#IBMInterconnect Thoughts from the Keynote onward

Scott Francis
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Yesterday I wrote about my overall impressions of the conference, at a 10,000 foot level, and specifically how it feels having Smarter Process not at the center of attention.

Today, let’s turn to the event itself.  Sunday was for partners, but I skipped the partner sessions in order to help set up our booth in the Solution Expo.  If there’s one reason to use the “out of the box” booths IBM offers, it is to avoid the hassle or stress of assembling your own booth.  If there’s one reason to bring your own booth, it is that the out of the box booths are very sterile and look like IBM product booths.  No differentiation.

As I flew into McCarran airport, I was feeling good about our conference prep:

I started my Sunday meeting with IBM product folks for Breakfast and discussing how we can promote Neches to the IBM Smarter Process community and customer community.  We also discussed my belief that Brazos Portal is, and will still be, the best IBM BPM portal product on the market, despite efforts to get an unsupported technology preview out the door this year. No other portal product offers federation and support for so many versions of IBM BPM and other BPM and ECM products. Sunday night wrapped up with two receptions – one for partners and one for everyone (Customers, partners, and IBM).  We attended both, and then went off to meet some folks from IBM’s Cloud Marketplace group for dinner and talk about the very real challenges of being the first partner through the official gates of Cloud Marketplace with Neches Analysis.  It speaks well of IBM that they take the time to make these kinds of meetings happen with partners.  This is the kind of listening that the IBM Design Studio excels at and you can tell this team was seeded with Design personnel.  They asked a lot of open-ended questions. And they may not have liked all our answers but we walked away impressed and inclined to believe that IBM is determined to make this experience first class. Monday Morning started bright and early with the first General Session.  I attended in the satellite location at Mandalay Bay to save on the back-and-forth time between sites. Stats were the name of the game:
  • 21,000 attendees
  • 45% of attendees at an IBM conference for the first time – speaking to IBM’s efforts to expand the audience to developers and devOps. ‘
This same appeal to a new audience is part of what threatens to feel alienating to those of us who were at the conference for material from the old Websphere group (now part of Systems), but this is a necessary shift for IBM – to embrace both the business IT professionals and the independent software vendors who might build the next great enterprise applications.  IBM has seen the writing on the wall and they want to be written into the script for future business applications. The message from Robert LeBlanc was clear: “Disrupt or be Disrupted”.  The message is directed at the audience of customers and partners, but it resonates because you can tell the IBM executives saying it believe it – they are probably having exactly these conversations in their board meetings and executive meetings.  IBM itself is clearly facing a disrupt or be disrupted era.  They’re conviction and determination to turn the tables shows. B-iw52ICYAA3Ncj.jpg-large The presence of process is more subtle – and definitely took a back-seat in this year’s conference headliners: Cloud, Mobile, API economy.  But they left the door open to come back to their enterprise software and business process management strengths in future years. For this year, the goal was to shift perception and brand and conversation to “the new stuff.” As in past years, IBM brings out the heavy hitters for customer testimonials.  Airbus’ Pascal Eymery was first up – and he talked about the challenges of airline innovation and turnaround time.

 Of course, it says something that when they announced Airbus, my ears heard “AirBnB”.

Connie Moore of Forrester commented on the lack of customer experience discussion on the main stage:

But I think IBM can be forgiven for first hitting on what’s front of mind for them.  Implicit in their message was the need to revamp customer experience, but that language of experience didn’t come to the fore til near the end of the general session program.

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Indeed, a great customer experience testimonial came next from Citi’s Heather Cox – and here customer experience started to take the stage, as she had a number of quotable moments, none better than:

“People need banking. They don’t necessarily need banks.”

And that statement is the motivation behind Citi’s reconsidering all of their customer experience touchpoints.  Disruptive models and technologies are changing expectations and banks have to adapt – because it isn’t the bank that is a necessity, but the banking.  Heather understands that companies like Uber have changed expectations of a person’s relationship with a service oriented company. Fantastic outlook for a tech leader to have.

The testimonial would have been better without the shameless IBM product plugs for API Harmony and other products, to be honest. I imagine someone thought it just wasn’t obvious enough how IBM was helping with this experience revolution at Citi – and maybe they were right – but it was the wrong stage to make the product plug versus the “customer” plug.

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Corielle, Mayo Clinic, and MD Anderson were all featured on the main stage as well.  The healthcare story from IBM was really solid.  Unfortunately in the satellite location we couldn’t see all the screens in the main location (why? I’m not sure).  But the interviews and presentations were fantastic nonetheless.

Apparently while I was looking at the MD Anderson health app, I couldn’t help but tweet that the screen would look better implemented with Brazos UI… (and it would have).  MD Anderson and Mayo Clinic both excel by putting the patient first and healthcare in orbits around the patient.  That attitude permeates the institutions and the way they interact with you.  The hardest part is just getting that first consultation.  We need more institutions like these, or for these institutions to get expand or network out.

Robert LeBlanc got back on stage to talk about Mobile and Cloud – including showing a customer slide for Hybrid Cloud (IBM claims #1 spot there) :

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Some of these are serious customer references.  And I think it is smart for IBM to play to its strengths.  Including the ability to do things like run BlueMix on-premise/private-cloud.  These are the kinds of things that the other cloud vendors just aren’t going to be comfortable doing, and it is smart of IBM to “go there.”

My favorite LeBlanc quote (from my notes, paraphrased):

“Choose the right partners. It’s not who’s the biggest, it is who creates the most value”

Exactly right. And exactly the argument BP3 has been taking to the market for 8 years now!

I walked out of the General Session once-again impressed with IBM’s breadth and depth of customer engagement with major global enterprises.  It was the beginning of a great conference for us, and I walked out even more convinced that we have the right focus amidst all the marketing noise in our business: business value, customer experience, business process management.