IBM has been at the forefront of innovation for over a century; its creations have consistently transformed how businesses and society at large interacts. Far from resting on its laurels, the company has embarked on transforming its products and services in line with the needs of its UK customers, as well as the global market.
Business Review Europe speaks to Andy Brierley, IBM’s Vice President of Global Technology Services, about how the company is building on its already very strong hardware and software offerings with a shift towards cognitive solutions and cloud-based platforms. We also explore how the rest of the company’s divisions are contributing to its long term transformation and prosperity.
Operations and innovation
IBM’s vast portfolio covers everything from data technologies supporting cognitive commerce, through to analytics, mobile technology, security solutions and cloud platforms. This portfolio is constantly be strengthened through investments in new opportunity areas like Watson Health, Watson Internet of Things and hybrid cloud, and through a broad ecosystem of strategic alliances and partnerships.
The company also offers industry-specific expertise to a number of sectors, including banking, retail, telecommunications and a number of public sector and government institutions. Underpinning its market-leading products, services, and solutions are a range of customer support functions from direct customer hotlines and education tools to online support communities.
“I look after IBM Global Technology Services sales for the UK and Ireland and in particular our very largest size deals by value” says Brierley, “So my focus is primarily on making sure that we drive the sales that we need. We do this by creating value propositions that will address our clients’ business challenges and therefore drive increased value for their organisations.”
“That involves IBM delivering projects such as large hybrid cloud deals, taking costs out of our clients’ organisations through IT consolidation, IT rationalisation and, in some cases, taking over clients' IT infrastructure, transforming it, and then running it on behalf of the client for several years.”
He also explains that a number of shrewd acquisitions made in recent years have enabled the company to offer a very strong cloud platform to businesses – a key aspect of the business that IBM is looking to grow in the future. Brierley says: “Some of our clients will be moving 100 percent of their IT function from their current insolvent state, located in a data centre somewhere in the UK, into a managed cloud environment.”
“This gives variability, flexibility, and better price point function – and we're doing these migrations for a lot of customers. This highlights that the investments we've made, the skills that we have, and the level of automation we are capable of deploying, are some of our strongest attributes we can apply when delivering compelling solutions for our clients.”
“My team is talking to clients about how we can reinvent their businesses, change their cost profile and make them far more agile by using some of the strategic investments that we've made. Along with our products and key partnerships and alliances which are so important to us, in many different industries and specialist areas - we integrate it all together to provide a service-integrated approach for our clients.”
The structure and organisation of his teams are aligned according to each industry in order to have an unmatched level of specialisation and deep industry knowledge. “I've got one part of the team that's focused on financial services,” Brierley adds. “I've got another part of my team that's focused on the public sector and I've got one focused on the majority of the other industries. Beneath the leadership team, there are individual experts in each industry such as media and entertainment, telecommunications and utilities.”
It is well known that IBM invests billions of dollars each year in R&D, but one overlooked aspect of this process is how the company is able to seamlessly integrate and roll out these innovations into the wider global business. “All the investments we're making in cognitive, analytics, big data, and quantum computing will eventually wrap itself into a service form and lead it to clients effectively and efficiently,” Brierley says.
“That continuous program of over 100 years of reinventing itself has enabled IBM to refresh both the messages to our clients and the solutions and services we offer them. It's at the heart of everything we do.”
Five Nobel Prize Laureates have worked for IBM through the course of its long history, which gives no small indication of the sort of talent its operations attract and demand. The company retains an enviable portion of the top technology and sales talent available anywhere. “I've spoken to a number of CIOs at a variety of banks who've told me they don't mind paying extra for IBM's staff because we bring talent that no one else has available to offer,” Brierley explains. “The quality of the talent and the experience in the individuals that we've got and their ability to create and bring value to clients, is one of our major competitive strengths.”
It almost goes without saying that IBM’s training and selection processes are rigorous. For Brierley’s team, which is responsible for hundreds of millions of pounds in sales annually, the criteria – and the rewards – are higher still. “We have a very structured set of courses,” he says. “Starting off when our foundation graduates or apprentices arrive - that literally lasts from cradle to grave for the employees as they come on board.”
IBM’s incentive package is designed to ensure that a great deal is reached for all involved, for mutual long-term success: “We lead and motivate our salespeople to do good business – and good business is not just that they sold a very nice deal, it is something that is good for IBM and good for the client. We do retention on commission for a period of time to make sure what we sold for the client is deliverable and the client is happy with what we're delivering.”
Looking to the future
“I think we'll continue on the journey of driving our solutions to be cognitive,” Brierley muses. “All our platforms will become cloud. All our focus will be on industries - I don't see that changing. I think we'll become more and more an organisation that drives all our products, our software, our hardware - as a service for clients.”
“We have reached that point and we're on the right trajectory. Certainly, if I look at the quality of our opportunities and some of the conversations we're having now with clients, it feels like we're ahead of the market. Indeed, our own analysts are telling me that in the UK and Ireland we have taken market share from our competition in the last few quarters.”
Recovering from a hit to its share price last year, IBM has not faltered in cresting wave after wave of innovation and is aligning itself ever closer to the needs of UK and global businesses and industry segments. By channelling its unique knowledge and skill sets, the company’s move from tech provider to services integrator will be the driving force for at least the next five years, as Brierley concludes: “Technology is still encumbering far too many of our clients and they are struggling to get rid of it. As we transform to a cognitive solutions and cloud platform company the challenges will remain. We'll just have to continue to come up with new ideas, innovative propositions, more efficient and effective ways of solving business issues, and I'm very confident we'll continue to do that.”