IBM CEO Rometty: Cognitive will be biggest disruptor

ORLANDO — IBM CEO Gini Rometty kicked off the company’s annual partner event, the PartnerWorld Leadership Conference here by telling solution providers that we are on the cusp of the era of what Big Blue calls cognitive computing, and that it’s going to be one of the most profound, and potentially profitable, industry shifts to date.

Her presentation focused largely on how cognitive, championed by the company’s Watson technology, has expanded dramatically since Watson caught mainstream imagination in 2011 by way of its stunning performance on the game show Jeopardy.

From its debut as a one-trick pony, intelligently answering natural-language questions, Watson has grown into 32 different functions with 50 underlying technologies, all accessible to applications and solutions via API. In fact, IBM boss said the Watson APIs collectively get 3.2 billion calls per month, suggesting the technology is already well-used.

“It allows you to build [machine] thinking into everything you do. Every process, every product,” Rometty told partners. “It will change what you do, and it will change what your clients do. It’s already changing us. IBM now is a cognitive solutions and cloud platform company, and everything we do is aimed at that now.”

Rometty painted cognitive computing as the only way around increasing decision paralysis due to the sheer volume of data being produced, and how much of that data is unstructured, and therefore difficult for traditional systems to extract data from. She warned that without the help of machines that can think and learn and gain domain-specific expertise “we’ll be overwhelmed by data, and there’s no way we’ll solve the world’s biggest problems.”

Also at PartnerWorld, the company outlined a dramatic shift in its partner program towards building competencies and higher value-add that it says will help position its partners to take advantage of the cognitive opportunity.

Rometty contrasted this to rivals Dell, EMC, and HP and HP Enterprise, which she suggested were falling behind.

“Two of our competitors are coming together on yesterday’s business model, and one of them is breaking apart on yesterday’s business model,” Rometty quipped.

The shift towards Watson will also continue to drive IBM towards its current partner base, and to new types of partners, Rometty stressed. More than before, Big Blue sees itself as a platform company, she said, and a variety of partner types will serve as “the ecosystem to drive that innovation” in terms of building the applications and solutions that run on and take advantage of IBM’s platforms.

The biggest advantage for businesses and partners around cognitive, she suggested, is that it still offers differentiation. While IBM feels that all businesses are on the digitalization path, Rometty said that cognitive is still new enough and fresh enough that companies that get it early and move towards it now will have an advantage over those who don’t.

“This is the fourth big shift for us, and it’s the most disruptive and the most differentiated,” she said.

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