IBM layoffs incite backlash

Business decision spurs negative sentiment toward Big Blue.

IBM's news that it will shed some 5,000 North American jobs and potentially send more positions overseas has stirred up some bad sentiment toward Big Blue as the U.S. economy continues to languish.

IT professionals and others sounded off online regarding IBM's plans (first reported in the Wall Street Journal) to reduce headcount in its Global Business Services division and possibly relocate jobs to lower-cost offshore geographies -- despite the practice being part of Big Blue's long-term strategy.

IBM has publicly stated it would grow its global presence and tap local resources and talent around the world, offshoring jobs overseas for years now. Yet this week's news that IBM would eliminate jobs during the U.S. recession sparked a notably negative reaction to what some industry watchers refer to as a solid business strategy.

"True, IBM's been outsourcing for years. Times change and if you don't pay attention to it, it can bite you. This is one of those times when greed, whether it be bonus or cutting jobs, is a very touchy, high-profile area," one reader commented online. "[IBM] would be better off just reducing headcount, but when you add in 'replacing with lower cost employees,' then you get what you deserve in public backlash."

With outsourcing seeing a potential boom during the downturn, industry watchers argue IBM is making solid business moves.

"Some of these outsourcing firms are looking quite strong through the downturn and are using this economic pressure to show clients how they are working to be more productive in the future," says Paul Roehrig, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

For instance, IBM (which operates its own US$59 billion Global Technology/Business Services outsourcing division) saw strong gains in 2008. IBM reported revenue of US$103.6 billion in 2008, up 5% from 2007's $98.8 billion. Income for the year ended Dec. 31 came in at US$12.3 billion compared with $10.4 billion, a jump of 18%.

"IBM is actually doing just what it is supposed to do, taking care of the profit line for the company. It is amazing how we don't hear these complaints when the economy is good, only when it goes bad," one reader said online. "The principles [of capitalism and free markets] are the same any time, all the time, not just now."

And with lower cost alternatives to offer clients, IBM could potentially pass along the savings to its customers and remain a successful U.S.-based business during the recession, analysts say.

"IBM might be able to better compete with Indian offshore providers from a pricing perspective" by moving resources overseas and reducing its costs, Roehrig says.

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