Meet Watson, Rommety, And The New IBM
February 20, 2017 Dan Burger
Cognitive computing. What’s it mean? It means business. And it means change. The business world is changing. And IBM is changing. It’s the future, but it’s also the present. It’s happening now. Google and Microsoft are chasing the same vision of a data-driven world that is so complex that artificial intelligence is the only way to make sense of it.
At IBM’s PartnerWorld conference last week, cognitive computing was all business. Of course, PartnerWorld is always about business and technology and getting onboard before all the best seats are taken. There’s always the proven versus the prediction.
When does cognitive computing clearly establish itself as the game changer? Has IBM done enough to convince its business partners to fundamentally change its ways and get the skills to be successful by ushering in a new era in business computing? IBM wrote the book on business computing. The question is will it write the next chapter. This is the storyline: All companies that are intent on winning in business have reached a point where they need to re-fashion their strategies. The IBM business partners can best help their existing customers and gain new business by helping organizations transition to the cognitive era.
“There will be winners and losers,” IBM’s president, CEO, and chairman Ginni Rometty told the gathering of business partners who have a large say in whether IBM leads the cognitive computing parade. Those partners have been quite successful in selling the old IBM business model of hardware and software sales. They need to be encouraged to pivot to a services oriented perspective. Rommety was on stage to turn some heads in that direction.
Past success built a solid foundation, she said, but continued success means taking a different route. In the recent past, Rommety recalled, discussions during PartnerWorld were about businesses transformation. The time for transformation has arrived. A “reordering” is taking place in the IT industry, she says, and there are “multiple shifts taking place.”
The core franchises of the partner channel–systems, software, and services–are giving way to new businesses models with substantial investments in cloud, big data analytics, and mobility, which Rommety refers to as “strategic imperatives.”
Those businesses are generating $33 billion in revenue–more than 40 percent of IBM’s revenue, she says–and are producing double-digit growth. That’s the kind of operational performance IBM likes to talk about rather than the disappointing, shrinking earnings that have hit Big Blue’s traditional business lines.
IBM’s strategic imperatives will coincide with a shift in IT architecture, Rommety said, while noting IBM has led architecture shifts in the past. Mainframe computing and the AS/400 were two examples she cited because of the strong and long-lasting franchises that were created around each. Acknowledging past glories was not a subject to dwell on, however.
Along with big investments in cloud, big data analytics, and mobility, Rommety promised a reinventing of the core franchises with continued investment and modernization of systems and software. The point was not belabored, but re-achieving legacy success is the desired result for cognitive computing.
The architectural decisions that are being made now “will probably determine the next couple decades,” she predicted.
Rommety identified three areas where architecture decisions will be significant in the long run: the data platform, the cognitive or AI platform, and the cloud platform.
The data platform, specifically named the Watson Data Platform, is being designed–a constant process–to handle structured and unstructured data. Rommety emphasizes the openness of the platform architecture because “the benefits are not just for those who use their own information, but also coming from other sources.” Built into the data platform are the capabilities to analyze and store the information. The use of APIs allows developers to use the data platform to build what’s needed.
For IT Jungle readers who are following DB2 for i data-centric programming discussions, the data platform makes sense.
When discussing the cognitive platform, Rommety put cognitive on a higher pedestal than AI to distinguish Watson from its competition.
“Not all AI is the same. Chapter one on AI is over. It’s now about serious business and not just consumer apps. We are talking about systems that are trained in a domain – education, healthcare, retail,” she says in a way that leads to a conclusion that early adopters will gain a substantial advantage.
“Surveys show clients are interested but don’t know where to start. The cognitive platform needs to have a range of cognitive services that’s more than AI. It includes natural language processing, machine learning, visual recognition, the capability to know and learn domains.
“It also needs transparency. Where did the data come from? Good source of data or not? To trust a cognitive platform, it needs to be transparent. A business model is also needed. Whatever insights come from the platform remain with the customer. You don’t want to train your competitors,” Rommety told the partners.
“We have been talking about becoming digital for some time and it remains a great opportunity for those who have yet to take that step. But digital is not the destination. When everyone gets to digital, who wins? Everyone has the same advantage. Cognitive will be the differentiator. Cognitive will impact every decision we make in five years.”
An uptick in adoptions of Watson-based cognitive solutions is clearly expected to boost IBM’s reputation for analytics.
The cloud platform is the delivery mechanism for IBM’s cognitive computing, so IBM’s 54 cloud data centers should be seeing some impressive growth if the partners are able to ramp up cognitive. In 2016, the partners contributed nearly one-third of the cloud services business. That includes global services and migrating on-premise software. The degree to which cognitive contributes to cloud growth will be closely monitored for improvement in 2017.
Before concluding her 25-minute address touting the future of IBM and what it means to the partners, she returned to the importance of expediency and Watson being ready to help businesses now with packaged solutions already in place and available in pieces that can be integrated with apps that organizations have already written and in place.
“As a cognitive system learns more, it is worth more. The longer it is in place, the more it is worth, IBM’s leader implored. “This is the future. The time is now.”