I’m up at IBM this week getting an update. IBM is going through a massive pivot from its traditional hardware-centric, end-to-end company to more of a cloud services and analytics company. Its core stats are impressive in that it now has 77K developers, growing at 8K a week, working on new platforms, 40K consultants, and 42 SoftLayer Cloud Centers worldwide. This is actually pretty impressive progress, given that it only started this pivot a few years ago.
Let’s talk about some of my initial takeaways from this event.
SaaS Is Good If You Aren’t Sure; It Is Expensive If You Are
One of the interesting discussions over lunch was on the idea that the cost of software-as-a-service (SaaS) was a very expensive way to deliver a solution unless you needed to maintain a lot of flexibility. This really only applies to big deployments and I think it should be intuitive. In effect, when you buy a solution at sufficient scale, the prices you get are in line with what a cloud provider pays. And if you buy this stuff directly, you avoid what then becomes basically a redundant middleman cost. But since you don’t have to incur capital costs and you are basically renting the software, if this doesn’t work and you do need to change before the costs are amortized, then SaaS will always be cheaper. This kind of implies that large companies that use an unusually high amount of SaaS are likely to be poorly managed and SaaS is being used to reduce the costs associated with bad decision making. Might be an interesting way to assess firms you are investing in, buying, or either working at or going to work for.
Macs Are Big at IBM
This likely shouldn’t have been a surprise, but going to an IBM event and not seeing ThinkPads was nearly an out-of-body experience. IBM and Apple have formed a partnership, and IBM is taking this partnership seriously. A lot of IBM folks seem to be using Apple laptops now, at least on stage. This takes me back because when I was working for IBM’s storage division, they hired an outside CEO who refused to use an IBM PC and instead used a Mac. I expect this is one of the reasons he didn’t really last that long. The other reason was that he had no clue how to run a technology business and was an ex-politician. Hmm, suddenly another ex-politician CEO comes to mind who also isn’t doing that well (maybe another pattern). In any case, assuming this moves to IBM sales people (and I expect it will), through advocacy and example, this should move an impressive number of Apple products into IBM accounts.
I think the coolest thing I’ve seen showcased here was Watson Analytics. IBM is driving this solution down to the line manager and building in all kinds of interesting things, like weather, into the product. This should result in a massive improvement in the quality of decision making, but only if these new classes of users get access to the system, understand how to use it, and the information that forms the basis of the analytics isn’t compromised. I expect this will play strongest for millennials, who won’t have to unlearn decision-making processes that are based more on experience and gut feeling than data. This could well make obsolete older employees very quickly, unless they recognize the threat and embrace this new toolset. Older employees aren’t known for their willingness to embrace new toolsets. Since this technology could especially apply to analysts and the median age of them in this room is likely something close to 55, this kind of means most of us are screwed.
Wrapping Up: Keep Up with IBM’s Pace
I’m ex-IBM and even I am impressed by the amount of year-over-year change in this company. I had to keep looking for the IBM brand to make sure I was at the same event and company I saw at last year’s event. In fact, the most visible brand on stage was actually Apple’s, sitting on the back of the presentation PC.
But while IBM was designed to make changes like this every few decades, we aren’t, and this one is huge. It makes me wonder how many of us will come out the back end of this with our careers intact. If you’ve been avoiding learning some of these new analytics tools or cloud services, you may soon find your job opportunity has gone to someone younger who didn’t have the same problem learning new things. Something to noodle about over the weekend.
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+