IBM's Rometty Slams Competitors With 'Yesterday's Business Model,' Spotlights Cognitive Era As Future Disruptor

IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty Tuesday derided competitors who are failing to transform themselves for the coming cognitive era while spotlighting IBM's readiness for a future "rewritten in software."

"You see two of them coming together on yesterday's business model, and you see another one breaking up on yesterday's business model," Rometty said in a thinly veiled reference to the pending merger of Dell and EMC, and last year's split of Hewlett-Packard into two companies, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HP Inc.

IBM's been talking a lot about cognitive computing of late, but the concept still causes confusion, even among sectors of the company's channel.

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Rometty told thousands of partners in a keynote at IBM's PartnerWorld Leadership Conference in Orlando, Fla.,that the cognitive solutions IBM has developed over the last decade will usher in "a world that will be rewritten in software," and will present them with opportunities to build intelligence "into any process or product".

"Like digital today, the world will embrace cognitive tomorrow," Rometty said "Without it, we'll be overwhelmed by data, and won't stand a chance to solve some of the big problems out there."

But for IBM, the technology that mimics human thought processes will usher in a new era that is the culmination of Big Blue's epic transformation.

First discussed two years earlier at the same event, that transformation has remade IBM as "a cognitive solutions and cloud platform company"— dramatically reshaping IBM's relationship with its channel by imposing far greater reliance on partners, said the CEO.

"What we're offering is a platform for you, and you are the ecosystem to drive that innovation," Rometty told conference attendees, three-quarters of whom were solution providers.

Cognitive represents the fourth pillar of IBM's multi-year transformation, following big data, cloud and mobility.

"The cognitive era stands to be the most disruptive, but it will be the most differentiating," Rometty said. And IBM will help partners "differentiate by being cognitive."

Cognitive computing is more than artificial intelligence, she explained. While artificial intelligence is an important component, the game-changing technology also involves the ability to process natural language, domain-specific knowledge, advanced data analytics and a broad set of APIs that make it all accessible to partners.

"These are systems that can understand, reason and learn," Rometty said.

That's what Watson does. A decade of research has made Watson the world's leading cognitive system, "and we will remain number one on this," Rometty vowed.

The technology has come a long way since it made its debut in January 2011 on the gameshow Jeopardy. Back then, Watson was built atop five unique technologies and did only one thing: answer questions. Today, Watson has 32 functions that rely on 50 underlying technologies, all accessible by API.

Two years ago, when first discussing the transformation that lay ahead, IBM revealed a set of strategic imperatives: enterprise cloud, big data, and an engagement platform encompassing social and mobile, all pinned down by security.

Last year, the focus was squarely on cloud, and, for IBM, "in the area of cloud, it's hybrid," she said.

Cloud is the platform for all the digital builders out there, Rometty said. "They no longer write applications. They compose them with APIs."

This year's emphasis on cognitive solutions marks a turning point for the company by melding those technologies, Rometty said.

Soon "invisible data"—almost 80 percent of which is unstructured, much of it video—will become visible. Systems that currently can only move around and share such data will soon understand what it is thanks to cognitive methods.

The data, cloud, and cognitive capabilities "allows you to build thinking into anything you do," she said. That's going to change entire professions and industries served by IBM partners.

Tom Hughes, director of alliances and strategic solutions at Ciber, a Greenwood Village, Colo.-based global systems integrator, said the keynote from IBM's CEO was spot on.

"Not only are partners transforming, but our clients are as well, and cognitive, in its many forms, are helping them to do that," Hughes told CRN.

More companies are asking for OpEx solutions, and IBM is enabling partners to deliver them, he said.

"IBM's strategy to move more of their software products to the cloud is what clients are asking for and IBM's approach helps us help our clients achieve their objectives," Hughes told CRN.