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Graham Spittle, The IBM Wind of Change

Graham Spittle, The IBM Wind of Change

IBM’s Graham Spittle is not only moving to the commercial side of the business after two decades making software, but also from the famed Hursley

Outside IBM's large, grey, Stalinist complex on London's South Bank, the squally March weather is blowing umbrellas inside out, and sending discarded newspapers, food wrappers, and other detritus to the four winds. Tourists scurry into the nearby National Theatre, Hayward Gallery and other attractions, sprinting to escape the latest caprices of nature.

Inside, Graham Spittle is reflecting on a different type of sudden change. After two decades working in software development at IBM's famed Hursley campus near Winchester, Hampshire, Spittle is taking up a new challenge, as IBM's Software Group vice president for the UK, Ireland and South Africa.

Leaving beautiful Hursley, IBM's software development lab set in 100 acres of South Downs countryside with a gorgeous manor house and providing access to thousands of IBM's finest developmental brains, might be considered a bit of wrench for most of us. If it is, Spittle is not showing the pain.

"Hursley is a fantastic resource," he says. "It's years ahead of what anyone else can muster. It was set up in 1958 and has grown every year since, and it's where CICS, MQ Series, Message Broker and IBM's storage networking products were developed. As IBM's business changes, and we're obviously more software and services than we were in the past, the fabulous thing is that I now have the opportunity to look at another side of the business. The timing couldn't be better."

Bearded and bespectacled, Spittle might have something of the look of an academic boffin but he is quick to laugh and he is too modest a man to mention the legions of influential positions he has held, many of which have focused on making information technology more accessible to non-techies. These include a news-making appointment in 2004 that made him the first chair of the UK Department of Trade and Industry's Technology Strategy Board, a £320 million attempt to discover what innovation can do for UK business.

More Than an Engineer

He is also a far cry from the archetypal "pure" researcher and engineer, showing a deep appreciation for the role of information chiefs and how they embody his notion of "T-shaped people". By Spittle's reckoning, these are people who have strong technical domain knowledge (the vertical of the 'T') but are able to combine that with broader business and other skills (the horizontal of the 'T').

"The new CIO role is about having depth but also breadth," Spittle suggests. "The old CIO was all about technological depth but today it's very much a business role so what you're seeing is the emergence of T-shaped people.

"CIOs that have business appreciation will get listened to a lot more in the boardroom. People today are asking different questions of vendors.

"Before it was 'I want the fastest box' and now it's 'I have rapid growth in my customer base, what can you do to help me with that?' It's not about the speeds or feeds of one particular product any longer."

Of course, ever since Lou Gerstner took over IBM in 1993, the company known fondly as Big Blue has switched focus from hardware to become a broader vendor that places equal emphasis on hardware, software and services. However, in software in particular, the firm's growth has been explosive, helped by a seemingly non-stop series of acquisitions -- over 40 since 2000 -- including Rational, Cognos, Micromuse, FileNet, Ascential, Candle and Informix. With such a broad range of tools in hand, is there not the risk of a return to the days of "fear, uncertainty and doubt" as former employee Gene Amdahl described it? In other words, lock-in to the company's wares and that old aphorism that "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM"?

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