Mark Davison is at IBM Think in San Francisco – There was standing room only in Moscone West conference centre for IBM chairman, president and CEO, Ginni Rometty’s keynote address – and at multiple other venues around San Francisco, including the Metreon cinema complex, the Yerba Buena Centre and a block of Howard Street called Think Park where it was beamed live via satellite.
And the ever-popular executive had noticed the snaking queue around Moscone on her way to the venue. “Wow!” she exclaimed as she took to the stage. “I don’t know whether to apologise to you, or to thank you. Nobody could be more excited to be here than me. It’s probably the closest I’ve ever got to an iPhone launch.”
The word on the street is that there are more than 25 000 delegates at this year’s Think and Rometty confirmed that people from 120 countries and 22 different industries were there as she thanked them “for allowing us to be on this journey together.” The journey, of course, being digital transformation – or the digital re-invention of businesses. What Rometty now calls Chapter 1.
Rometty explains that Chapter 1 of digital transformation was, basically, digital re-invention where data became the basis of competitive advantage. The addition of digital AI lead to expansion and to tailored, customer applications. Companies established their digital presence and many now interact with their customers through digital platforms.
During the course of her keynote, Rometty brought to the stage a number of the world’s top business leaders to discuss their own digitalisation journeys: John Donovan, CEO of AT&T; Ted Chung, CEO of Hyundai Card; Bernard Tyson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente; Greg Kalinsky, EVP and CIO of Geico; and Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO of Red Hat.
Kalinsky says he saw the potential of AI when a Watson-powered customer service app made a sale to a prospective customer – and the customer clearly couldn’t tell he was speaking to an AI app. The fact that insurance companies are, at core, data companies means that AI will only become more important, he adds.
AT&T’s Donovan talked about another upcoming transformative technology: 5G networks. “5G is a game changer,” he says. The movement of company data from on-premises to the cloud is a normal progression, Donovan adds, as centralisation was necessary for efficiency, while decentralisation is necessary for innovation.
At Kaiser Permanente, Tyson says hybrid cloud may help address one of the biggest challenges in healthcare. “We want to help solve the affordability problem,” he says.
And AI transformation will touch all companies, Chung says, so it’s important to be committed to change to succeed.
It is now time for the next phase of digital transformation, Rometty says, and this involves scaling up, leveraging data across public and private clouds and traditional IT, and putting AI at the centre of business processes.
“Chapter 2 of the digital revolution will be enterprise-driven,” Rometty says. “There are three dimensions to Chapter 2 and I think it will be all about scaling and enhancing; I think it will be hybrid multi-cloud; and it will be driven by mission-critical applications. But it will also be about trusted, responsible stewardship.”
Chapter 2 of cloud is hybrid multi-cloud which is open, secure and managed in a responsible way. Mission-critical work is starting to move towards this model as we progress into an age of co-creation
“An important part of Chapter 2 is about trust,” Rometty adds. “I believe trust is going to be the pre-condition for all these great technologies that we’re talking about to thrive.
“The differentiator of our time is the trust that people have in you.”
Rometty says that there are three key messages she wanted delegates to take home about Chapter 2: It’s purpose is to augment man, not replace him; the importance around ownership of your data; and thirdly, the need to ensure that all these technologies coming through are open, transparent and free from bias.
“Being trusted also means something else,” Rometty says. “To prepare society to live and work in this age so no one is left behind. This is not an era to be experienced by a few.”
She also touched on the fears of many over AI replacing jobs currently done by humans.
“AI is going to replace jobs,” she says. “Look at any technology jobs – they come and go. But, more specifically, AI will change 100% of jobs. Then we get on to the skills shortage. There are 7-million jobs available, but the skills to fill them are not available. Things like skills are going to matter as much as a degree does today, so we have to give people multiple pathways.”
This, she adds, is the thinking behind IBM starting a number of projects to promote and safeguard skills such as its Tech Re-entry Programme and Veteran Employment Initiative.