The End of an Era: How Steve Mills Helped Transform IBM Software
In 1995 Sam Palmisano unified all of IBM’s software offerings into a single organization called the IBM Software Group. Sam selected a long time executive, Steve Mills to run this large and fragmented organization. It was not an easy job to put it mildly. Each software product organization had its own infrastructure, its own database services, and middleware. These product organizations often competed internally and externally. Steve changed that by forcing these independent organizations to begin using common services. I remember a conversation I had during those early years with Steve where he told me of how difficult it was to get these organizations to give up their cherished proprietary services. These developers and architects wanted to hold on. Somehow he was able to begin the transformation from a collection of fiefdoms into a software company.
That was only the beginning of Steve’s initiatives for helping to transform IBM Software Group. He was instrumental in moving IBM to begin its adoption of open systems and open source software. While these days it is not unusual for a large technology company to adopt open software, it was viewed with disbelief and skepticism in the 1990s. The foundation for what we see today unfolding at IBM was put into action by Steve. Today, Linux, Cloud Foundry, Hadoop, Spark, and hundreds of other de facto and de jure standards characterize IBM’s software offerings. For example, there is the same software infrastructure across both System z and Power Systems. At the same time, IBM software overall has a set of standard APIs across its software offerings. If you look inside many of the software offerings that IBM sells, you will see the same security, middleware, data services, and development services.
For analysts like myself, we will all miss the final session at the end of the day with Steve. During these encounters we would ask questions about how he saw the future of IBM software and the future of IBM’s competitors. He was always insightful and often very funny. From my perspective, Steve Mills has set IBM software on the right path with the consistent software services he mandated. He set the direction that led to the hundreds of acquisitions that have helped move IBM into a complicated new era of software.