I attended IBM Think last week in San Francisco as a guest of IBM. The event was an outstanding opportunity to stay in close touch with the rapidly-changing technology industry and the uses of data. Data & AI was one of the campuses of the expo hall and a focus of many of the presentations (the others were Smarter Business, Cloud & Infrastructure and Security & Resiliency).

First off, the San Francisco location was much better for Think than Mandalay Bay was last year (despite the rain). Of course, Think is going to be crowded regardless, but those legendary packed hallways in Vegas of last year were largely gone. Kudos to IBM!

Overall the themes of inclusion, ethical AI and improving humanity with technology were prevalent. This was much welcome coming from a leading company like IBM and seemed to go over very well with the audience. More kudos!

The IBM Cloud was front and center at Think. There was absolutely no yielding of ground in the cloud arena. IBM is poised to dramatically expand its cloud footprint and be a solid large-scale player for whatever an enterprise needs from the cloud. Many organizations stepped forward with great experiences with IBM Cloud, including Kaiser Permanente, whose CEO said half of their data was in IBM Cloud.

Related to the cloud business was the “as-a-service” dimension of all of their software. This was presented as a given for their software going forward. Obviously, this is a far cry from just a few years ago, but that shows you how much this industry has changed.

IBM Cloud now claims to be “the most secure public cloud”.  New Hyper Protect is services built on IBM LinuxONE technology that provide built-in data-at-rest and data-in-flight protection to help application developers easily build applications with highly sensitive data.

The theme used in the IBMer Data & AI presentations and the campus was The Cognitive Enterprise. The Cognitive Enterprise has among its seven keys to success “Leverage the incumbent advantage in data”, “Redesign company workflows around AI and Get agile”, and “change fast and build things”. It’s a brilliant model for any enterprise. As CEO Ginny Rometty said in the opening keynote, there is “no AI without IA”. While the phrase was not overused at Think, the idea certainly permeated many of the sessions, which were aligned with my recent admonitions to organizations to “get your data act together” in a leveragable data architecture that includes data warehousing, data lakes and master data management, in anticipation of the inevitable AI future. Data maturity is certainly correlated to company maturity today.

There was also a flip side discussion to “no AI without IA” on “one shot learning”, an IBM innovation, where less data is required to do AI. With less labeled data, less data volume and less human intervention, “one-shot learning” is like unsupervised learning. We’ll see over time how much data is really needed to have dialed-in algorithms.

Watson Everywhere was the big Think announcement. This extends Watson’s domain beyond IBM Private Cloud and into Amazon’s cloud, Microsoft’s cloud, IBM’s public cloud and on-premises.

In IBM’s view, “chapter one” was public-facing applications in the cloud and we are in “chapter two” where AI is scaling and the cloud becomes hybrid. The modernization of mission critical applications includes cloud provisioning and Kubernetes. Specifically, moving data between various data stores and clouds was the basis for another announcement. IBM Cloud Integration Platform. CIP is designed to provide a single, unified platform for all integration needs.

Speaking of going through chapters, one great quote was “The cognitive enterprise of the future has a culture of agile innovation, an ecosystem of business platforms, cognitive-enabled enterprise workflows, exponential technologies artificial intelligence, blockchain, IoT and 5G and be fueled by data”. Also “business platforms today combine data, workflows and expertise to drive competitive advantage”. Industries will be entirely transformed. Consider Insurance, where everything from home sensors to automatic claims to informing how to handle claims is being transformed by technology in short order.

In the Data & AI zone, I had a subgoal to understand better what people think Digital Transformation means. This much ballyhooed term is being thrown around in our industry and means different things to different people. I need my definition of it. In the IBM culture, it seems to have a lot to do with a data-centric journey and is wrapped up with initiatives like data quality, data architecture, business glossaries and data governance. I can easily agree with that. It was said that Data Quality and Data Governance are essential, yet intensely manual without automation and only 5% of customers are successful with business glossaries today since they are too manual. IBM has infused matching learning to automate this process and get their customers moving towards true Digital Transformation. This was nice.

There is so much more to say about Think 2019, but I will stop here. It will be hard to top as a learning experience for the rest of the year. Congratulations to IBM for the event, the announcements and the experiences.

Disclaimer: IBM arranged for me to attend Think 2019 in return for my coverage of the event. All opinions are my own.

McKnight Consulting Group