2nd Life, least productive week of my life. Happy not to attend the following year. I left shortly afterwards.
IBMs only real contemporary asset right now is the brand. And that is being devalued with stunts like this.
Sadly I think the evidence is against you. Round THESE parts, you, I and the rest of the Commentariat know IBM are hollowing themselves out, and no good will come of it. But in the offices of business decision makers, this is not known, not cared about. Those decision makers know so little about the outside world, having expended their energy climbing the greasy pole, that they can only identify big brand names, and automatically assume that the brand implies solidity, resilience, capability. That's why any FT, Forbes, or Fortune survey of "most respected companies" highlights fading glories like Microsoft and IBM, along with tax dodging coffee shops, burger vendors, rubbish airlines, even gob-shops like Accenture, or dubious outfits like Walmart, or data-breachers par excellence, like Target. In the UK, "Management Today" even featured Merlin Entertainments and McDonalds UK as two of the twenty "most admired companies" in 2016.
The IBM brand is so strong and so resilient that they can do largely what they want with limited commercial consequences. However, this cost cutting drive is I suspect in response to one irresistible force that IBM cannot ignore, and that's activist investors. Warren Buffet's sold his holdings because he thinks IBM are done. Meanwhile, the short termist financial sector will be looking at IBM as ripe for upheaval. The last desperate defence of a useless board is to try and boost profits by these pathetic cost cuts - I know, I work for a non-tech company in exactly the same position, with the frightened board taking similar decisions simply to try and save their own bacon, when the root cause of the problem is directors who have screwed up time and again.
This has a very definite side-affect: now that every travel approval has to go all the way to the top, they're going to take their own sweet time deciding to approve or not. What will happen is that the delays will push the traveler from the cheap early advance purchase ticket into the much more expensive last-minute fares. There might be fewer trips, but each trip will cost much more.
Or maybe management will think they're smart and wait until after it is too late to approve. At which point they'll be issuing credits for service level agreement failures.
Last year, I had to get approval from 3 tiers up for an international trip. The Exec that needed to approve couldn't log into the travel system I had to use, and kept logging into a different one - where he couldn't find my trip to approve. This went on so long that the price of the trip doubled. In the end, he sent email approval, and I had to book the trip myself outside of the travel system and expense it back, running up over 4 grand on my personal credit card in the process.
In order to show that he couldn't find the trip in the system, he sent a screenshot. Trouble was, the screenshot included his other browser tabs that showed his fondness for NSFW one-handed browsing.
Oh how we lol'd.
> They should also look up the term "opportunity cost"...
That's something they just don't get: they consider it a cost saving that they get expensive staff working for customers to do work that was previously done by cheap back office staff.
Presumably because they do it on time paid for by the customer...
Pen, I'm a long time IBM'er. Believe me, the "divisional general manager" never sees -any- of these travel requests. S/he delegates ALL of this to his/her staff with all sorts of instructions. As sure as I'm sitting here, the GM mentioned in this article has hired several new "flunkies" entirely for this task.
I'm thinking that despite the historic mantra, and given all of the things we've seen, buying IBM now carries a very significant risk of getting you fired.
Particularly when the brown stuff hits the fan and your customer support doesn't show because they're still waiting for personal travel approval from Tesco Coagulante, or whatever the name of that big cheese was...
>Well, that new cost cutting measure was due to the cost of hiring a helicopter. Next copter hire will result in IBMers having to pay to park their cars at work.
A defunct college where I worked in my first job (so knew no better), had an arrangement where the directors of the college also owned:
The bus company running the only route to/from the main site
The car parking
Seeing as it was in the middle of nowhere, all staff and students were literally paying the directors to attend. A couple of years after I left I heard they were being investigated for fraud and the college went bust.
Sounds like what happened at military base (training facility) back in the 60's. The Admiral's wife bought a bunch of buildings and put lockers in them. Within days, a new order: No civilian clothes for trainees allowed on base. So the sailors had to stash their clothes somewhere.... Nice profit for the Admiral's wife.
ah yes. my previous employer did this. because the parking was free before, they ended up hiring several people to do parking enforcement. the end result: total annual revenue: $100K. total annual cost: $120K, plus any number of pissed-off employees you can blow a raspberry at.
that's not why i am no longer with them - their other ideas were just as smart, and much harder to work around.
Another Dinosaur in the Tar pit, when it gets to levels like this stage left is the direction you take, eh gone are the days where industry and business leaders had plans for growth the didn't involve a gastric band and a hatchet.
There is a whole bunch of companies, and we all know who they are which are stuck in a 90's timewarp, they use a lot of big words like Automation , cloud .....but the only thing in the cloud is their heads and automation wise , well yeah if like to watch oil tankers crash on autopilot we can do that .
To busy trying to sell Automation without understanding the premise and an abject failure to use in internally , most of these companies don't have 2 or 3 times the amount of staff they should it's probably more like 10x , with whole unit's locked in loops supporting other units who's task should have been automatized long ago.
If what a member of staff is doing not product, i.e generating more income than it costs to keep them ...you wont make a profit ........imagine that .
The CEO's at IBM, HPE, and Yahoo are all doing an excellent job - at extracting large sums of money from a sinking ship - it used to be called looting but these days it's standard operating procedure. The common thread is that these company's care nothing for their workers or the shareholders - and once the last dollar is plucked from the carcass, they will move on to the next.
when Compaq took over DEC. Travel was canned because people who made PC's on an assembly line didn't need to travel. Errrr..... Many of the contracts I was involved with had on-site training as part of the deal. The customer was paying for us to travel so no impact on the bottom line yet it still had to be signed off at European level. Madness.
The prognosis is poor and death is certain. Just how long this stupidity will continue is beyond me. It may only serve to prolong the life of a terminally ill patient.
Don't know what it covers - but it could be one of the few good things.
My company also has coverage for employees who travels for the company - if anything bad happens you're not on your own only for any expense - i.e. if you need medical transportation, etc.
When you travel don't you buy an assurance (if not already included in a travel packet)?
Based on my recollection of the relevant documentation, this should be read as a reminder that staff are covered by the "death or injury in service on company business travel" insurance if [AND ONLY IF] the travel is approved. As I suspect, IBM UK are self-insured in this area it follows prior art.
You're on your own folks ... travel at your own risk even if you don't claim expenses for it.
Happy days! I remember a senior and very well paid IBM manager distributing a memo setting out the correct way (meaning his preference) for stapling the pages of a document together when submitting it to him for approval. Staple at approx 10mm from upper left corner and at exactly 45 degrees.
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"Did you use that guide to staple said memo to said manager's arse?"
No, but I submitted the memo to the site exec (anonymously of course, I had 3 years to go to a comfortable retirement) with a covering note asking if this was the best use of resources in a division repeatedly turning in a loss. I did have many a happy thought at the conversation that, hopefully, took place in the exec suite.
It gets worse. The reason the manager required hard-copy docs for approval was that he disliked the electronic email and soft-copy document distribution system, so every evening his secy printed everything he received and put it on his desk. If you wanted onto that pile it was best to walk a hard-copy up to her before she left. This was in the late 90's.
Same thing at the DSS. Some bloke was paid to come round and optimise everyone's desk layouts for efficiency.
"Are you right handed? It's best your pen holder is on your right, within reaching distance. I recommend you place you coffee on a mat somewhere it is less likely to get knocked over". That kind of shit.
That's the same place you had to prove your pen was out of ink by physically showing the office admin manager it couldn't write any more before he'd issue a new one.
At BAe there was once an introductory class for new secretaries on "the correct use of the mouse". Nothing to do with software, this was which-way-up-it-goes level training.
What a co-incidence - IBM have a big presence at all those sites.
@ Mr Vistakin,
I once had a desk ergonomic assessment, to tell me where to put things. He couldn't understand why my mouse was to the left when I was right-handed, ditto my phone. I had to explain that I was ambidextrous and that picking up the phone with my left hand while I picked up my pen with my right, to take notes, was an efficiency gain. As for tea, that could be on either side as the mood took me. He could not take my anarchistic, boho ways, poor chap. He wrote up his recommendations, I ignored them.
There are a lot of pump-and-dump companies these days that could use the invisible hand of the free market upside their heads.
But alas, the game is rigged and the platitudes only for consumption by the gullible punters. Free market just means free to fuck you, the customer, up the arse without consequence (or even lube) while socializing the consequences and privatizing the profits.
IBM makes some rather large machines for some rather large companies. If something goes wrong it can be extremely expensive and may need someone on site immediately.
"Sorry sir, can you wait a few minutes while the bloke who has to sign off the travel gets out of the toilet?"
"Oh dear, he's now signed it off but it looks like the delay meant that the engineer missed the next flight."
"Stuff it where, sir?"
I wonder if the reason stated on the submitting engineers paperwork that this is a contractual requirement is enough to get the travel authorised?
I used to work for a once-great UK company that had been taken over by a three-letter behemoth from across the Atlantic. We were having a conference call with faceless ones from Head Office across the Pond. I was quizzed about why we were doing something on my project - for one of the largest companies in the world - because it wasn't "the company way". My reply was that it was a contractual requirement, that my first and second objectives were to fulfil the contract and to keep the customer happy, and that "the company way" came after that.
I was then told "Never let anyone hear you say that again. The company way IS how we do everything, and it suits most customers".
Fortunately, there were a number of us at the UK end of this call, and we all stared at each in open-jawed astonishment. My resignation followed shortly thereafter.
Hi to my former colleagues who will recognise me from that!
Wow.. Not sure what else to say!
I do: this is a very common attitude among all large American companies and has been for decades.
I've said it before and I never get tired of saying it: the goal of every large American business is to force a customer to pay them but not have to delver a single damn thing.
Again, no exaggeration.
You know, like a Wall St broker.
I had that attitude too when we borged into the largest US company. I kept proposing efficient, cheap ways to do things, only (after sighs of regret from the actual users worldwide) that no, we would do it the company way: worse and more expensive. I realised that I could not 'live the values' and left.
They do not contribute any deliverables, they are a net drain on margins, and it is THEM that are imposing the travel bans in order to save a few pennies (chairs and Titanic...).
The CEO needs to strip the company right down. Nobody else will do it. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas.
Was at a company once where micromanagement was the norm - and they also installed satellite trackers on _all_ company vehicles, which was duly monitored by dedicated staff.
Every km travelled had to be approved for, and accounted for afterwards.
Said rules did not apply to top manglement.
I escaped after a couple of months.
anon, obvious reasons.
There is a famous investor who maintains you can learn a lot about a company by looking at the value of the cars in the company car park in relation to salaries and the share price. If the ratio is too high then someone is being paid too much. Have you seen an IBM car park lately?
Probably make more money if they had a less impenetrable product portfolio.
I see IBM adverts plastered all over the place saying IBM can power this and that but I'm not entirely what that means and what their products actually are. Everything Ibread related to IBM is marketing guff and bluster.
Can someone clearly and concisely explain what it is that they do? I can't be alone here right?
Same goes for SAP and various other airport billboard space wasters. I swear those boards exist specifically to give PMs and CTOs something to say at meetings.
PM: *Wanders around airport eating duty free Toblerone, sees IBM and SAP billboards.*
*8 hours later after arriving at meeting in another country*
PM: I've been hearing a lot about SAP and IBM. Lets see if their solutions can resolve our tech problems.
Engineer: But which product and what solution?
PM: Just look at all of them and send me a report on pricing and features.
Engineer: *back at desk, opens browser, visits IBM.com, flips desk*
As a former IBMer, I remember the days (last month of the quarter) when the "no travel" email would come around.
I also remember the "Can you go see a customer next week?" requests ... if only the approval were that quick!
This is nothing new in IBM, been going on for years! So has the demise.
Get Watson to decide if travel is necessary. It's a win-win because the utilisation of Watson improves and you can reduce the number of divisional managers for expense reduction. If it works IBM can show the world how great Watson is and then sell it to everyone else.
Rather than act on individual decisions, you could get Watson to decide whether the overall travel policy made sense. Not sure how senior management would then feel about being contradicted by Watson though.
Hell, just have Watson make all the decisions that senior management currently make. It can't be any worse or show less humanity...
Greetings, humble subjects. I've heard that some of you took issue with my helicopter the last time you were graced with my presence. Do you like the one I have now? It's five stories tall with it's own landing bay and banquet hall. I wonder if any of you know how many of your annual salaries it takes to keep it in the air for an hour. Well, that number has just gone up.
I was going to share a special surprise with you today. Since our policy has changed to support more reasonable restrictions on travel spending we, your rulers, had decided to help you out. There was this marvellous Canadian invention that they came up with in the 1930s called "Bennett Buggies". We had purchased a fleet of these highly cost effective and stylish vehicles for you. However, since so many of you seem to have problems with our travel restrictions we have decided to update our policy. There will be no travel without approval and we have instructed your local magistrates to never approve travel. Since we won't be needing the Bennett buggies any longer all of the horses have been shot.
Thank you for your unquestioning loyalty and support. Do please try to be less filthy and unwashed the next time I grace you with my presence. One last thing, that one there, yes, the worried looking one, have her shot. Cheerio!
(Ginni boards her massive helicopter which then takes off, making a sweeping turn that causes the massive blades to puree half of the audience)
Yeah well...my helicopter has a helipad built into it and it's capable of landing on top of itself.
Just like IBM its capable of disappearing up its own arse but it can do so in one handy, portable helicopter format.
Its also powered by SAP, IBM, ORACLE and SUN MICROSYSTEMS aaaand it has Intel Inside.
Whatever the fuck all that means.
Also, next month ill be upgrading itnto an i9 CPU so ill halve the features but gain loads of cores. Winning!
If they are spending lots of money with IBM on a big project and suddenly the IBM folks quit showing up at their site and being working remotely instead I can see some of them unhappy about this change.
Especially if it is customer funded - i.e. the consultants charge their travel to the client. It sounds like their numbers so far in Q2 are looking bad for senior management bonuses, and even customer funded travel costs them money up front since travel in the month of June typically wouldn't be reimbursed via billing the customer until at least July.
Bet this policy loosens up in a month, though it may come back at the end of August.
Running the biz with short-term, reactionary policies doesn't seem particularly wise.
HP had all but clinched a 3Par purchase from a former employer. Two weeks before we were ready to request demo hardware, they cancelled their demo hardware program. I pleaded for an exemption, to no avail. Dell was gleeful about the opportunity. They not only loaned us test equipment, but also provided us with a T3 engineer for installation and testing guidance.
Guess who got the contract?
Looks like an opportunity for IBM SI and support partners though...
Ability to pick up plum IBM customer contracts and also create opportunities for those in IBM looking forward to redundancy...
So does anyone here know the new IBM sales commission rules? ie. are sales people being better rewarded for sales through Partners?
"i.e. the consultants charge their travel to the client."
Big consultancies don't do this. They stick a per-person-per-day charge onto every consultant on the project and absorb the excess as profit. It means senior managers get to swan about expensing any old shit while delivery staff get ranted at for spending three quid on AWS to prototype a solution.
If IBM was charging me 'per person per day' and I had a bunch of guys coming on site every week, and then they stopped coming and worked remotely, but I was getting billed the same, I'd raise holy hell.
I guess it depends on how the contract is written, maybe the customer has to lump it, but that would sure guarantee IBM isn't invited to bid on future contracts.
The customer has to lump it.
It's also why they clamp down on expenses. If they were billable they wouldn't give a fuck. Because they're not billable it means they're coming out of the margin. It means cutting down expenses even a small amount can have a disproportionate impact on margin. It's buried deep enough in the figures that Wall Street can't tell if it's a real bump in efficiency or penny pinching.
Sadly resorting to AC but ... we've been on a travel regime for all travel above some small limit to go to the board member for approval for some years now.
The problem is not the presence of such a policy for a senior sign-off which is easily managed with a few decent rules and good organisation, but whether this is causing valid travel to get rejected and damaging business.
Not rocket science to make it work well for the business. Explaining to the external travel agent that budget airlines exist and can fly me to the continent for a tenth the quoted price is a different matter.
(We are smaller, maybe 5,000 staff, but define some business rules like whether the client is paying for the travel and whether there is a budget allocated to give it some financial context. If the red flags don't rise, it gets approved typically in less than a few hours and in practice usually by the board member's competent PA as a delegate. Anything outside the limits usually gets kicked back unless it is a problem already on the exec's desk.)
Imagine you infiltrated the world's most valuable company, with the goal of sending as much of it as possible to your home country.
Your initial approach was to off-shore everything back to the home country, even though they do inferior work. Some customers would leave, but many would be stuck. The ones that were stuck learn to insist on workers that could come on-site to help figure out what needs to be done. This is a threat to the off-shoring.
The obvious solution is to make local workers equivalent the off-shore ones by essentially prohibiting travel to the customer sites.
I have been watching these IBM announcements, and wondering why one would still work there?
Stuff like this makes people leave. The people who leave first are the highest skill workers who can easily find a new job. This is a sliding scale down to the bottom end who will never leave on their own.
So, what is left at IBM? And why?
How do you end a company like IBM? Does it keep getting smaller and smaller, with less and less effect? Sad.
I too wonder why anyone stays there. My brief stint was enough to convince me beyond any doubt their days are numbered and they are by far the most dysfunctional company I have ever had the displeasure of working for.
Looks good on the CV though!
I have yet to run into an ex-IBM employee/contractor who liked working for them. And one who didn't have trouble getting paid.
"How do you end a company like IBM? Does it keep getting smaller and smaller, with less and less effect? Sad."
Everyday astrophysics. The high energy stuff escapes and the density increases until it becomes an undifferentiated soup of low energy
particles employees. At this point it becomes small and dim, and stays like that for a very long time until it strays too close to a black hole and gets broken up and sucked in.
Neutron star or red dwarf? The jury is out.
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I've seen this called 'Corporate Leprosy' where the command system no longer feels any pain reported by its extremities. While this does drastically reduce the amount of negative feedback experienced, it does not seem to be able to translate these efficiency gains into any viable long term prospects. Strange!
Eventually it will be detected that entire subdivisions are now underperforming, and so naturally they are excised and fed to another entity, in trade for a cheap replacement part you can graft into place. It looks healthier, and it smells of new and innovative chemicals, but it's always strangely stiff, and difficult (if not impossible) to grow into. And so the cycle of Un-life continues!
See also: "Mr Statistical Average says 'Excise your Extremities!'", "How I stopped worrying and learned to love my lobotomy".
"A ghoul stood on a bridge one night..
..its face was all a-quiver.
It gave a cough,
its leg fell off,
and floated down the river."
I have no idea what the relevance of this is to the story under discussion, but thank you anyway for reminding me of a limerick I last heard when I was, ooh, about 9 years old.
They managed to stretch the average lifespan of IT companies, but looks like they are doomed already, costs cut is just a way of stretching that lifespan a bit more, but is not a definitive solution, that would be generation more income, which seems hard with current IBM portfolio.
Well as a current customer of IBM we have already been impacted by this. We are small change compared to the big customer contracts. But we still expected a certain level of customer service.
We WERE looking at new version of one of their products plus expanding the product suite with the addition of a couple extra components. But considering the level of disservice we have received and the amount they expect us to pay for it we are now reviewing other products.
Congratulations IBM, if there is any justice in the world, We maybe the snowflake that starts the avalanche. Arsehats
I took over a project that had a travel budget that was totally unnecessary, but I needed some RAM for dev machines. Could I swap the travel budget for the RAM (some special +ve polarity IBM made RAM $500+ a stick @ internal price vs $90 from Dick Smith - same IBM part number) ? Answer was a big fat no.
The RAM was needed so we could have the spec and the code editor open at the same time - it would have paid for itself in 2 weeks in productivity improvements :-(
Got smacked in the internal PIR for not being +/- 10% on the travel, I was exactly 100% under budget (ie hadn't spent a cent on travel) , and 11% over on delivery time (& therefore outside the +/- 10% tolerance). So no bonus for you !
Was glad to be made redundant 2 years later.
I was working in a company which was borged by IBM. We received an urgent bug report from one of IBM's sales droids that a $1.5m USD was at stake. It was quite serious and was taking time to investigate. Two days later the same droid says the deal is now worth $2.5m USD and we need to fix it NOW! I turned to my manager and said: "Brilliant - in two days we've made the company $1m USD!". We fixed the bug and the deal never happened.
I tried to get a fibre optic cable installed between two separate buildings as the current two wireless links were struggling, cost for twelve fibres installed less than £900, declined on cost.
That was a few years ago.
Recently I find out that one manager insists on business class but doesn’t want anyone to know. We could probably save more than the cost of the fibre link in one flight.
Ten people suffer for years so that one fat arse can be comfortable for a couple of hours.
I’d say there is something in reviewing travel cost but it normally doesn’t happen while mates in management are pulling the same shit.
This article is so inaccurate. It's not all business travel, it's not saying that it's banned regardless of value, it's saying that it needs approval. It's only for services. A services organization is accountable for all travel regardless of who pays for it. Large overhead pushes up hourly rates. Customers and everyone else should be pleased that a company is spending its customers dollars wisely.
With 20 straight quarters of business decline (sales fall), its really about time Big Blue maybe actually visited some more of their customers, and talked to them about their businesses, rather than continually rearranging the deck chairs on the stern of the titanic.
One can practically guarantee that a bunch of inept ' latest PPT corporate slide deck' middle management expense saps are still charging around the Globe on internal jollies, whilst the customer-facing folk are stuck at home for the summer.
Oh yeah, IBM has a 'Cloud' strategy, so that's OK.
Dell EMC will be next. The early onset hubris is already apparent.
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