Stefanie Chiras led off with a personal story of how she moved from education to IBM so that her efforts to empower the individual were leveraged. Her opening remarks were about how we are the architects of the future. What I find interesting about this is that, generally, technology companies, in their almost rabid focus on IT buyers, often forget that the tools they create are used by people. Historically, when IT and users have conflicts, the users eventually win. In fact, some of the biggest technology trends, from Windows to the iPhone, were user-driven not IT-driven. It’s also a fact that IT fought those efforts and lost.
I’m a strong advocate of the belief that tech company failures are largely the result of their losing track of the user. So this session hit me where I live. In addition, this session did a nice job of first showcasing the technology, then backing it with customer-sourced advocacy, connecting the tech to the related benefits better than I’ve ever seen.
Here are the elements that stood out.
Jason Pontin and Young Innovators
Jason Pontin (he was also on stage yesterday) was back on stage talking about a list of innovators that has historically contained the founders of Google, Facebook and Uber before they were connected with those famous iconic companies. The assembled speakers brought up three innovators.
These innovators are moving to revolutionize health telemetry, robotic cooperative interactive deep learning; one of them was one of the most prolific patent generators in IBM, who has published a child’s book on technology and is working on adding cognitive technology to ecommerce. The children’s book was particularly interesting because it explained how technology “magic” worked, making it interesting and accurately informative.
The focus of the health telemetry effort was to gather information about a customer so that you learn, over time, about what they like and dislike about the product, which lets you evolve the product and/or service toward the customer. Connecting the customer through telemetry to the product is interesting because it is relatively new and incredibly intuitive.
On the robotic effort, the idea is to build into robots a similar ability to interact and collectively solve problems or to learn interactively from each other. Applied to precision agriculture, this would allow the cooperative application of system knowledge to everything from timely harvesting to pest eradication. (As a side note, I grew up on a farm and hated farming, so robots doing this would have been very attractive to my young self.)
MC10 was the biotech firm; it is working on an advanced human/machine interface. This is arguably far closer to the end game of having bio-integrated systems. It is developing systems that can be worn on the skin, and be transparent to the user or far less intrusive than the current marginally successful pool of smartwatches. But while transparent, they potentially do, at least with regard to telematics, even more than the current generation of wearable devices can do.
Chiras then moved to talk about what really motivates her -- enabling innovators like those showcased in the prior segment. And she put attention on the session’s DJ, who used music created from an IT infrastructure remixed to create entertaining tunes. While I’m not sure my muse would be IT infrastructure, there’s no argument that this is a creative source for inspiration.
In this segment, Florida Blue was the showcase company. It is a health insurance company that has moved from just focusing on business to individuals and government organizations, which required a massive amount of change in the company. An executive from the firm spoke about how he used OpenPOWER to address his company needs. (Apparently, those in the company are huge open source believers, which created an affinity to OpenPOWER.) His x86 server solution, which is what they started with, was complex and very difficult to manage and now is being phased out.
When it moved to OpenPOWER, the company was able to increase performance by 5x (validating some of IBM’s claims) while reducing power used in line with green initiatives and reducing overall complexity. Direct customer benefits included reduced time-to-answer for customer care (using Mongo DB), and now its average customer call time has dropped from nine to six minutes, not only increasing customer satisfaction but reducing labor cost. Florida Blue has also been able to deploy Hortonworks analytics on Power to do real-time fraud identification. Fraud is its biggest cost and this should directly mitigate its fraud exposure (this is not fully deployed yet).
Hortonworks was the next partner/customer advocate and its representative spoke to the solutions provided to customers on OpenPOWER. This was a direct solution product pitch, addressing a broad and diverse customer set. The interesting thing for me is that often large firms like IBM spend all the stage time pitching their products and forget that partners are who often drive sales. By giving Hortonworks stage time, IBM not only increased its potential sales but showcased that it is interested in not only doing partnerships but in promoting the partners, and will work to help make the partnership and partner more successful. This is invaluable when trying to create partnerships and in making them pay off.
IBM is using a nice mix of relevant videos to set the tone for some of its sections. It breaks up the keynote and the videos to keep things interesting and relevant to the subject matter. Moving to Blockchain and Hyperledger was the next discussion and one of the lead IBM researchers presented why Blockchain is increasingly being used to manage a broad class of financial transactions that resists fraud and potentially increases the accuracy and reliability of the related transaction. The big advantage of Hyperledger is that it can be configured so that every record is signed, giving you a solid audit trail. It is currently one of the most successful efforts in history, according to IBM. One interesting claim is that IBM currently has the most secure and highly certified Blockchain cloud service. Who knew?
This is a pitch from a diamond sales and inventory management company that oversees the provenance, custody and ownership of the related stones.
This is actually a pretty fascinating industry because prices aren’t controlled by absolute supply but by the tight management of the related supply. Provenance uses Blockchain to manage the entire supply chain for these diamonds and to ensure conflict diamonds don’t make it into the supply chain, which helps to protect the people who were used to harvest them. What is particularly interesting about this talk is that the focus isn’t on just making money but in effectively preventing human rights abuses in the industry. Provenance credits IBM with the effectiveness of its implementation.
Hybrid Cloud/Welch’s Grapes
It is interesting to note that both Welch’s and IBM are about the same age (over 100 years old). What has kept Welch’s alive and prosperous is its willingness to learn about and use technological advances. It also builds long-term lasting relationships with its technology partners (interesting to note that it doesn’t call them vendors).
Welch’s moved to a Hybrid Cloud solution before the term Hybrid Cloud was even coined. The Welch’s executive praised his IBM storage solution as being highly automated, requiring virtually no dedicated support. This is the first Watson user on stage and he spoke to how and why cognitive solutions are being used to vastly improve operations through ever smarter automation.
Master the Mainframe Contest
This is a program that is designed to create interest in the mainframe. The mainframe itself is a case in why it is foolish for a vendor to embrace a trend that goes against its best interest to the exclusion of its own platform. Decades ago, the mainframe was declared dead and yet it remains one of IBM’s most profitable platforms. However, it’s now being hurt by a lack of folks who know how to work on it. This program is designed to reverse that trend.
Wrapping Up: IBM's Advancements and Benefits
In general, today showcased a substantial amount of advancements at IBM and applied benefits for customers and partners of IBM.
All in all, this was a very well done showcase of not only what IBM’s technology offerings are but what real benefits folks get from them. This made the result uniquely powerful as both a brand exercise and a way to increase consideration for the related offerings. This is exactly what I think a keynote should aspire to do.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+.