Nobody Ever Got Fired for Buying IBM (And Other Too-Safe Thinking)

A new world of software requires a new approach to innovation and problem-solving.

“Nobody ever got fired for IBM.”

It’s an unattributed, highly popular saying in some business circles, and it’s been kicking around for some time now.

The guiding notion here is simple, if inaccurate: Megavendors such as IBM, Microsoft, and Cisco are a safe bet. They’ll do the task, support the role, and spare the shot-callers from having their decisions second-guessed.

On its face, the logic seems solid enough, but there’s an insidious type of too-safe thinking buried in the message.

It’s a point of reference that tends to get in the way of progress. Conceptually, it’s the cousin of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” another unpopular mindset of modern enterprise.

In the world of business-led IT decisions, innovation isn’t just a thing that happens in response to outside-the-box thinking. It’s also about extending current resources – doing more with less – and going beyond what was previously thought possible.

So how can IT leaders fully embrace digital transformation when they’re also following the party line that says, “play it safe and do what’s always been done”?

They can’t.

When a company fails to embrace innovation, it fails to adopt flexible strategies that define its course towards modernization.

Unsurprisingly, businesses grappling with this reality also tend to get stuck with technology that does less than needed, while simultaneously costing more than it should.

In that regard, “nobody got fired for buying IBM” reflects a too-safe mindset that leads to different professional hazards for the business and the people running it.



Of course, conventional thinking doesn’t overhaul itself overnight, and you can’t fault people for taking career-safe moves.

But the landscape is changing. The signs have been there for some time now.

Take this 2015 LinkedIn analysis from Paul Liesching, director of enterprise sales at Truphone. As Liesching said, the “nobody got fired” line of thinking gained prominence in the 1980s, an era dominated by FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) tech sales techniques, not to mention a more monolithic technology acquisition model in general.

In more modern times, Liesching argued – and, again, he was saying this back in 2015 – consumerization and disintermediation have changed the status quo altogether.

  • The ongoing consumerization of software (and everything else) is a continually escalating cost of doing business. Whether you call them customers, clients, end-users, or consumers, they always expect more in terms of product offerings and experience. As Liesching said in his piece, businesses caught up in too-safe thinking can’t innovate internal processes; how, then, can they be expected to meet eternally fluid consumer demands
  • Slightly more complex, disintermediation dovetails with the notion of disruption. In the days when single systems managed huge portions of a company’s digital operations, toeing the “nobody got fired” line made sense. Today, with all sorts of hyperspecialized, highly functional alternatives pushed by tiny but capable vendors, the line to technology success is far more customizable, but significantly less straightforward than it used to be. For an example of the hybridized approach modern companies take, an organization might use standard upgrades to augment certain points of infrastructure, but apply continuous modernization techniques to keep other areas of the estate the same for long periods of time.

Putting it together, what appears to be the safest play might be anything but. It’s now up to IT leaders to figure out what that basic fact looks like in motion.


In many cases, large swaths of a technology professional’s job – regardless of the title – come down to remediating the long-term impacts of “nobody got fired” thinking. That could include uptime concerns, licensing and audit issues, migration headaches, or any number of other real-world outcomes IT teams grapple with daily.

Third-party software maintenance (TPSM) companies exist to shore up the gaps megavendors leave behind, like when a newly hired CIO steps into a role with too little budget and terminal need for growth, or stakeholders hand down a directive to innovate, but also to spend a lot less.

And returning to the idea of disintermediation above, it’s easy to see why the industry is growing. The days of one-and-done procurement, where single vendors digitally control most every aspect of your productivity and customer experience, are gone.

Third-party software maintenance gives companies a quicker way out of the quagmire.

Instead of struggling to make trusted systems play nice with new ones or going down upgrade paths the business isn’t totally sold on, TPSM providers give businesses the flexibility to keep what works and do away with the rest.


Many questions arise when thinking about whether or not to make the move to a third-party software maintenance provider for your IBM® estate. Read on for answers to some of the most common questions about TPSM.

Finding stability in a tough economy gets easier when teams work together to make educated technology solutions. Advice and analysis inside.

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