Silicon Valley: Uncovering Future Trends at IBM
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IBM 2 WEB.jpgDid you know IBM was involved in medicine and nanotechnology; and that in the basement of their Almaden Research Lab, is the smallest moving atom, that you can actually move – the only place in the world you will find this?

IBM has twelve labs in ten different countries; 3000 researchers and a $6billion budget for research and development. It is a 100 year old company, with a world class history of innovation – it invented relational databases, stream computing, and Fortran; revolutionised the personal computer and invented the Blue Gene super-computer, capable of handling 280 trillion operations every second!


More recently they have brought the world Watson – technology that can interact in natural language, find answers in unstructured data and compete successfully in the quiz show Jeopardy!


The Almaden lab is divided in to four functions: computer science; science and technology; store systems and services research. Computer science is the home of information management and the relational database. It has a human computer interface team, a team that does analytics and big data and a team focused on health care and technology that aides diagnosis.


Science and technology has a theory group – if you have a problem you can just give that to them; it is all interdisciplinary. Science and technology is all about new materials; it has some nanotechnology, healthcare and medicines e.g. targeted vaccines.

IBM is constantly reinventing itself and its people; it works not with business adjacency, but technology adjacency. When it gave away its hard disk division, it had a lot of people working with Lithography, which is about knowing the properties and molecules of polymers under water.  As it turns out, the technology used for Lithography is the same technology to use to clean water; so these people from this division are now working in Smart Planet, to create clean water.


Research used to be the ivory tower; very inward looking. As it grew they realised they need to communicate with the other branches in IBM, to make sure there is a pipeline with other departments of IBM and with clients.


The First-of-a-Kind program was launched for customers or researchers at IBM with a problem and no solution. The customer puts in a nominal amount or resource to participate in joint development; to test new technologies that solve real business problems. 


The other thing we have in the lab is the Grand Challenge, where researchers can submit a topic; it is competitive and only a handful get picked to become a strong part of the IBM program strategy. One example is Watson – that was a Grand Challenge. To play Jeopardy!  a computer has to handle natural language, and ambiguity, to deal with all the categories and the tricks of sarcasm and jokes that a human can understand but is difficult to model in a computer. An era of computers that learn is on its way, and as Watson evolves, it is easy to see its application within customer Q&A platforms; and IBM is working with the start-up community at different ways to embed Watson within emerging apps.


When IBM decided Watson was going to be its strategy, in every industry – finance, Telco, media and entertainment – it put together a use-case scenario for what Watson could do for each area in five years.  For example, could Watson be a sports announcer for ESPN?  


Global Technology Outlook (GTO)

Since 1982, IBM Research’s global community of scientists has created the GTO; an analysis of significant, disruptive technology trends that will lead to industry changing products and services. 


The Research teams have the opportunity to submit suggestions of what would make a good GTO topic. The submission answers three basic questions:

  • Why would it be a good GTO topic?
  • Why now?
  • Why IBM?


Over a hundred topics are delivered every year, with two people dedicated full time to filtering the list; anyone can contribute.  It is the only topic that the CEO spends an entire day on, so that gives you an idea of how important it is.

The topics are charted and tracked as they evolve.  In 2008, we started with real world awareness - everything is getting smarter and interconnected; that evolved over topics including social technology trends, social logistics, and systems of people.  How do you involve the people in the solution? What it got to was the Smarter Planet initiative – also a GTO topic.

2013 Mega Trends

In the last half century there have been three major waves of technology that have defined computing in the enterprise – the advent of the IBM System 360 in the 60’s; the birth of the PC in the 80’s; and the commercialisation of the Internet in the 90’s and early 2000’s. We are now on the cusp of a fourth wave characterised by the confluence of social, mobile and cloud technologies, the rise of Big Data and the analytics needed to create value in this environment.

The Global Technology Outlook 2013 report identifies the following megatrends:

  • Growing Scale / Lower Barrier of Entry
  • Increasing Complexity / Yet More Consumable
  • Fast Pace
  • Contextual Overload

‘Build me the minimum solution to solve the problem to see if it’s something I’m going to like. Otherwise I’m not interested. We’re now even more demanding. We want it all, we want it now, and we want it seamless. We don’t want it synchronised, we want it all to be seamless and we want it on the cloud so we don’t worry about losing it. Now I don’t want the boring solution. I want it customised to my interest, to my providers, to my geography and in the moment when it’s useful to me. If I’m at the airport, I want an offer that is good at the airport. Don’t give it to me after I’ve left. I’m no longer in that location.’

These trends recognise that a rapidly expanding the infrastructure; and the role of big data and multimedia.  The technology trends highlighted for their impact on industry are:


1. Mobile First
– shipments of smartphones now outpace desktop pcs and notebooks; it is now the primary design point for end-user access to technology.  Mobile First is about delivering value to customers who are constantly connected and looking for quick solutions.

2. Scalable Services Ecosystems – delivery of business functions through API centric services; enabling businesses to co-create customer value with speed and agility.  300k APIs are expected to be registered by 2020; encouraging experimentation and collaborative development between enterprises.

3. Software Defined Environments – where the entire infrastructure including computer, storage and network becomes software defined and programmable in the cloud; this is the next stage of the cloud revolution.

4. Multimedia and Visual Analytics – multimedia accounts for 70% of mobile phone traffic and 60% of internet traffic; 72 hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube every minute; 3 billion Facebook photo uploads occur every month.  Multimedia analytics allows companies to make sense of this data, including images and video, at scale and in an automated fashion.

5. Contextual Enterprise – Watson is one of the earliest examples of contextual computing; which is the formation of relationships and context around data such as our interests, calendars, contacts, history and preferences we all carry on our smart devices.  IBM estimates that spending on Big Data technologies and services will reach $24billion by 2016.

6. Personalised Education – Massive Online Open Courses are emerging to address the huge demand for quality education that cannot be met by existing education and employment infrastructure.  The formulation of digital student records will help to inform and provide personalised learning pathways based on the capabilities of the student and the desired outcomes.

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