The IBM Think 2018 conference was a consolidation of multiple IBM conferences into a single, very large conference in Las Vegas. A reported 40,000 people attended the conference with the crowd resulting in long lines and jammed hallways at different points. The conference consolidation included many changes in the structure, including informational and educational sessions in the showroom floor areas which were segmented into four distinct sections. There was a great deal to learn from and make adjustments for the next conference that IBM has of that size.
CEO Ginny Rometty outlined the overall focus for the Think conference during her keynote. There were a number of key points but in general, there is a massive amount of data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can make use of the data. Ginny stated, “Take all that data and add AI to it and you learn.”
She described IBM as being the “Incumbent Disruptor.” Incumbent in the sense that IBM was the most trusted, well-known partner with companies in their business. Disruptor was at the business level – changing the business for those companies. The elements of changing the business she described:
Much of the enablement for changing the business was based on Watson, with industry-specific implementations that are pre-trained to arrive at answers much quicker than new learning solutions. Another key she noted were the IBM platforms including IBM Cloud and IBM Cloud Private.
In discussing IBM, Ginny made a bold statement, “We re-invented IBM for this era of data.” The keys to this re-invention were,
It was clear from the presentation IBM is “all-in” on AI through Watson and understands that data is critical. The need to store, access, manage, and protect data was mentioned several times. Also noted was the processing with Power9 systems and an offering that included Power processors and GPUs. While the word “cloud” was as present as in earlier IBM conferences, AI (and Watson) was even more of headline for sessions and expo demonstrations.
There were a number of criticisms that could be leveled as well. The aforementioned crowds were not handled well and resulted in some missed sessions and conscious decisions to avoid some events/sessions. PartnerWorld also overlapped Think at a different conference center and caused some availability issues as executives rushed between them. Adjustments will probably be made before the next major conference event.
IBM presented an impressive conference with a clear message. This was a change from earlier ones where there was an “all things to all people” impression. The clear focus of changing business with the use of massive amounts of data and learning through AI, learning systems, and processes was different for IBM. From an Evaluator Group perspective, the value in Information Storage Management was illustrated starting with the CEO presentation through multiple sessions and expo displays. Analysts will monitor whether the investment for developing, marketing, and selling solutions to support the overall message will be made. Assuming IBM does invest, they would be the best positioned company overall to take advantage of the opportunities as businesses transform.
It must be noted that not only is there transformation with public/private/hybrid clouds and use of analytics on massive amounts of data, there is optimizing the current environments to continue the basics of running the businesses and organization that dominate today. Maybe not as sexy to talk about and not a green field opportunity, there may be more profit in this area. IBM has the best repertoire of products for this area than they ever have had. They will need continued investments as well for greater success.
Overall, the conference created a very positive view of IBM for us. The messages were forward-looking and positive, hitting most of the important points. Now to work the details.