A couple of months ago at CNBC’s Transform conference, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna painted a picture of a company in the midst of a transformation. He said that he wanted to take advantage of IBM’s $34 billion 2018 Red Hat acquisition to help customers manage a growing hybrid cloud world, while using artificial intelligence to drive efficiency.
It seems like a sound enough approach. But instead of the new strategy acting as a big growth engine, IBM’s earnings today showed that its cloud and cognitive software revenues were down 4.5% to $6.8 billion. Meanwhile cognitive applications — where you find AI incomes — were flat.
If Krishna was looking for a silver lining, perhaps he could take solace in the fact that Red Hat itself performed well, with revenue up 18% compared to the year-ago period, according to the company. But overall the company’s revenue declined for the fourth straight quarter, leaving the executive in much the same position as his predecessor Ginni Rometty, who led IBM during 22 straight quarters of revenue losses.
Krishna laid out his strategy in November, telling CNBC, “The Red Hat acquisition gave us the technology base on which to build a hybrid cloud technology platform based on open-source, and based on giving choice to our clients as they embark on this journey.” So far the approach is simply not generating the growth Krishna expected.
The company is also in the midst of spinning out its legacy managed infrastructure services division, which, as Krishna said in the same November interview, should allow Big Blue to concentrate more on its new strategy. “With the success of that acquisition now giving us the fuel, we can then take the next step, and the larger step, of taking the managed infrastructure services out. So the rest of the company can be absolutely focused on hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence,” he said.
While it’s certainly too soon to say his transformation strategy has failed, the results aren’t there yet, and IBM’s falling top line has to be as frustrating to Krishna as it was to Rometty. If you guide the company toward more modern technologies and away from the legacy ones, at some point you should start seeing results, but so far that has not been the case for either leader.
Krishna continued to build on this vision at the end of last year by buying some additional pieces like cloud applications performance monitoring company Instana and hybrid cloud consulting firm Nordcloud. He did so to build a broader portfolio of hybrid cloud services to make IBM more of a one-stop shop for these services.
As retired NFL football coach Bill Parcells used to say, referring to his poorly performing teams, “you are what your record says you are.” Right now IBM’s record continues to trend in the wrong direction. While it’s making some gains with Red Hat leading the way, it’s simply not enough to offset the losses, and something needs to change.