IBM’s Insight 2014 – The Cloud/Analytics/Watson Conference

“Insight” is the new name for IBM’s former Information-on-Demand conference – an event that had been dedicated to data related topics such as data management, data bases, data governance and Big Data analysis. Insight, however, expands beyond data to cover other IBM strategic initiatives including cloud and cognitive computing.

So picture this: 12,000 people with varied interest attending an IBM trade show on advanced technologies. These 12,000 included IBM customers (business executives, line-of-business managers, developers, database administrators, IT managers, and more); press/analysts; IBMers (sales people, product managers, educators, and executive management); and IBM business partners (offering solutions in security, enterprise content management, analytics, cloud and more). In other words, Insight attracted a gigantic crowd with a wide variety of interests.

So how do you satisfy those varied interests? The customers and business partners I talked to indicated that there was much to do (attend keynotes for strategic messages, break-outs for specific case studies or product info, or hands-on training sessions) – so it was easy to tailor one’s agenda to get the information desired. (I think that IBM set up Insight as a smorgasbord – a dining event where a wide variety of food is placed out and takers can find what they want and as much of it as they want). And all of the food presented was delicious…

Customers told me that they could easily find the information that they needed to do their jobs. They said that one of the biggest benefits of the conference was that they could see where IBM is now in terms of product development and integration – and that they could also clearly see where IBM was heading strategically. From a big picture perspective, the message that IBM was trying to relay was that analytics, cloud and cognitive computing are all interrelated – and this message resonated with customers as well as with many business partners. IBM also reinforced that the company has the broadest and best integrated data management/analytics/cloud portfolio in the industry – and that no other vendor can match it in breadth and depth of analytics, , hybrid cloud or cognitive computing (which, from my perspective, is true).

To test the theory that customers were truly getting what they needed – and the strategic messaging that IBM was trying to deliver was resonating – I talked to several application developers. Developers tend to be tool focused specialists who don’t usually take well to high-level strategic messaging. But every one of the five that I talked to said they liked the Watson (cognitive computing) pitches – and several expressed interest in going to “play” with the new Watson Analytics environment (I covered this offering about a month ago in this blog). Developers were generally excited about the impact that cognitive computing could have on future applications development.

From a customer perspective, one observed that the crowd this year was a bit “older” (I hadn’t noticed …). Many were using the conference as a means to network with other customers with like interests. Still others were taking advantage of product specific pitches as well as hands on training. Lunches and other meetings with customers generated some interesting discussions – most mentioning how impressed they were with how much progress IBM has made in the integration of their various product lines (analytics services are now offered on premise or in the cloud; cognitive analytics are also available as cloud services; database/data management/analytics all seem to work well together). One customer said that in the hands-on training sessions it is easy to see how well IBMs products are coming together along with still existing flaws. So, not everything is perfectly integrated, but at least customers can see the direction that IBM is taking in terms of the integration of the various disciplines.

As for business partners, most were thrilled to be at the conference because it presented an opportunity to understand the big picture as well as meet prospective buyers. One told me that “his company doesn’t have a lot of money for training – but he can get all the training he needs in the hands-on labs that are readily available”. Other business partners, particularly those working the booths, were thrilled with the amount of traffic that passed through the demo areas.

Not everyone was exuberantly happy, however. One customer said she suffered from “information overload”; another business partner complained that he couldn’t figure out how to monetize Watson for his business. Still others didn’t like the keynotes (one claimed to be “bored” – which was hard to imagine).

As for my fellow analysts, they all lauded IBM for tying together the analytics/cloud/cognitive theme – but several stated that they were “over-Watsoned”. IBM tends to Watson, Watson, Watson the analyst and press communities. We get it, cognitive computing is cool. So let’s see the one killer-app that drives Watson into broad acceptance – and let’s see a solid revenue stream coming from all of the Watson action. (Note: at least one analyst doesn’t seem to mind all of the Watson coverage – she is writing a book on cognitive computing, so I bet she was thrilled with the Watson messaging).

What Did I Take Away From This Conference?

First and foremost, I was amazed that IBM could blend their three different technologies (analytics, cloud and cognitive) into a cohesive message. Initially, the messaging wasn’t holding together for me – each piece of the puzzle seemed to be discrete. But then IBM started to show the interrelationships of each product and suddenly this mix of technologies started to make sense. Then the company shared its strategic directions in cloud, in analytics, in infrastructure and in cognitive computing – and at this point the product portfolio, the integration work and the strategy started to make perfect sense.

As usual, I spent a fair amount of time investigating what IBM is doing with its underlying infrastructure. I’m a firm believer in IBM’s “Infrastructure Matters” message – so I look closely at what IBM does to make it easier to build and integrate applications on a united infrastructure (infrastructure = systems, storage, networks, operating environments, systems software, middleware and the like). What I see in IBM’s approach is “great glue”. Databases, data management and governance, cloud infrastructure, security, and other infrastructure components work extremely well together – thus paving the way for new application products to be developed and deployed without hassles. A great example of this approach is IBM’s Bluemix development environment – with this offering the underlying infrastructure becomes essentially transparent. Two other great examples are IBM’s PureApplication System and PureData System environments – highly integrated systems environments designed to simplify system/application deployment and management.

But ultimately, what I like best about these events is the opportunity to talk with a lot of customers about what they are doing, the challenges that they are facing, and how they overcome those problems. These conferences are a great place to do market research.

Finally, my hat is off to IBM. Mixing this gigantic crowd together – and delivering a cohesive message on the theme of how analytics/cloud/cognitive computing play well together now, and will all play together in the future – was a complex task. IBM customers and business partners – as well as the press and analyst communities – all seemed to grasp the intersection and interconnection of the company’s efforts in cloud, analytics and cognitive computing. And, as a result, IBM can count the first Insight conference as a great success. Now let’s see if they can pull this off again in February when the introduce the first IBM “Impact” conference (formerly “Pulse”) – a new Cloud, service management, Internet of Things, Security, Mobile and DevOps focused event…








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