Users work on IBM to listen to its customers

IBM's understanding of corporate IT users and their issues is cyclical, swinging from high to low, according to Ray Titcombe,...

IBM's understanding of corporate IT users and their issues is cyclical, swinging from high to low, according to Ray Titcombe, chairman of the IBM Computer Users' Association.

"IBM goes through four- to five-year cycles. It gets close to us and really understands our issues but then it slowly but surely drifts away," he said.

"IBM is currently at mid point. It will spin back to become more customer-centric but at present it is caught up in its own hype."

That was demonstrated at a recent meeting where IBM mesmerised IT managers and users with high-flying e-business solutions and the latest software when what they really wanted was the basics of how to get started, he said.

Titcombe is kept busy working with his members. Users and IBM business partners alike find that IBM is notorious for moving its people and regularly changing its terms and conditions.

IBM's Websphere e-business product is an example of the user group's facilitation. "We don't want IBM to say how good it is, but to explain how it works, how it sits in different environments and what it will reside with."

And the group does not pull punches when it has to. The last head-to-head was in early 2002 - when Officevision was withdrawn on the AS400 - because of the manner in which it was done.

Titcombe said the problem was that IBM had an incomplete customer database as business partners had taken it over so many users were not informed. Under pressure from the CUA, IBM - together with the partners - did a comprehensive telesurvey which ensured everyone was alerted.

However, Titcombe observed that IBM does not appear to have tracked its data so its customer database is still not as it could be.

He is seeing signs that the tide is turning and that over the next 18-24 months IBM will regain a major customer focus. "It's happening with the i-series," he said. "The new marketing director is already doing the unthinkable. She is making IBM people pick up the phone and talk to customers!"

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