The Washington Post

IBM celebrates its centennial

In this undated photo provided by International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) a punch card machine is being assembled. IBM was formed on June 16, 1911, as the Computing Tabulating Recording Co. in a merger of four separate companies. The new business with a plant in Endicott, N.Y., made scales, time clocks, cheese slicers and _ significantly for its future _ machines that read data stored on punch cards.(AP Photo/IBM Corporation) (AP)

The company celebrated with a day of service at its headquarters in Armonk, N.Y. and across the country, and joins a handful of American companies such as Coca-Cola, General Electric, Ford and DuPont that have survived 100 years or more.

Dave McQueeney, vice president for Software at IBM Research, said IBM’s history is also a look back at a century of public-private partnership.

The company has worked on several projects with the federal government, which McQueeney said has been a “wonderful laboratory for innovation” over the past 100 years.

The first punch-card machine was invented to help the U.S. calculate the census, McQueeney said. IBM scientists and engineers also helped with the invention of timecards, calculations and equipment for the Apollo missions, the first air defense system and, most recently, cyberattack detection.

Even the company’s latest prominent innovation — Watson, the robot that competed on Jeopardy! — was designed with government applications in mind. Agencies could be able to use its natural speech software to process requests or cull facts from academic journals to process more information than any single person.

IBM has had to react to shifting markets several times in its long history, and has had its ups and downs — the early 1990s comes to mind. McQueeney said the company is facing one of those big switches right now.

While IBM is committed to the hardware production that made it a prominent company, McQueeney said that companies “have to be prepared to do whatever and make whatever changes to your structure” to sustain a company for a hundred years.

Right now, that means focusing heavily on software — a path the company started on when it acquired Lotus in 1995. “Fifty years ago there was a preponderance of physics and material science. Today the majority of our business is on software and services,” he said.

What do you think has kept IBM going for 100 years? And will it survive 100 more?

Related stories:

PHOTOS: IBM turns 100

IBM makes first graphene integrated circuit

Watson, the 'Jeopardy!' computer, has grander plans

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.



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