When it comes to IT, the 800 pound gorilla in the room has always been IBM. Innovation has been in Big Blue’s blood since its first days, and its historic shift from systems to services integration, and more recent turns to cloud, cognitive computing, Internet of Things, Smart Cities, and commercial cloud delivery have made it a leader in driving the kinds of complex partnerships we call “as a Service” models.
Maureen Barry at IBM
In fact, one of the few places IBM does not play is Communications Platforms as a Service, and that is where tyntec is a fast becoming a global leader.
At the head of those complex “as a Service” relationships is Maureen Barry. As Head of Advisor Relations for IBM, Barry designs and leads strategic sales and marketing programs that foster collaboration with third party consultants and advisors to support the needs of mutual clients. In this conversation with tyntec’s head of CPaaS business line, Marco Lafrentz, Barry and Lafrentz give us the inside view on how these sensitive relationships take flight in a complex operating environment.
Q: It’s not too far of a stretch to say that decentralization is now at the core of both of your business models. It’s as if you’re almost designing to create an open foundation of company data. There’s even part of IBM’s Watson group that says it is focused on designing for “loss of control.” How does enterprise thrive when decentralization is critical to its business model?
Maureen: Today we design for business outcomes. In the case of consumers, that means designing for a better experience. In enterprise, better business outcomes means using technology to impact the benefits of the business, whether it’s getting the product out the door faster, enhancing supply chains, or introducing new technology that enables market expansion and accelerated growth to really transform the business. We’re not aspiring simply to run technology and data operations and make sure things are switched on, we’re looking to see how we can drive align technology with strategy to achieve better business outcomes.
Q: Do your customers feel equally engaged in that process or is it more of a top down engagement? Are they prepared for those kind of emergent outcomes?
Maureen: Business is about making decisions, and the business side of enterprises is about making decisions around technology that drives requirements. Take marketing as an example. Marketing can quickly go out and assemble all of their tools and their software they need in the cloud, and today they can do all that without IT. So what is the value of IT to marketing? You can apply that just as much to HR or to procurement. You could apply it to all the different functions. IT has to transform. It can’t just cater to enterprise, it actually has to find new ways to lead and contribute to the organization, and not just provide support.
Marco: It’s very much the same In the mobile space, where we currently have solutions to the problem of orchestrating multiple channels. Value creation in mobile is no longer about channel provisioning, but how you use the channel. We used to work exclusively with operators, but their channels got mimicked by Facebook, Google, Skype, WhatsApp, etc., so the operators got new competition. Why is competition for the enterprise so lucrative? Over The Top (OTT) channels not only acquire all the respective data needed to do targeted marketing, they also get the big data analytics of the users from the OTT channels directly.
Operators still don’t get this. They’re holding onto their original business model, and thinking, “If I offer a channel, that’s the biggest add to value creation.” But that’s not quite right. The only way to correctly use the channel is to respect the data that helps you understand what works, who to reach, what content to reach them with, and the right time to communicate. Which is why we are preparing our platforms to integrate third party software to empower communication with data analytics engines.
Q: So the core of your business has gravitated towards application integration?
Marco: Absolutely. You need to keep what is working and replace what is not working. You can’t afford to replace your whole IT infrastructure. That’s a mammoth project that will typically fail. What you need is a multi channel infrastructure that is flexible from the start. Of course there’s more complexity with that, because you need a lot more integration. If you just have one system, no integration is needed. It’s easy. If it doesn’t work any more, you need to replace it. Today you have multiple pieces and those pieces get updates on a continuous basis, so you need to ensure that the way you plug them in together is continuing to work. Integration is critical to maintaining development. It’s critical for businesses.
Q: And if I understand IBM’s version of that, it’s giving the CIO the glue she needs to bring cognitive capabilities and predictive characteristics — tied to dynamic integration — to the platform.
Maureen: Definitely. We’re working with all our leading CIO’s and enterprises — American Express and Lloyd’s and American Airlines — to drive those strategies. There’s a lot of complexity to managing IT and ensuring that it is leveraging the cloud and being agile. Everyone has a cloud strategy. The complexity comes from the execution of that strategy, what applications go to the cloud, when they go to the cloud, what don’t.
Q: Can you unpack that that a little? What would fit that example?
Maureen: Well, let’s start with IBM Watson — that’s a major play for us. We’re bringing it into every area. For example, we have a help desk in infrastructure management solutions with Watson. We also have a Watson partnership in healthcare where we’re working with a conglomerate of hospitals to provide analysis for faster cancer assessment. You can apply cognitive to many industries but you can also apply it to process and functions — HR, IT, marketing. There’s so many different applications, and so many more to come, that we don’t even know what all the applications are. Some of those might be smaller projects, some bigger, but an Watson industry partnership is a multi-year endeavor.
Q: Which industries do you see as being the furthest ahead?
Maureen: For IBM, healthcare is a major focus, and I personally think it’s an awesome area to focus in because good healthcare is something everyone wants for their children, for their families, no matter where you are. When you can share knowledge and information around treatments and information, science and doctors, that’s powerful, so we’re investing in the Mayo Clinic, with Cleveland Clinic, with Anthem, and some of the large payers within the United States around cognitive solutions. But we’re also doing a great deal with financial services.
Q: Marco, are the changes in the IT environment being mirrored in mobile communications?
Marco: Chatbots are bringing mobile channels together with agents that facilitate the channel and the data behind it. It’s still rudimentary, but we are beginning to build bridges between knowledge, data, and communication. The next step is to combine these communication capabilities with the big data analytics Maureen just mentioned to create agents and engines capable of communicating directly with the end user through multiple channels — whether it’s voice, video, or even exchanging photos with users to self-diagnose problems. Technology providers need to figure out how to provide these platforms and enable the huge value creations we have created.
Q: With so many elements to juggle how do you ever get a deal done? IBM can’t do everything. It has to have lots of inter relationships both with hardware manufacturers, API developers. Where do you see the focus in terms of future partnerships?
Maureen: There’s an old perception of IBM only wanting to work with IBM. That’s definitely changed, especially with Watson. We work with multiple partners and have had made some acquisitions around data as well, which is the focus of what we look to own and where we provide value. For example, we recently acquired The Weather Company, which gave us access to vast amounts of weather data. We’re not only seeking ownership but applications of the data. How we leverage that and bring it to different areas of the business — that’s the true measure of our openness.
Q: Don’t you have a significant relationship with Apple, specifically around enterprise mobility?
Maureen: That’s another good example. The majority of IBM now uses Macs. We’re one of the largest business enterprise users of Apple. I have a Mac. I have an iPad. All sellers and executives get an iPad at IBM. When you look around the room, you’ll see all Apple, and we bring that app development perspective to all of our customers.
Q: What about you, Marco? You mentioned AR and VR. How critical are they to the future of the mobile business?
Marco: Extremely critical. For a long time, we were part of an industry that was dominated by a couple of emperors who controlled huge parts of the ecosystem, and prevented innovation and partnership. But we believe partnership is a critical part of how you innovate, how you provide value to the ecosystem.
When we look at the enterprise messaging ecosystem in the United States, we see a system that is preventing innovation and blocking competition in the OTT space. So we’ve decided to invite multiple parties — registrars, enterprises, mobile operators, big aggregators, platform providers like Google and Twitter, and some of the world’s biggest consumer brands — to get together and discuss advanced mobile messaging and see how they can combine forces to create something new, extremely powerful partnerships will evolve. Pulling people together, creating a community, exchanging value creation scenarios, having open conversations — this is how partnerships are naturally built.
Q: Kudos to you for a long term vision, but what incentivize the partners to come together in the short term?
Marco: Actually, they’re already coming together. A lot of those players have recognized that they’re sitting on huge access and starting to get clues about how to monetize that. Facebook Messenger is going through the roof by opening up an easy channel to enterprise that can be combined with advertising. But on the other side, you have the fragmented world of mobile operators, still worrying about money. Google brought them together to work on RCS, but they’re still lacking a vision. We believe their value is end user connectivity. They already provide the channel. They don’t have to do much. What they need to do is open up their networks and empower others to innovate — then participate in the revenue share. That’s the value proposition we are trying to bring to the table.