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America is under siege. Do we blame IBM or Cringely?

150,000 staff fired. -20,000 left ...

Analysis America faces a very serious question. Is Robert Cringely right?

Last week, Cringely presented the idea that IBM will layoff 150,000 workers, hoping to reduce costs. Cringely's reputation for making the boldest of claims seems to have reduced the impact of his piece. A few technology trade publications mentioned the IBM crisis speculation. The mainstream press ignored Cringely altogether.

If Cringely is correct, then the Wall Street Journal and New York Times had better find some reporters with investigative instincts and start digging into this situation. IBM firing 150,000 US workers would devastate the current, rather optimistic business climate. Worse than that it would leave IBM without a single worker in the US. Perhaps CEO Sam Palmisano has already purchased an estate in Shanghai.

Yes, Cringely overshot with the 150,000 figure by quite a margin. I should have picked up on this but failed to do so. Thankfully, our readers and his bailed out the fourth estate.

At last check, IBM employed close to 130,000 people in the US and well over 350,000 staff worldwide. In a fresh column this week, Cringely, reporting for PBS, addressed these numbers.

"Maybe the number WAS too high," Cringely writes. "Instead of 150,000, maybe the true number is only 100,000 or 75,000 or even 50,000. Would 50,000 layoffs from IBM Global Services be significantly less catastrophic for the workforce than 150,000?

"And while the number of layoffs to come may indeed be less than 150,000, I'd prefer to stick with that larger number, which I feel is not far off. . ."

Cringely's casual approach to these layoff claims strikes me as appalling. I love a controversial, hard-hitting story as much as the next reporter. You cannot, however, mess around with this type of issue and just "prefer" to pick and choose layoff numbers. Reporters, even columnists, need concrete information in these instances. After all, Cringely has targeted nothing less than a technology sector meltdown with his pieces - a meltdown that would reverberate well beyond IBM's boundaries, probably into your home.

Much of Cringely's criticism for IBM centers around a program dubbed "LEAN." The reporter makes it sound like he met with IBMers in a dark alley to obtain this acronym, which portends great change at Big Blue.

As best as I can tell, Lean stands as a common tactic for companies that have embraced the Six Sigma methods for improving process within an organization. You can see for yourself just how common the Lean idea is.

The Lean concept focuses on eliminating waste and redundancy in an organization. If IBM considers the majority of its US workforce waste, we're in real trouble.

In a letter to employees, IBM, of course, argued quite the opposite angle. The company tried to explain a recent 1,300 person layoff and to counter Cringely's original column.

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