% fortune -ae paul murphy

Adding up Sun's pieces

Here's a comment from last week by occasional contributor Storm14k:

Sleeping with the enemy...

Is what has kept MS in its position so far. How is MS anything but an enemy to Sun? Why work with the company that launches products to compete with everything you do? If anything you need to build a platform where you don't need the enemy for anything and don't aid them in combating you.

Sun may have pulled that off. They have the OS, the DB, the programming language, the programming IDE, the office suite and many other tools in a full platform. If anyone ever had a chance at being the next MS I'd say its them at this point. The question is whether they will capitalize on it or make the same mistake of MS and build such a complete platform that every tech company is your enemy and no one really wants to be the customer.

He's absolutely right, Sun has everything it needs to become a dominant player - except cheerleaders on Wall Street and a sales organization capable of understanding and executing the vision.

When you live quarter to quarter, when monthlies become weeklies become daily nightmares, you evolve a culture in which short term considerations outweigh all others - and if the geniuses at headquarters want you to sell an integrated product set but the CIO at the customer that could make your quota for the quarter wants the same garbage his peers are betting their companies on, you're going with the customer.

And that's fundamentally what's driving the middle management problem at Sun: the research people and the top brass are forward focused deep thinkers but the people in between, the guys who have to execute on the strategy, are under continual pressure to close deals with people who get their technical information from Forbes and make decisions on bar talk with mirror images of themselves.

Put somebody in that position and of course the customer, however idiotic, will always be right - but the unfortunate IT corollary to this adage is that not only is the customer usually out of touch with respect to both technology and his own company's needs, but the bigger his budget, the further behind he's likely to be.

So put yourself in the sales guy's place: you've got a five million dollar hole in your quota, 17 working days left to fill it, and a major Web Sphere user whose CTO has just discovered the Pentium wants five hundred machines by next weekend - really, are you going to educate him about CMT/SMP? About Solaris, Sun Ray, and open source software? Of course not, you're going to sell him bananas with Sun stickers on them - and after he signs the P.O. are you going to tell him it was all a mistake: that he's spending five million bucks to dig the hole deeper, when he could have started on his way out for well under a million?

No? then you understand why Sun's numbers driven sales strategy is hurting the company's ability to monetize its research and deliver on its high level strategies.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.