Wednesday, November 27, 2013

IBM 2013 Software Analyst Insight - I

This year’s Software Analysts Insight (#swgai) event was interesting and valuable. It provided an opportunity to interact directly with key senior executives to discuss key IBM strategies, tactics and plans for 2014.  Here are our observations on things of particular interest to us.

First, Steve Mills is well on his way to achieving his goal of selling IBM solutions with less focus on individual products. He anticipated the market shift away from products per se (which is accelerating) to the demand for solutions that address major enterprise challenges resulting from rapidly evolving technology, changing markets, accelerating change, etc. He confirmed IBM’s unequivocal, sole focus on addressing enterprise needs. It is not now, nor will it be, a consumer-focused company. There will be no ‘high concept’ store-barges floating in San Francisco Bay (or anywhere else) from IBM. Success depends upon IBM’s ability to anticipate enterprise demands and adapt tactics, products and messaging to fit. Their focus is on how to help their clients be successful in the markets they choose to pursue.

Second, IBM and the clients it serves must be more customer-focused and -responsive than ever. Big Data and Analytics both drive and address this move as they combine to provide customers and enterprise with informed insight to make better choices and decisions. This spurs continuous market evolution with an explosion of opportunities. As enterprises find themselves operating in a state of perpetual transformation, IT must provide the platform for speedy and agile response. Enterprises must balance optimization (of existing infrastructure and processes) with innovation (investment to change operations, functions and delivery) if they are to be successful.

Third, Cloud computing begins in the infrastructure and extends across business functions, including service delivery. Properly implemented, it provides a consistent, reliable and scalable pillar underpinning enterprise success. To truly leverage the abilities of the cloud, access to services (infrastructure, platform, software, services, etc.) must not be vendor specific. Therefore, IBM fully committed to standards-based implementations. Initially as one of the first to promote and fund multi-vendor standardization efforts, such as Open Stack, TOSCA, etc., next by building standards-based solutions based on published APIs. 

IBM is one of the largest Software as a Service (SaaS) providers to the enterprise today. They believe that SaaS is becoming the dominant way enterprises will purchase and deliver new products and services. Adding to its existing 100+ SaaS offerings, IBM will expand to include their full portfolio. Other paths to the market will be maintained, but SaaS is a major part of IBM’s future.

Fourth, Watson has come a long way from its game-playing days. Today, Watson is defining the market for cognitive computing. Mike Rhodin, SVP, acknowledges these are very early days for the technology. However, its influence is already felt as it introduces big changes in the fields of Healthcare (instruction, diagnosis, billing, treatment planning), Client Engagement (service centers, guiding purchase decisions), Financial Services (product selection) and Industry (travel, retail, healthcare). Watson’s unique capabilities, including a natural-language interface that provides human-like interaction, its ability to generate and evaluate hypotheses and its ability to adapt and learn from user selection and response – have just begun to be exploited. Mike described how Watson can create questions to ask itself to learn more effectively. It can recognize conflicts or inconsistencies in its input data. It will then attempt to restructure what it ‘knows’ to remove the conflicts. Efforts to speed commercialization include building a Watson Ecosystem[1] by providing access to Watson to IBM partners, ISVs, researchers, etc.

Fifth, IBM believes that the customer experience is and will continue to be a critical influence in sales and marketing. They also believe that today’s UI experiences, even on the latest mobile devices and smartphones, leave much to be desired in terms of style, imagination, utility and attractiveness. Necessary improvements extend far beyond creative dashboards. IBM will change that by including design to create an exceptional user experience as part of its development process. To that end, an IBM Design Center was built in Austin, Texas, and is being populated by 100’s of newly hired designers from leading Design and Art schools. These are creative arts graduates, not engineers or computer science majors who will be placed next to and work with product teams throughout IBM. IBM executives as well as employees are attending classes in creative design at the center.

IBM presents a clear, consistent message about identifying and providing solutions to, when and where the market demands. They provide convincing evidence that they and their customers benefit. The have a unique, insightful vision which is significantly different from feature/function obsessed competitors. Of course, vision alone does not translate to sales. The message still has to reach the operations and implementing staff.

Future blogs will continue the discussion including how the Cloud and Smarter Infrastructure team is designing portals to improve service delivery, simplify interaction and enhance the user experience. We will see how they plan to complement IBM’s end-to-end messaging.

[1] Announced November 14, 2013