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IBM’s Insight 2014 Conference – Headline Messages and Perspectives

by Andrew White  |  October 31, 2014  |  3 Comments

I was at IBM’s Insights event in Las Vegas the week for a couple of days.  Here are some of my perspectives of the event.  I also compare and contrast to what I observed while attending SAP’s TechEd the week before.

Bottom line: IBM has stuck to its “big data and analytics” message for the last 2 or 3 years.  In some ways this was a tad repetitive, or so it seemed for a while.  The main keynote seemed to have that feeling of sameness about it.  However there was a new message this year that emerged as day 1 progressed.  That new message is that the offerings talked about in previous years are now here, available, and ready for use.  In other words, IBM’s big data and analytics solutions are real and some of its vision has been realized.  I did not see too much new innovation however…

Now for the details.

Client examples were sprinkled through the various keynotes, and customer stories always help convey the vendor messages.  I particularly liked the Pratt and Whitney (Internet of Things evolving predictive maintenance) and Ceva Logistics (evolving use and exploitation of supply chain asset oriented analytics) stories.  The key tips from Ceva were “do taxonomy first, and do information retention policy early”.  Sage advice, for sure.

Another new emphasis on an old topic is that concerning IBM Watson.  Throughout the first day there were several new product announcements, and several played on the commercial availability of IBM Watson-powered products.  These represented the leading, innovative examples that were loosely described in previous years.

Like SAP the week before, IBM has had a silver bullet looking for a problem to solve.  It seems IBM has done a little more homework than SAP, in my view, in this area.  IBM’s Watson seems to have come of age while SAP’s HANA is still in high school.  Several commercial solutions were demoed including Chef Watson, targeted at you and me and our creative culinary juices.  There was another demo for IBM Watson specific to healthcare (Oncology).  IBM emphasized how these were packaged and targeted at specific roles and use cases.  Packaged solutions are what Swiss Army Knives, such as IBM Watson and Sap HANA, need to be meaningful to business users.

Cool Metaphors

As I listened to the speakers through day 1, several cool metaphors or phrase resonated with me.  One concerned a phrase to define an industry leader.  The phrase was, “two moves for one“.  That sounded cool.  The point being that in the time and money your competitor takes to make a single move, as if on a chess board, your organization could execute two.  This is a powerful message and one way bigger and broader than mere analytics.  This conveys the fan-favorite, “plan, do, check, act” ( a slight nod to i2 Technology’s Sanjiv Sidhu).

The second cool idea was teased by Beth Smith, GM Information Management, in her divisions’ keynote.  She got my heart racing with “liquid data layer” then she promptly let me down and cool, by not following up and exploring the idea.  She mentioned it one more time, as a near afterthought, and that was it.  I thought I was going to be made weak at the knees with a pitch about semantic governance or something.  Bummer.

Odd Thoughts

One odd thought came to me, that had a sports flavor.  It happens to apply to IBM and SAP.  The question was: Why does Big data produce so many one-time data innovations?

Another odd thought came to mind during the ECM keynote.  It was this: Over 90 per cent of what Doug Hunt (GM, ECM) referred to actually related to structured data, not unstructured data.  In truth, he was referring to examples oriented towards content, but content with some contextual structure applied.  Once structured, content becomes information even if it is not physically stored in an relational database.  Such information should be subject to the exact same information governance policies and practice as master data.   And this ties into a recent blog of mine (see Is it too soon for unstructured data governance) on the issue.

Open questions, considerations and queries

In the main keynote IBM over emphasized analytics as if analytics alone would save or improve your business.  There was very little to talk about information Management per se; there was talk of faster boxes, servers and stuff, but that’s the ‘easy’ part to talk about.  Governance, quality, and trust in data, and information value, was not the priority for this event headlines.

Additionally IBM had a key slide that they failed to explore, explain or exploit.  The slide emphasized how insight from analytics leads to action and a change in (business) outcome.  They did not explore enough, for me, that change in action.  It’s as if the focus was on the stop-lights, and it was assumed you, the driver, know how to drive.  There was good use of case management, but again, that is a poor substitute for all business apps that are the vehicle controls we all use every day.

From queries to wrinkles

A wrinkle for me:  “Markets of one are a stopover”.  That did not resonate with me but this was said several times in the keynotes.  Markets of one is a concept that should sit at the heart of a new digital business strategy.  IBM was trying to outdo the concept with the suggestion that markets of one does not imply the ability to interact and even influence the market.  This is not true other than IBM says it is.  No one said a market of one was meant to exclude interaction or influence.  IBM had good content but the message chosen to convey it didn’t work with me.

One final wrinkle and thought left me wanting more.  After the conclusion of the divisional keynotes (corporate, business leaders, information management, ECM, and business analytics), I was left wondering this:  Why didn’t IBM call out the market discontinuity by not having separate keynotes for info mgt, ECM, and analytics?  All keynotes included a major focus on analytics.  And though the opening keynote was a kind of overview, it too was heavily focused itself on analytics. I’d like to see a vendor break the mold and avoid silod keynotes and focus on a matrixed message and structure.

So wrapping up…

I tweeted quite early on day 1 that for me, “taxonomy was tops”.  What I meant to say or mean was that the new world IBM is talking about really points to the validity, quality and meaningful use of  my taxonomy versus your taxonomy.  At the end of the day, if we are using content or information, dark or big data, streaming or in-memory data, if we can’t express the semantic meaning of the data, we are done.  IBM did not really explore or explain how this brave, new data work will unfold.  I know IBM has cool stuff going on and new products rolling out.  But I didn’t see IBM with a visible, rounded, public road map showing how all the necessary tools converge to align, prioritize, then operationally govern key information artifacts across an organization, or firewall.  We all know IBM can build almost anything (they have a big bag of tools and products) but they do not, as yet, seem to want to push this particular envelope yet.  I accept that there are few, if any, real buyers for such a vision but I think it is on our collective horizon.




Additional Resources

Category: analytics  business-intelligence  dark-data  data-and-analytics-strategies  ibm-vendors  ibm-insights-2014  information-management  information-organization  information-stewardship  information-strategy  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a Distinguished Analyst and VP. His roles include Chief of Research and Content Lead for Data and Analytics. His main research focus is data and analytics strategy, platforms, and governance. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on IBM’s Insight 2014 Conference – Headline Messages and Perspectives

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