Has IBM Got its Mojo back? Early sprouts around Platforms!

Displacing the Mojo?

Over the last few years it seems like IBM had lost its magic, the mojo of understanding what its clients want and at the right time seemed to have got muddled. In effect it seemed IBM had lost the pulse of its clients, its markets and was marketing a number of solutions where it was hedging its bets but was not what the end-user customers wanted or was ready for yet! It seemed more and more that IBM only had one mantra and that was applying Watson (its cognitive solution) to everything, every vertical and every offering.  Watson was developing along nicely when IBM developed its cognitive push but this was just too early for the marketplace. Applying it to various verticals and solutions seemed too early and overkill for the marketplace.

Added to this were some separate plays namely around the cloud. IBM’s approach to cloud was timely but it forgot the slow pace of most of its conservative (to risk) clients and the company quickly jumped over most of the value-stack. Cloud still needed to mature and IBM seemed to have galloped over it with a number of highly value-added solutions.  The client migratory path needed smaller steps and more time! IBM followed this with a push on Blockchain in a very big way but never quite knew where this solution sat in the overall client transformation journey. As a solution it was right but again a bit early for the marketplace and without an overarching IBM enterprise strategy in place!

IBM is always successful when it is leading and providing a holistic vison of the journey the client needs to make.  Here it seemed it had lost it mojo and the holistic part was missing whilst different groups played out their own messages. Global services lost its momentum but also a holistic vision for its client’s transformation – all answers shouldn’t lead to Cognitive!  It seemed very confused in how it wanted to market Digital Transformation, its architecture, solutions and services. The Distribution channel lost its direction and its business models in all the changes leading to cloud and in how to sell AI and Big data solutions. This was seen in the company results as well as in a lot of negative investor sentiment especially when Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway sold their IBM holding.


Samuel Palmisano (IBM CEO 2002-2011) introduced the concept of ‘A Smarter Planet’ for the whole company to get behind and much of it made sense at that time especially given the journey to ‘Smart Cities’. Recent perceptions have become blurred. ‘A Smarter Planet’ does not just mean a data intensive cognitive planet, it also means installing a smarter infrastructure, leveraging Internet of things, leveraging valuable data, changing the clients’ business models to digitization and the importance of ecosystems, providing a great digital customer and user experience by personalising the experience, organizational agility, empowering innovation in processes and culture all in a secure and ethical way. 

In these times of changes, global uncertainties, fast changing competitors - businesses almost always turn to their ‘trusted advisor’. Who is best placed to espouse and deliver on the above?  Over my last twenty years of covering the IT markets and providing strategy and vision in these markets (starting with my first assignment to analyse the early impact of Louis Gerstner (IBM CEO 1993-2002)), the first name usually on the ‘trusted advisor’ list for a number of years was IBM.  Other companies came and left but as generalised ‘Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM’.  Over the last few years it seemed the vibrancy and leadership vision went overdrive into vaporware and providing clients with a realistic migratory/ transformation path got confused, complex, muddled and even hijacked by certain internal groups.


Signs of Mojo Located?

Recently we have seen early signs of the mojo being located and a holistic vision slowly coming into play. The espousing of the vision is not quite there and seems IBM is still readying it strategy but the company has finally started to push Digital Transformation in a much bigger way and the pillars of a holistic client journey are beginning to sprout. The digital transformation push is leading IBM to ‘platforms’ which provide IBM with a bigger enterprise-wide framework, around which to

  • Bring a holistic vision for the end-user corporations and make Global services lead again
  • Lead the thought process and educate the client
  • Espouse a journey to make for its various constituencies within the end-user corporations.
  • Tie together its various plays around a more realistic marketing message
  • Be ready with the right solutions at the right time for the marketplace
  • Incentivise the channel around realistic platform solutions.

Together with its Digital Transformation journey IBM has recently started to vision the frameworks needed and started talking platforms. More precisely vertical platforms! 


Our Reference Architecture

The framework below shows our view of this transformation journey and its early pillars.

 Reference Architecture for Digital Transformation

Our initial but evolving definition is ‘one where the advances in digital technology are leveraged and exploited to the benefit of businesses its ecosystems and the wider society’.

The term ‘Digital transformation’ as used by our industry is not a product or service in itself; it implies both some sort of non-trivial positive change and a movement from something already in use to something better. In other words, it is a concept defining some particular sort of journey made by business and/or its partners and consumers. The trouble is we are all starting from different places with multiple different destinations in sight. The figure 1 below shows our vision on the key elements of the digital transformation journey.

We believe the key platforms will be around Ecosystems (DEM) and customer/user experience (DXM) incorporating various versions of blockchain solutions.  Analytics and AI (AAI) will be built-in and become holistic much like current security.  The transformation of the underlying IT infrastructure (DIP) is ‘key’ together with the understanding of IoT and the architecture needed for edge computing. Decisions and deployments taken today will impact how you can leveraging your multi-cloud hybrid infrastructure for tomorrow. The interaction of Micro Services and API within the platforms will become a crucial differentiation in the future and thus a key decision in choosing the right vendor solutions and partners.

Another crucial choice involving vendor selection will revolve around what we call Digital Enterprise-wide Management Framework (DMF) which currently suggests management both at holistic and micro levels. New forms of Single pane view will eventually emerge. Not only do you need to trust your vendor to take care of managing ‘systems of systems’ (multi-clouds) but also of distributed workloads, their topologies, service automation and eventually application management.

We believe a business can start its Digital Transformation journey from various starting points and can implement either solely or simultaneously in the elemental technology groups shown below.  Much of this depends on the organization, its maturity levels, Incumbent or startups and what value they perceive their existing data to be.  The key is to understand the implications behind the reference Architecture to the business processes involved as they become more intelligence and automated.

Finally do you want to own the main platform or become an ecosystem partner in another’s platform?

For more on this topic, please refer to our publications on

1) Digital Transformation Framework and

2) DXM: Reference Architecture.


Figure 1: Key elements of the ‘digital transformation’ journey


 Source: TekPlus


ViewPoint: The Mojo is Sprouting Back - Early sprouts emerging around Vertical Platforms!

 ⇒ Time to Put IBM on your Platforms shortlist

 IBM has recently introduced a couple of vertical platforms in the Financial Services space.  Early versions of these vertical platforms bring together a differentiated thought leadership and vision around its ecosystem platforms.  It is fair to say at this stage The IBM solution is not totally explained by our DEM platform but has similar implications. Its bases start with a set of technologies allowing the functioning of an ecosystem where multiple partners add value to the core functions. IBM leverages aspects of its cognitive (Watson) base (AAI in above figure) and also combines functionality from our other key platforms (DIP,IoT, Business Processes & Models) to create a cloud based Platform as a Service solution. The features and functionalities are significant as IBM brings its vertical expertise into play especially at the core.

The good thing is IBM has developed a flexible approach for deployment and has also readied its framework approach by Global Services.  Global Services becomes key in conversations on operating models revolving around risk awareness, data driven, real time, secure, agile, personalization, etc. It takes the client through top priorities to key capabilities to key performance indicators (KPIs) for building ‘Process as a Service’ business model. 

As said above, IBM is always successful when it leading and providing a holistic vison of the journey the clients need to make.  It seems the early stages of a holistic transformation vision, tied around Global Services and leveraging the expertise of its various other groups around ‘platform solutions’ seems to have aligned the company.  Add to this the developments seen around managing multiple hybrid clouds, mapping application topologies, service automation and cognitive process transformation are early indicators of the right vision.  Virginia “Ginni” Rometty (IBM CEO Current) now needs to make sure that all forces are pulling in one direction from which they can all benefit.

It is time to consider IBM again for your transformation. We recommend you to shortlist them to understand their platform plays in your vertical. With the early sprouts,  as IBM focuses more and more on its clients transformations it may start to lead again in migrating its’ clients at every level , not just the cloud, or cognitive but of the Digital Transformation value-stack! 


TP: 01 PN: 1454 VN: 01 YS: 18

Content Type: Executive Report ; Programme Type: Corporate Advisory Programme

Applicable Regions: Global

Applicable Subjects: Digital Transformation, Digital Platform, Ecosystems/Digital Ecosystems/ DEM, Analytics/Smart analytics/Cognitive

Programmes Covered: Global Digital Customer Eco-system Management & Platform Solutions Corporate Advisory Programmes, Executive Programme

Insurance Directions is a brand of TekPlus.

Every care is taken to ensure that all contents of this report are accurate and opinions stated are based on information and sources we believe are reliable, but are not guaranteed. No liability can be accepted by TekPlus Limited, its brands, its affiliates, its directors, employees, or authors for any loss incurred as a result of using or failing to use anything contained in the report, conclusions stated or inferred.

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