IT can’t say take it or leave it: IBM’s Fortin

Social media, mobile, cloud computing and big data have irrevocably changed the conversation between IT and business, says IBM Canada’s new president.

Dan Fortin told the Toronto Region Board of Trade on Monday that for CIOs, this heralds a transition as momentous as the one that took us from punched cards, tabulating machines, and the early computer programs that merely sorted, sifted, and summed up data to the notion of a transaction and a database.

Much of the past 50 years has been spent analyzing use cases, implementing systems for processes, and massaging structured data in a mostly centralized approach.

Today, when an enterprise’s customers are likely to be as (or more) technologically sophisticated as the company itself is, he said we need to think differently about how we use technology.

Fortin noted that, worldwide, IBM has over 400,000 employees, half of which have been with the firm under five years. Providing a social tools environment for use both inside and outside the company is key to recruitment and retention of staff. Forty per cent of IBM Canada are active on LinkedIn.

If society wants to be served on social media, said Fortin, then those in IT are going to have to weave things together to it, rather than simply stand back and say “This is what you get, take it or leave it.”
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Early social business adopters — where this transition has been put into play — are seeing reduced customer defection rates, cuts in up to two-thirds of product development time due to crowdsourcing, increases in sales, increased efficiency of customer service, and reduced HR onboarding times.

In a recent IBM survey of CEOs 80 per cent of respondents expected their social media contacts to outweigh face-to-face meetings in the near future.

Mobile growth is closely tied to social media. Seventeen per cent of the global population now has a mobile device, Fortin said, but the number of active pocket devices is expected to tenfold by the end of the decade.

Mobile is quickly becoming the preferred platform for transactions and for data collection, he added, given the number of network-equipped devices that are appearing.

Fortin expects an increasing number of situations where applications are released first for mobile — or even mobile only. The notion that it all comes back to the desktop is dying.

Underpinning the mobile revolution, said Fortin, is putting enterprise processing and data assets in the cloud (whether that’s in a facility you own and operate as a private cloud, an outsourced private cloud, or public cloud applications). Spending on cloud solutions is expected to double over the next three years.

As for big data, Fortin admitted he gets irked when people portray it as “click your heels three times, turn around, and magic happens”. But he considers massive data sets, especially of unstructured data (text, video, etc.) as a renewable natural resource enterprises will need to put to work — or perish.

Big data, in Fortin’s view, is the key to the cognitive computing revolution — and data-driven decision-making in business, including decisions wholly rendered by algorithms, allowing a deeper focus to be bought to bear where the value is greater by offloading routine choices.

The volume of global data is growing exponentially: Today, 90 per cent of all data was created in just the last two years. By the end of next year, 95 per cent will be less than six months old.

This velocity in data growth implies that traditional practices such as waiting for the month end runs, or routine replenishment cycles, will be too slow for effective management of the business.

Correlating information from across a variety of concurrent sources is more likely to yield value-generating insights than simple database processing.

Complicating the enterprise’s future are the twin issues of vulnerability (or security around data, including protection from being given misinformation) and veracity, or “how true is good enough”, especially when social cues are being monitored.

New top and bottom line value, says Fortin, will come from exploiting this information, and from improved decision processes that move beyond experience and “gut” to evidence and analysis in real time.

For CIOs, the conversation with the business is now about a world of bring your own devices and applications, with permeable boundaries to the enterprise, converting the portfolio to support the creation of value in almost every interaction, exactly as the customer wants it now.



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