IBM cites local employee base in appeal to Massachusetts Governor

Summary:For the record, I don't believe that Massachusetts' technology decisions should be based on the preferences of companies that have large points of presence (and thus many employees) in that state.  Technology choices should cross geographical boundaries and should be based on the technical (and legal) merits of the technology; not whether the contributors to it employ lots of local voters.

For the record, I don't believe that Massachusetts' technology decisions should be based on the preferences of companies that have large points of presence (and thus many employees) in that state.  Technology choices should cross geographical boundaries and should be based on the technical (and legal) merits of the technology; not whether the contributors to it employ lots of local voters.  That said, it has been kind of shocking to me how most of the major technology companies headquartered in Massachusetts have pretty much left IBM and Sun -- two of the biggest vendor proponents of the state's plan to adopt the OpenDocument Format and two vendors that have very large presences in Massachusetts -- out to dry. 

At a recent TechNet Dinner that I attended in Boston, one of the questions that came up was how to make sure that Massachusetts not only retains its position as a global technology hub, but grows it.  Growth is obviously dependent on a talent pool and having a good talent pool requires a certain amount of critical mass in terms of technology companies.  To the extent that Sun and IBM (two companies that help to preserve the local talent pool) are going head to head against Microsoft (very limited point of presence, comparatively speaking) in the battle for format supremacy in Massachusetts, you'd think that the rest of the tech companies headquartered here in Massachusetts would rally behind the local favorites and voice their support on Beacon Hill. 

For example, although Novell is now headquartered here and it appears to have sided with IBM and Sun, it hasn't made a tenth of the stink that IBM and Sun have.  And then there are other Massachusetts' headquartered IT companies like EMC, RSA, and Akamai (all in attendance at the TechNet dinner) that have stayed on the sidelines.  My understanding is that quite the opposite happens in Silicon Valley; that when certain out-of-town technology companies look to influence local or national legislation, that Silicon Valley-headquartered companies will actually cross party lines to stand together to keep the out-of-state "invaders" at bay.  Again, I don't believe that there's any room for politics in making technology decisions. It's just that I'm surprised the file format deliberations here in Massachusetts aren't more politicized than they already are. 

All this said, IBM has sent an open letter (full text here) to Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney that leaves no stone  unturned in terms of quantifying the degree to which IBM employs some of the state's citizens.  In the letter, IBM Workplace, Portal and Collaboration Software general manager Michael D. Rhodin wrote:

Massachusetts is recognized across the globe as an incubator for software development. As the result of acquiring several Massachusetts-based companies, including Rational Software, Lotus Development Corp. and Ascential Software, we now have over 4,000 IBMers based in the Commonwealth.  Our employees are spread across IBM offices in Cambridge, Waltham, Lexington, Westborough and Westford, where I have lead the development of IBM's collaboration software product line for the last two years..... The new Workplace Managed Client is one example of how IBM is driving economic development in the Commonwealth.....I hope you share our enthusiasm for this announcement and what it means for the future of companies, organizations and citizens across the state and across the world.

Over the weekend, IBM provided more details on the availability and ODF-compliance of its Workplace Managed Client (described by me in a previous blog entry).  The Governor probably doesn't need to be reminded of IBM's presence in the state.  Sometimes, reminders like these are also reminders of the influence one is wielding.  So, for the conspiracy theorists that may see the letter as a veiled threat (perhaps to pull its business out of the state) I asked IBM spokesperson Todd Martin point blank "Is this letter a veiled threat?" After verbally and unequivocally telling me "no," Martin responded via email with the follow statement:

We are proud that our Massachusetts' employees are developing solutions which return information technology control to the end user.  As a long-term employer in the Commonwealth, we communicate important technology and product innovations to the Administration and the general public.  We wrote to the Governor to advise him of the announcement and the importance of open standards in driving choice and efficiency.

Topics: IBM

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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