IT Confidential: IT Bracketology: Madness Of A Higher Order

College basketball is hard enough to figure out. Trying to figure out where computer industry consolidation is headed is a head-scratching experience.
I prefer the NBA to college basketball, which is heresy to my friends who are great fans of the sport. They claim the college game is better, more authentic, more inspired. Reminds me of the arguments made by open source evangelists or Mac fanatics.

Still, I can't help but feel the buzz in the air when the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament kicks into high gear. That buzz is generally referred to as March Madness, and there are plenty of reasons why that's appropriate.

>> I'm amazed at how people who can't handle Excel to save their lives the other 11 months of the year suddenly become experts in generating multilayered, graphics-intensive spreadsheets.

>> I tip my hat to the ingenuity of streaming media providers, such as the NCAA Web site, which provides a "Boss Button" that turns your screen from a basketball game into a bland spreadsheet when the boss walks by.

>> I love reading statistics about the loss of productivity over the 19 days of the tournament. Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an executive placement firm, estimates that $1.2 billion will be lost this year to office workers watching streaming media. Does that include unpaid overtime?

>> I cringe when I contemplate the array of surveillance systems offered as solutions to that productivity loss: office-building video, network monitoring, cell phone tracking, etc. Who buys that stuff? I guess I'd rather not know.

>> People who never gamble suddenly ask: What do you mean online gambling is against the law in the United States? Since when?

What I'm most impressed with, though, is the time and effort college basketball fans spend trying to figure out, before the tournament, which two teams will face each other in the national championship. This art, known as "bracketology," involves mapping the original lineup of 64 teams, from the first round of 32 games (actually, two sets of 16), and whittling them down in tiered succession, through the process of elimination, to the final two.

It occurs to me that this process might be applied to the computer industry. It's not hard to imagine the IT industry as a winner-take-all tournament. Consolidation has never been more apparent than in the last several years, as fewer and fewer vendors vie for market share.

A first pass at IT bracketology might look something like this:

But that's the past. Computer industry consolidation is an ongoing, rapidly evolving reality. Think of some recent examples: Oracle vs. Hyperion = Oracle; Cisco vs. WebEx = Cisco. More in keeping with the spirit of bracketology is trying to map future contests and their outcomes, like this:

Or how about the Linux market, which seems to be heading toward a few elimination matchups:

Now let me see if I can work my way to a final four. It's a big field, there are still many players: IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, ... Google, I guess ... OK, maybe it's not such a demanding exercise after all.

What's your IT final four? Send your brackets (no attachments, please), and industry tips, to [email protected] or call 516-562-5326.

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