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LIVE FROM THE MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS : “We will look back on this time and look at data as a natural resource that powered the 21st century” – Ginni Rometty, CEO IBM

February 27th, 2014 |  Published in IBM, Mobile World Congress 2014

MWC2014 Rometty


27 February 2014 – Last night at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty unveiled the IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge. IBM plans to bring the power of its Watson big-data engine and supercomputer to mobile devices. Rometty called on software developers to build mobile applications for consumers and businesses. “By 2016, a quarter of the apps in the world will be in the cloud,” she predicted. “We will look back on this time and look at data as a natural resource that powered the 21st century.”

The IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge is a first-of-its-kind global competition to promote the development of mobile consumer and business apps powered by Watson. I will have more next week about the Developer Challenge, IBM’s recently launched global consulting practice, the IBM Interactive Experience, the IBM “mobile first” program, and IBM’s thoughts on our new era of cognitive computing. We had an opportunity to do some video interviews with members of the Watson team and they make for interesting viewing.  But a few thoughts on Rometty’s speech.

Rometty certainly sees that two things are generally underestimated. The first is the length of time required for technology to really take hold, and the second is the magnitude of the impact of technology when it does.  And she sees the shift to cloud — where hardware, software, and services meld into one —  represents the most significant change in IBM’s go-to-market strategy since it built that famous blue-suited sales force to cater to businesses in the 1950s and ‘60s.

NOTE: IBM was my first intellectual property client when I started as a law firm associate on Wall Street back in the Neolithic Period. I stayed connected to the company through the years and I am writing an e-book about IBM’s culture of analytics. 

As companies evolve, they sometimes struggle with lagging perceptions. Their customers and the public think of them as one thing long after they have morphed into something else. There are some who still think of IBM as purely a computer hardware company even though, for many years, it has been steadily building a broad portfolio of software and services.

Now …  bang … it’s undergoing another reassessment: turning into a  cloud company. But the shift has been underway for several years. IBM has built up a large array of cloud services and software applications delivered via the cloud. It’s already the global leader in making cloud services available to large businesses.  But it has made a number of initiatives that signal the emergence of an expanded cloud strategy.  AT MWC the IBM folks I spoke with put it simple: “IBM as a Service.”

And Rometty touched upon it in her keynote: a cloud ecosystem. A destination on the Web where application developers, line-of-business executives and IT leaders can collaborate and work in ways that are tailored to their roles in their organizations. Developers can build new applications. Line of business executives can sign up for cloud services. And IT leaders can build, purchase and manage services.  She did not use this phrase but one of her staffers at MWC did:  “composable business.”

The IBM cloud platform … this platform-as-a-service offering, Codename “BlueMix” … makes it easier for enterprises and independent developers to quickly build new applications, test them, and then deploy them at massive scale.

Ah, but what of business models? Having rewatched her keynote back at my hotel I picked up on her theme: it’s one thing for an established technology company to expand on its traditional offerings with new cloud services, but quite another to reinvent the way it creates value by radically transforming its business model.  But I think that’s the path that IBM is on. Its process of advancing science, developing services and engaging with customers is evolving into a loop of interactions, learning and continuous improvements. Research, development, marketing, sales and customer service are all becoming one integrated series of activities—all conducted in the cloud.

And this is not easy. For companies born in the cloud, this way of viewing the world and operating in it is second nature. Not for IBM.  Like other long-successful companies, they need to change their existing mindset and adapt to a fast-changing environment.  But, hey. They have done this many times before. IBM started off as a tabulating machine company before becoming a leader in programmable computing, and, later, bringing the personal computer to the enterprise and helping corporations capitalize on the Internet.

I am not going to paint a hagiography here. IBM has challenges, has made some misteps and I will write about them.  But they are learning to live in the cloud. And they are doing it in a way that will enable a host of business partners and clients to comfortably live there, too.  And what I like is how they are allowing customers to quickly tap into big data analytics and Watson-style cognitive computing, all on equal footing.

I like their tag line: “IBM as a service. The future of IBM. And it’s the future of computing.”



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"The mind that lies fallow but a single day sprouts up follies that are only to be killed by a constant and assiduous culture."
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