IBM Interconnect 2015 – So much to do and so little time! (And conference conglomeration causes confabulation)

The IBM Interconnect is a joining of three former IBM conferences; IBM Impact (Application Integration and Middleware, Mobile, WebSphere and Cloud ), IBM Innovate (DevOps and Continuous Engineering) and IBM Pulse (Service Management). 2,000+ technical sessions, 42 tracks, 8 streams, 3 general sessions and over 20,000 attendees. Imagine the challenges of bringing together such a gathering…not forgetting that the conference was also spread over 2 (Las Vegas class and village scale) conference locations a couple of miles apart!

Size and complexity aside, the conference gave me the opportunity to see the current state of IBM’s corporate (software) transformation. Essentially this is concentrated on software and services for industry’s next generation of today’s (and tomorrows) software intensive business. Having disposed of significant portions of their hardware operations, IBM’s investments of recent years has been to drive impetus in their new (software led) focus on security, social, mobile, analytics and Cloud.

Delivering cohesive strategies with such broad remits coupled with a large product set is no simple matter; especially as many of their investments in their chosen foci have been through technology acquisitions. But IBM pulls it off pretty well. In fact while the practical results of their strategies are still a work in progress and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Take Bluemix for example. Definitely leading edge, elegant marketing and messaging and very competent technology. Indeed, the recent announcement between ARM and IBM (Bluemix) serves as proof positive that IBM’s keen to broaden reach and innovation beyond the traditional. I’ve been impressed with some of the results, many of which were demonstrated at the enormous Mandalay Bay EXPO, with areas of DevOps and Continuous Engineering being worthy of mention; not just singularly but as cohesive elements that’re targeted at delivering positive change in the software innovation paradigms of their clients.

I noted also IBM’s rejuvenated momentum in the art of partnering. Let’s be honest, no one can do everything (not even IBM). With industry innovators such as Apple, Twitter, SAP and ARM amongst some of the most visible recent announcements, this, for me anyway, is a new, refreshing side of the old ‘big blue’. And presenting clients with some interesting new solutions to boot.

While I note there’s much to be appreciated in IBM’s strategy realignments, letting go of ‘historical’ ‘best practices’ will not be easy. People are (most often) the biggest inhibitor to change and the new IBM needs to be more nimble, approachable and broad-reaching to compete effectively in today’s rapidly changing technology ecosystem. We all know of IBM’s strengths in corporate circles, especially in areas such as finance, government and healthcare, but there’s much opportunity elsewhere. Especially in mid-to-smaller sized companies and in verticals such as oil and gas, process industries, aerospace and defence and manufacturing in general. While did get sight of these industries at the event but I still get the feeling they play second fiddle to the ‘larger enterprise’, ‘commercial’ comfort zones.

On the latter topic, IBM (I think to their own disservice) spends much of their time talking on their enterprise/larger customers, and this was definitely true at Interconnect. I did, however, spend time with their GM of Mid-Market. His enthusiasm for expansion (and some of their recent acquisitions including Cloud player SoftLayer) gives confidence that IBM hasn’t lost sight of the opportunities for disproportionate expansion below those in the largest of companies. Given their new impetus into areas of emerging technology, not least of these IoT (and not forgetting Watson of course!), one must remember that future winners may well be born from small-to-mid sized ISVs, partners and, of course, customers. Speaking with IBM over recent past, they’re enthusiastically adapting their end user and partner interface/relationships and keen to make these more visible (and valuable), not least through their software partner (developerWorks) platform. There’s obviously still much work to be done, but IBM’s view is they’re definitely up to the challenge.