IBM Reserves the right to change, modify its offerings, policies and practices at any time

Published on 
November 14, 2014
Will Nicholls
IBM Reserves the right to change, modify its offerings, policies and practices at any time

Though they’re gone through a number of iterations I’ve read these words so many times it feels as if they are scorched onto my retina; IBM’s much vaunted reason for doing precisely what they please, when they please. You’ll find it on any documentation or emails or notices relating to microcode restrictions, as if it magically underpins all the other words around it & gives those other words authority. But what does it actually mean?

Well in its very simplest terms it means that you can never trust what IBM tell you because what they tell you today may very well be true today, but it might not be tomorrow. When you stop & think about that for a moment, it’s seems almost unbelievable that any company or organisation would be so bold about such a policy & openly advertise the fact. Yes, we all know that companies change the way they do things for their own benefit & organisations can spin their words to retrospectively match their deeds, just think of a politician if you need convincing. But I wonder how far a political party would get if their manifesto included the words “we reserve the right to go back on everything we told you before the election & do something completely different after it, which will be to the benefit of us & not you”; not very far I bet & yet, that is basically the message that IBM are openly advertising.

I can only think of a couple of reasons why anyone at IBM would think such a statement is ok, one pretty sinister & the other almost makes me feel sorry for them (I did say almost).

The first is a stark yet simple one, & that is IBM hold in contempt every other body they have dealings with; that’s employees, customers, governments, every one. Don’t forget that many of IBM’s big revenues come from government contracts paid for by taxpayers, so that list of contempt includes the ordinary taxpaying citizen of every country in which they operate. How can anyone within IBM think that this is a satisfactory state of affairs? Well it seems a company once obsessed with its public image now simply doesn’t care how it’s seen, from the benevolent to malevolent with fifteen little words, only interested in squeezing as much out of everything it touches no matter what the long term cost.

The second came to me whilst listening to a debate on the radio regarding the price of Premiership football tickets; one participant said something on the lines of “any club that relies solely on the loyalty of their fans, that uses & abuses that loyalty, will ultimately fail”. Replace club with IBM & fan with customer & the end result will be the same, it may be a long one but IBM is on the road of terminal decline; the once greatest computer company in the world strangled by its own greed & it’s that which saddens me.

The words themselves do beg the question that if IBM has the right to do what they are doing then why do those rights need reserving, why don’t they just get on with it? The answer to that is simple, it’s legalistic claptrap meant to sound menacing & give the words an air of legality. Of course I’m not saying that IBM can’t do this or that it’s illegal, a company can do pretty much what it wants; but just saying it does not necessarily make the changes to policy & procedure themselves legal; similarly if a customer chose to ignore the policy & procedure changes that of itself is not necessarily illegal either. In both cases that would be down to a judicial decision which would need a customer to legally challenge the changes, an occurrence that IBM are probably safe in betting against anyone being bold enough to do.

Now I am no lawyer but where I do think it’s very dubious is when IBM tries to enforce their policy & procedure changes retrospectively. Surely when a customer buys something from a supplier, that transaction is a contract & as such comes with obligations from both parties for as long as the something is in use. I think the very least any purchaser of a something has a right to expect is that the terms & everything that those terms implied remain in effect for the lifetime of the something. Altering policies & procedures that materially change the contract of purchase has, in my view, to be illegal; & if it’s not then it should be!

Having said that I suppose if an organisation signed up to the statement they would be bound into allowing IBM to whatever, whenever they wanted but who would knowingly sign up to such a thing & where would they sign? Well thinking of the fundamental nature of the effect this statement would have on the way two organisations deal with each other that this would be an elementary clause in any contract that governed their relationship; there is such a contract between IBM & all of its customers called the IBM Customer Agreement (ICA) & it’s where you would expect to find it, but I can’t & I’ve looked very hard.

So where does all this leave us? As someone that works in the IT Secondary Market I could be forgiven for thinking that IBM were out to get me & my livelihood, but it’s not deliberate, it’s merely a side effect of a company that’s lost its way & is floundering in a market it doesn’t understand anymore; most IBM customers I speak too feel even more strongly than I that IBM is out to get them by tying their hands & removing their freedom of choice but again it’s not deliberate, it’s another side effect of a company that has forgotten who is King in the supplier/customer relationship. It’s probably best summed up by the words of Napoleon Bonaparte “never attribute to malice what can easily be accounted for by incompetence”……… very apt Mr B.

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