IBM Think 2021 was 100% virtual and offered for free, though certain Labs and Roundtable sessions were by-invitation only. QueBIT mostly attended free and on-demand sessions during the North American event on Tuesday May 11, 2021. There were parallel events for other regions (APAC & Japan, EMEA & India) which we did not attend.
This is a summary of what we learned.
The over-arching theme of the event was stated clearly (and repeatedly) in CEO Arvind Krishna’s keynote: IBM is all-in on Hybrid Cloud and AI. This was no surprise, but we do give them credit for clarity (explaining why) and consistency (most sessions referred back to this theme).
So why is IBM all-in on Hybrid Cloud and AI? Here’s the rationale, more or less in Arvind’s own words:
- Disruption (for example due to the COVID-19 pandemic) is driving businesses to accelerate their investments in digital transformation
- Hybrid cloud is the technology that will enable companies to modernize their data centers and extend them, unifying access to data wherever it lives, whether it’s mobile, on the “edge”, in the back-office or the front-office.
- AI is the technology that will drive innovation, for example chat-bots enhancing customer experiences
- As the world recovers, businesses need a strong digital foundation because it improves “time to value” and reduces costs, while enabling opportunities for innovation. It also increases agility which helps businesses deal with the next set of challenges and disruptions.
- This “strong digital foundation” with built in “innovation accelerators” (my phrase) is exactly what IBM Hybrid Cloud and AI is designed to deliver.
A series of interviews with senior executives at companies like Salesforce, Siemens, CVS was then used to illustrate what “strong digital foundations” and “innovation accelerators” means in real life. The idea that jumped out at me was when Tony Hemmelgarn, President and CEO of Siemens Digital Industries, talked about Comprehensive Digital Twins which is about a business having as accurate a digital representation of the physical world as possible. I imagine this could be as simple as your inventory system being 100% reliable (there are indeed five ¼”-20 hex tap bolts on Shelf B20), to knowing the exact state of every vendor shipment and the exact location of every item in your production line – in real time, or as close to that as is necessary to be useful. Unlike fine wines, problems do not age well, so a digital twin that alerts you to nascent disruptions early can save businesses lots of money (and an equal amount of stress).
This relates to QueBIT’s Planning, Analysis & Reporting world on at least two fronts. First, plans and forecasts provide benchmarks that the actual data from a “digital twin” can measure against to create the alerts that perhaps something is off, NOT going according to plan. Second, analysis and reporting (also called business intelligence) is what gets all this data organized and in front of the people who need to know, presented in a form that they can easily consume and act on.
Watch Arvind Krishna’s Keynote here (2293 The world's platform for digital transformation)
Several of the sessions that we attended followed this format of talking to a customer about how IBM technology has helped them leverage AI, become more agile, or re-tool their technology infrastructure on the way to transforming their culture:
- 1377 Leverage AI to predict future outcomes and enhance financial and operational planning - A really nice IBM Planning Analytics use case involving a Finnish bakery, and how it helped them respond quickly when the pandemic disrupted their business
- 2296 How trustworthy is your AI? - Interviews with a healthcare companies using IBM Decision Optimization (CPLEX) together with Watson OpenScale.
- 2324 Open for business: Jim Whitehurst on the transformative power of open - How United Airlines used digital transformation and the pandemic to create a customer-centric culture
- 2295 Predict outcomes, navigate disruption and thrive with hybrid cloud and AI - Included several guests focused on articulating the value of creating a foundational data platform as a springboard for everything else.
That last message about having a foundational data platform rings true for work QueBIT does with its customers. For planning, analysis and reporting an xP&A data hub adds tremendous value, particularly when you are on a digital transformation journey. Depending on the complexity of your data landscape and where your data lives, IBM’s offering may be the right choice as we explain here.
QueBIT made an appearance at Think 2021 too! Our sales and account management leader, Gary Corrigan appeared on a business partner panel session: 1389 Plan for Resilience, which can be found in the on-demand section. In this segment Gary and his co-panelist shared client stories from the frontlines of pandemic disruption.
Mike Cowie, our Director of Strategic Solutions, attended a hands-on Lab on RPA Studio, the tool used for building RPA (Robotic Process Automation) bots that can do repetitive tedious tasks (watch a video here). According to Mike IBM’s RPA Studio brings immediate value in its ability to automate basic tasks like data entry, but its greater potential comes from capabilities designed to infuse AI—RPA infused with AI can potentially make judgment calls (did someone accidentally swap first and last name in a form?) and even help validate existing data (are there inconsistencies between customer records across two different systems?).
When I attend conferences like Think, I like to attend a few sessions that aren’t obviously related to what QueBIT does, and I never regret it! Often these are the sessions I learn the most from. At Think 2021, there were three of these:
- 2320 The NeuroGeneration - The CEO of EMOTIV, Tan Le, talked about her company’s technology that enables people to control machines with their minds. It culminated in a story of a Brazilian quadriplegic who drove a Formula One race car, just by using his mind. Tan Le also shared her powerful personal story about arriving in Australia as a refugee from Vietnam when she was a child.
- 2294 The hard tech revolutionizing computing: A guided journey - Geek-heaven. In this segment, the Director of IBM research, Dario Gil, took us on a tour of cutting-edge IBM Research from 2 nm-sized chips to quantum computers, and more!
- 2312 The currency of trust - This was my favorite session! In it, University of Oxford researcher Rachel Botsman discusses the importance of trust in the digital age, and the role it plays for business and innovation success.
All in all, IBM Think 2021 was a good event! I liked the half-day length, and appreciated that most of the sessions were short. IBM gets good marks for having a clear strong message, and for sticking to it.
The one challenge that (I imagine) customers face is finding the connection points between their specific business objectives and IBM’s Hybrid Cloud and AI technology stack (and it is a TALL stack!). While a large-company CIO may be ready to invest in all-things-IBM and may have a clear vision of where each piece can be applied, mid-sized companies or even business users at large companies that are looking for specific solutions – for example Planning, Analysis and Reporting solutions – may struggle to see how Hybrid Cloud and AI can help them (unless they take the time to sit through multiple Think 2021 sessions!).
Hopefully they will take the time to do that – or call a business partner like QueBIT - because IBM has excellent technology for solving a range of AI-infused Planning, Analysis and Reporting use-cases quickly and cost-effectively, while also laying strong foundations for future growth and innovation.
You can find all these Think 2021 sessions – and more – here.