Big Blue to Gather Software Brains in Littleton

IBM’s eight Massachusetts offices—most, the legacies of the local software companies the company has acquired over the years—are scattered around Boston like chips on a poker table. And now the company is about to rake them in.

Big Blue (NYSE: IBM) said Tuesday that it will shift 3,400 jobs to a split campus paralleling Interstate 495, about 25 miles outside downtown Boston. Some of the transplanted employees will work in Westford, where the company already occupies space, but the bulk will move to offices a few miles away in Littleton, where IBM will take over and upgrade a complex previously occupied by Hewlett Packard and Compaq.

The Boston Business Journal reported on the move Monday afternoon, shortly after employees were notified, and the Globe picked up the story Tuesday, noting that Massachusetts already hosts IBM’s largest concentration of software operations (a result of its acquisitions of Lotus, Rational, Ascential, MRO, Bowstreet, and Watchfire, among other companies). The geographic shuffling will begin in 2008, and once it’s completed, by 2010, the new I-495 nexus will be the state’s largest software campus, IBM said in its own announcement. At that point, IBM will have only four Massachusetts locations: Cambridge, Waltham, Westford, and Littleton.

That got us wondering about the locations that will be shutting down and how the changes might alter traffic and everyday business around greater Boston. Granted, 3,400 people are a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of thousands who have to get to work every day in the Bay State. But it’s not every day that a giant like IBM moves so many chess pieces all at once.

ibm-boston.jpg For fun, we used Google Earth to draw up a map contrasting the locations of the companies IBM has acquired over the years (shown in blue) with the locations of the offices that will remain after the consolidation (red). In the end, it appears, IBM’s offices will be spread out along an axis from Cambridge to Littleton that more or less splits the difference between the locations of its existing offices. (Click on the map to see a larger version. Note that this map may be incomplete: it was tough tracking down every company IBM has purchased, and there may be other IBM facilities that we didn’t know about.)

Why is the Westford office staying put while thousands of IBMers currently working in places like Bedford, Lexington, and Westborough will have to drastically alter their commutes? One can speculate that it’s because that’s where Mike Rhodin, the general manager of Lotus Software and IBM’s senior executive in Massachusetts, is based. Lotus’s executive offices moved to Westford after the company became part of IBM in 1995, though the company was born in Cambridge in 1982 and continues to employ workers in its former Kendall Square headquarters.

And now it’s time for more recently acquired companies to join the mother ship. “We do feel we’ve acquired significant intellectual assets through the acquisitions, and as such, we want to bring that together and harness it, and allow people to continue their innovation but in a collaborative way with their other counterparts across the software group,” Bob McDonald, vice president of technical support at Lotus, told us Tuesday. One possible translation: IBM executives and developers are tired of facing other Boston drivers whenever they want to collaborate face-to-face with colleagues at other area facilities.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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