IBM Analyst Insights conference – ‘From what we can do to what we should do’

by Alan Griffiths

Instead of inviting the analysts to IBM, IBM goes to the analysts.  In Europe, most analysts are apparently in the UK, so this year IBM held its Analyst Insights event in the Sofitel at London Heathrow Terminal 5.  There was a comprehensive programme with high-level plenary speakers and over 20 breakout sessions covering eCommerce, multi-cloud, AI, blockchain, cloud technology and quantum computing, as well as IBM’s ‘core’ topics of storage technology and security.

The importance of research

Juan Zufiria, General Manager IBM Europe, stressed the importance of research and how it differentiates IBM; in AI for example, there have been 16,000 Watson engagements in over 20 industries and 80 countries. Europe provides one third of IBM’s business and leads their thinking in many areas.  A strong theme that came through in this and other presentations was IBM’s focus on trust, involving ‘pervasive security and responsible stewardship’.

Juan Zufiria of IBM explains the importance of research
Fig 1. Juan Zufiria, General Manager IBM Europe, explains the importance of research

Charter of Trust

IBM is a member of the Charter of Trust initiated by Siemens, which has three goals:

  • protecting the data and assets of individuals and businesses;
  • preventing damage to people, businesses, and infrastructures;
  • building a reliable basis for trust in a connected and digital world.

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Alessandro Curioni, IBM Fellow, Vice President of Europe & Director of the IBM Research Lab in Zurich, extends the trust into the realm of ethics in the application of AI (Artificial Intelligence); as AI approaches human level intelligence, subtle biases can be introduced through the data that is used by the system to learn, so a trust-based and ethical approach is important.  Alessandro referred to the work of IBM’s Francesca Rossi, Global Leader of AI Ethics for IBM who has just been selected to Join European Commission’s New AI Expert Group.

This trust and ethics theme can be summarised as a change in focus from ‘what we can do to what we should do’.

Trust of another kind was introduced by Matt Lucas of the Global client engagement team for blockchain, who talked about IBM’s work using Hyperledger Fabric.  This framework provides ‘cryptographic’ trust through a permissioned blockchain i.e. consensus, provenance, immutability and finality – but people still have to place their trust in it for it to be successful!  IBM is stressing its credentials as a company you can trust so that it can bring these new technologies to market.

Leanne Kemp, Founder & CEO of Everledger, presented a global technology platform to assert transparency along supply chains.  Initially the focus is on high-value assets such as diamonds, fine wine and art.  Everledger currently has over 2.2 million diamonds certified on its blockchain.

Leanne Kemp, CEO of Everledger, presents at IBM conference
Fig 2. Leanne Kemp, Founder & CEO of Everledger

Alex Rutter, Director of IBM Watson Customer Engagement business in the UK & Ireland, also talked about trust in the context of Value, Content and AI where 12,500 IBM clients have transacted over $48bn in the past 22 years.  IBM has modernised its architecture to include Kubernetes orchestration, and provides an omnichannel solution based on WebSphere Commerce.

Alex Rutter presents IBM’s Watson IoT Commerce strategy
Fig 3. Alex Rutter presents IBM’s Watson Commerce strategy

Quantum computing

Tim Ellison,  introduced the IBM Q quantum computer and explained the principle of ‘superposition’ which is an intermediate position between 1 and 0 which becomes 1 OR 0 when it is observed.  Tim also explained how two Q bits can become ‘entangled’, leading to exponential growth in compute power.  This requires a new approach to programming which allows algorithms to be run directly on the computer.  This has the potential to be powerful enough to break most encryption in current use, so it will be used to develop new encryption strategies such as ‘Fully Homomorphic Encryption’ (FHE) which makes it possible to store, share and collaborate on files without ever decrypting them.

The complex structure displayed in the model (see image below) is required to keep the chip (inside the cylinder at the bottom) as close to absolute zero as possible in order to maintain stability; currently the lowest temperature they can achieve is about 15 millikelvin.

IBM is allowing university students and other users to access a simulated Q computer in the cloud via the ‘IBM Q Experience’, which currently has over 80,000 users including 1,500 universities.

Model of the internals of IBM’s Q (quantum) computer
Fig 4.  Model of the internals of IBM’s Q (quantum) computer


Julian Meyrick, VP IBM Security Europe, quoted, from the latest Data Breach study, that the average cost of a breach is $3.8m.  For a ‘megabreach’ (over 50 million records compromised) it’s $40-350m.

IBM’s approach to security is to use ‘orchestration’ (with human intervention) rather than ‘automation’ to avoid being ‘gamed’ (because automation can, by definition, be predicted).  IBM’s X-Force® Command Centers provide 24×7 security operation centers around the world where users can bring their teams for interactive simulations to role-play security issues.

Watson IoT

Finally, I met with Eric Libow, CTO Connected Operations for Watson IoT, and talked about IBM’s IoT capability and marked focus.  The capability is extensive, including blockchain, edge processing and AR, while its market focus ranges from supply chains to industries ranging from energy to manufacturing.  We plan to have more detailed discussions with IBM about IoT and Digital Transformation, the Market Areas they are targeting and the size of the opportunity.

Look out for more on these areas in a later post. Subscribe to the newsletter to make sure you don’t miss it.

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