#IBMIMPACT General Sessions – Impressions

Scott Francis
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Impact2014Rather than go through the details of general sessions, which others have done better than I would, I wanted to share my overall impressions from the General Sessions.

Also of note, you can find the general sessions videos here: http://www-01.ibm.com/software/websphere/events/impact/videos/

Customers

Whenever there was a critical point to make, IBM made it with customers.  In fact, the very first person to speak on the Day 1 General Session was a customer – Tangerine CEO Peter Aceto.  Without even an introduction from an IBMer.  That’s serious confidence in your customer’s ability to carry the day, which Peter did.  He was a fantastic speaker and had a clear vision for his bank, a spinoff of ING that is leveraging IBM technology to be agile and differentiated.  Peter’s talk is the kind that makes you wish they were your customer.  I’d love to have BP3 working with Tangerine Bank.

What this clearly communicated to me is where IBM’s leadership is at, collectively.  They are putting customers front and center in their messaging and focus.  Credit to Ginni Rometty and her staff.

Other customers that stuck with me:

  • Daimler’s Car2go – a fantastic car-sharing service that has deep roots in Austin, of all places.  I have a card, but some of my friends don’t even keep a car, they just rely on Car2go.
  • Corielle – pharma
  • OnFarm – bringing internet of things to farming- this was a great talk
  • Pittney Bowes

And I missed part of two of the general sessions so there may be more.

Partners

IBM was unafraid to include a partner, whenever they thought the partner’s “cool factor” would rub off on IBM.  Exhibit A:  Square.  IBM also partners with Paypal and other payment services, but Square has the “cool factor” that adds to the basic story of working together.

EyeQ is another IBM partner that got top billing on Day 1.  They’re a small shop in Austin that leverages facial recognition to inform customer service in a retail setting.  The cool factor and the fact that they’re using IBM products in interesting ways got them on stage for a live demo.  I admit, there was a little bit of big-brother weirdness to it but with Google Glass coming, I’m sure this is just something else we’ll have to get used to.

As an IBM BPM partner, I found this especially enlightening.  You see, we constantly hear from IBMers that they have to treat partners “fairly” as a reason that IBM can’t go to market with us on a particular initiative, or can’t give us the spotlight for important work we’re doing to enhance IBM’s products.  But then you look up on stage, and it is pretty clear IBM can play favorites when they want to.  (Note to IBM: BP3 has a pretty good story to tell for mobile and cloud enablement of Smarter Process… Our Brazos Portal would have rocked a live demo on stage – even if the internet connection flaked out! )

Live Demonstrations

The live demo was back at IBM Impact.  In the 5 years I’ve attended, the only live demos I’ve seen were during Phil Gilbert’s talks on the Main Stage.  It has been a couple of years now since the last live demo on the Impact main stage.  Speaking of Phil, the stage missed his ability to talk to the Design Thinking ethos he is working to infuse at IBM.  No one else does it justice yet.

This year there were several.  Including the gentleman from Square writing some objective-C code, live, to deploy and run in the demonstration.  I thought it was great, but the reviews from an audience used to death-by-slides was mixed.  Some people ask:  why a live demo? What do you have to prove?  Isn’t it distracting from the business value?

  • A live demo – to prove it is real.  Real technical people. Who write code. For a living.  And running code.  Not just a nice video and sound-byte.
  • What do you have to prove?  That it isn’t vapor.
  • Is it distracting?  Well, sure it is.  That is the price you pay for proof.  Proving is distracting from the story.  But part of the story IBM was telling was that its tools allow for a new confidence in rapid application development. What better way to show that than by demonstrating live on stage?

So how did it go?

Well, there were connectivity problems.  The demonstrations and coding and whatnot all worked well, but the internet connectivity plagued demonstrators in most cases.  Note to IBM and its networking provider:

  1. don’t rely on Wifi.  Use a hardline for all laptop connections.
  2. When you do rely on  Wifi, make sure the router is, pretty much, under the podium you’re standing on, and uses a private non-published SSID that you can connect to on short range.
  3. warm up the internet connections / sessions before stepping out on stage with the computers. Make sure they’re ready to go.
  4. have a plan B – if the connection fails to your device, have a simulator on your laptop with the hardline ethernet connection.
  5. Finally, have a video backup in case all else fails

This isn’t rocket science, but IBM is out of practice at giving these kinds of demonstrations.  I commend them for doing it.  And to the presenters: it isn’t cool to look nervous about doing a live demo, or to joke about being “brave” for doing a live demo.  Live demos are what BP3 was doing all day for 10 hours a day for 3 days at IBM Impact on our phones, ipads, and laptops in the solution expo.  It’s what solution engineers do all the time when working with customers.  It’s what BPM consultants do when doing playbacks for iterations.

Live demonstrations and playbacks are part of having working software.  It is time for IBM execs to stop being afraid of their software and get comfortable with it. Your customers  and partners are!

The key issue with the live demonstrations is to make sure they have a point.  For the Impact audience, that point has to be driving business value.  In particular the internet of things demo, while cute and fun, failed to connect with business value.  Whereas, the OnFarm discussion absolutely connected with business value, but failed to “prove” the technical part of the story is in a sense “translatable” to another business.

Kevin Spacey

Kevin was fantastic.  he talked about a new (old) way of storytelling for House of Cards, enabled by a different technology delivery medium (Netflix).  Skipping the pilot and going straight to long-term character-building.  The world has changed: anyone with internet access and an idea, can create an audience.

And, by the way, the guy knows how to give a speech:

“How drunk are you?” he opens.

“I am the lollipop at the end of the doctor’s visit.  Your reward for sticking to the very end of the conference.”

Rarely is that lollipop at the end of the doctor’s visit as good as Kevin’s speech was at Impact.  So impressed with his ability to relate to our industry and the threat and opportunity posed by disruptive technology shifts. Unfortunately I couldn’t find his talk on YouTube, other than a few short clips, none of which captured his closing remark, which was something to the effect of always bet on the guy who anticipates what the audience wants BEFORE the audience knows it wants it.  Bet on the rule breakers.

And if there’s anything I’d want more for BP3, it is to anticipate what our audience wants (did we succeed with Brazos Portal?).

Here’s the best I could find on YouTube:

The Way Forward

IBM is in transition.  From hardware, software & services to Cloud, SaaS, and Services.  And the nature of Software and Services is changing as the move to the Cloud is moving forward.  They’re trying to pull off a tricky transformation from the past to the future, but if the conference was any sign, they’re making good progress, investing in the trends that are going to take the company forward:

  • Cloud – with SoftLayer acquisition.  I’d say they need to acquire more cloud companies if they want to compete on scale with the likes of Amazon etc.
  • Software as a Service – playing catchup here, IBM is sorting our their business models for this type of buying.  Slowly but surely.
  • Internet of Things – IBM is actually in the mix here, and it is okay to be “late” as far as bleeding edge because this is an idea that takes a while to resonate with big business
  • Making IBM software relevant to the cloud-  work like BlueMix is an example of how IBM is working hard to make IBM software relevant in a cloud world, in a “composable business” world.
  • Design thinking infecting the rest of the IBM approach to software and business.

I hope composable business isn’t a one-year marketing slogan.  This is a direction in which IBM needs to invest for many years to come, if not decades.