I spent a little over a day at IBM”s Lotusphere event in Orlando this week and the most interesting session for me was a one-on-one with Doug Heintzman, Director of Lotus Strategy. He painted several “what if” scenarios. Imagine if Toyota had been able to identify patterns from various customer calls and other events months before it hit the crisis around the “sudden acceleration” problem. Imagine if Airbus had been able to early detect product design spec inconsistencies between its French and German teams around the much-delayed A380.
As he was talking about signals from so many sources waiting to be grabbed and used astutely my mind drifted to a discussion of “Grand Challenges” in my book
“The tradition of grand challenges dates back to David Hilbert, the mathematician. Preparing for a conference in 1900, he asked a colleague what a compelling presentation topic would be and was recommended the following: “Most alluring would be the attempt to look into the future and compile a list of problems on which mathematicians should test themselves during the coming century.” The end result was Hilbert’s list of 23 (he dropped 1 from an original list of 24 in his final paper) problems that continue to challenge us, even into the twenty – first century. Hilbert’s challenges have led to many lists of grand challenges over the last few years across many disciplines. One of the better – known lists is one developed by the National Academy of Engineering in 2008 which challenges (among other things) to manage the nitrogen cycle and reverse engineer the brain ”
The UN Millennium Development Goals, the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation challenges for global health are other examples in the book.
Doug did not use the word “Grand Challenges” but he might as well have because in IBM’s vision a “social business” rethinks traditional CRM, HRM, PLM, SCM – almost every area of business where in Doug’s view you can “optimize workforce efficiency”. Indeed, IBM in another session identified it as its “$100B social business marketplace” opportunity. It calls it the “fifth shift in business technology” – from the Mainframe to Departmental computing to the PC to the Internet and now to Social Business.
If the vision was Grand, the event seemed too tactical for it. In the Monday keynote, the audience increasingly grew restless with the concepts, and wanted to see product demos. During a customer panel, someone from the audience tweeted.
“Wish the panellists were being asked how IBM/Lotus software was helping them, rather than vague #socbiz questions”
The reality is the Lotus software family has till a couple of years been mostly been starved for investments and innovations (with exceptions like Connections and there were a flurry of mobile and cloud announcements at this event) Several customers I talked to in the hallways mentioned “strategy sessions”with IBM (polite term for “we are looking at options”). Others talked about sunk investments in Lotus and likely cost of migrations away from it as the reason to stay put. Market share data shows Microsoft and Google successes in Lotus shops. Indeed, IBM at several times during the conference talked about an Exchange co-existence strategy.
But even if Lotus had been vibrant, the move to social CRM, HRM, SCM, PLM etc will need substantially more extensions, new types of services and partnerships. Paul Greenberg, who knows a thing or two about SCRM, told me at lunch and later tweeted
“They are still weak in #scrm. Haven’t figured that out & though its right in front of them w/their entry points.”
Ditto for social HRM, PLM, SCM.
One thing IBM was eager to showcase was its own transformation to a social business. Jon Iwata, SVP, Marketing and Communications, described IBM’s transformation from early days of employee blogging to the point where “50,000 IBMers can use social media strategically”
But what does that mean for its customers? Doug described the initial cynical response of a manufacturing CIO and his staff when he described IBM”s social journey “But we are not IBM. We live in a very different industry with a very different set of employees”.
And therein lie IBM’s Grand Challenges. Talk to customers about impact on their industries and their processes. And don’t just talk “vision” – bring the solutions to facilitate their becoming Social Businesses. And probably the biggest challenge – overcome the image of the old IBM earned over the last decade with old software like Tivoli and DB2, old partners like SAP and old bunkers called data centers.
As IBM gets ready to celebrate its 100th birthday, I did see a healthy sense of pride in its employees at the conference – good to see as it tackles the “Fifth Shift” as it has the previous industry shifts.