Microsoft, Ex-Presidents and Trust

Gerald Ford was known for his integrity. Can the same be said of the IT vendors we deal with?


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Posted January 8, 2007

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle

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I just finished watching the funeral for our 38th President Gerald Ford and was struck by how often those eulogizing him used the word “trust.” Here was a guy who never sought the office of the presidency and yet was brought in time and again because he was the most trustworthy person anyone seemed to know. I was particularly struck by the number of things he accomplished but never really got credit for until the end. And how, now that his life is over, it was his integrity that will be remembered above all.

In our IT world there are two vendors who have traditionally stood out when the question of “trust” is raised. IBM, who has historically ranked number one as the most trusted, and Microsoft, who traditionally ranks in the least bracket in the range of vendors I’ve studied.

IBM sold that trust cheaply in the ‘80s, and the result was the firing of their CEO and the loss of much of what made IBM the powerhouse it once was. IBM has recovered somewhat. And while not nearly as powerful as it once was, I believe that were I to survey people on the company today, only one firm might challenge it for the “most trusted” ranking: HP, who might actually win now.

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Microsoft has been a conundrum, because it is the only company that actually splits the base. When I used to survey on the company it came in as a strong No. 3 in terms of trust, but had a massive lead when it came to distrust, and was the only company that had strong positions at each extreme. Today I believe Open Source wouldn’t be the power it is if it wasn’t for this high level of distrust for Microsoft. Yet conversely, the fact that Microsoft didn’t follow IBM’s catastrophic slide is because a significant number of companies still trust it highly.

As we begin the New Year I think the value of trust should be discussed – specifically, why maintaining it has as much to do with the IT executive as with the vendor.

Who Owns Trust?

For Microsoft, when I looked at the root cause of IT distrust, it generally came down to two things. One was that Microsoft simply didn’t treat senior IT managers as they expected to be treated. Typically if you met with an enterprise level vendor as a CIO you would be wined and dined often given lavish gifts and maybe even get free travel in the corporate jet. Microsoft generally made folks pay their own travel and the “gift” was a trip to the Microsoft employee store where they would be offered the employee discount on anything they wanted to buy. As an ex-Internal Auditor I have mixed feelings about this part of the problem.

The other cause seemed to be directly connected to how closely the firm actually worked with Microsoft. For those that had purchased heavily and stayed closely connected to the firm through deployment and service, the relationships were generally strong and this was reflected in a high IBM/HP-like score. For those that used third parties (who often generically blamed problems on Microsoft) and systematically treated the company like a packaged product company (which it does kind of look like) the result typically was low trust. It was almost as if, when you were doing the surveys, you were talking about two different companies and – through the eyes of the buyer – in a way, it was.

In the Microsoft example, while the loss of trust clearly damaged the vendor, the problem should have been jointly owned by IT but clearly wasn’t. Much like any relationship, if it isn’t nurtured, protected, and prioritized it will likely degrade regardless of which side is at fault.

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