Technology

Executive Corner: Bill Chamberlin on Research and Emerging Technologies

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The Academy of Technology’s “Executive Insights” series provides thought leadership from executives and senior members of IBM with the goal of encouraging the exchange of ideas and information. 


William (Bill) Chamberlin
Distinguished Market Intelligence Professional
IBM CHQ, Marketing 
VP Strategy, Academy of Technology


AoT: You have a strong background in Research, Market Analysis, Strategy, Market Intelligence, and Emerging Trends and Technologies. What emerging technologies or innovations are you most excited about right now at IBM, and why?

Bill:  There are so many technologies and innovation areas that are exciting to think about.  A few of them that I am watching are:

Distributed Cloud at the Edge.   I think a lot about the future infrastructure that will be needed to support applications at the edge.  We will need IT services physically distributed to the edge that consume a low amount of power and can handle ultra-fast processing at very low latency.  IBM is working hard on the technologies that will be required for the future of edge computing.

Trusting AI.  It is critical that we get AI engineering right in order to have AI systems built on trust, transparency, ethics, fairness, interpretability and compliance. We need a new AI engineering / architectural profession and processes and tools that can facilitate the performance, scalability, interpretability and reliability of AI models while delivering the full value of AI investments.  IBM Research is doing amazing work in this area.  

Esports/Entertainment.  We are on the cusp of a new form of sports and entertainment delivered to consumers, one that digitally transforms how we think of sports and entertainment. This will be a new era driven by data, analytics and new sensory technologies. As evidence, IBM recently announced a partnership with the Overwatch League™, the world’s first global esports league.  IBM is going to be the AI, cloud, and analytics engine for the league.  

Technology for Society.  IBM is doing some groundbreaking work on delivering technology that has an impact on society.  An example is IBM’s Call for Code. It brings together technology and a powerful ecosystem to combat some of the greatest societal challenges of our time. Through this effort we are learning how to coordinate the adoption and innovation of open source projects by developers, ecosystem partners and communities across the world to drive sustainable change. And if successful, we can and should apply this learning to other important and hard to solve global challenges.

Quantum Computing.   How can you not get excited about the future of IBM’s Quantum Computing efforts around harnessing the intricacies of atomic behavior?  IBM’s team has already done such amazing things, but we are just getting started. IBM’s Roadmap For Scaling Quantum Technology imagines a future where we have quantum computers with millions of qubits.  Quantum computers will transform industries from healthcare to finance to defense.  

AoT: Tell us about research and why it’s important to driving technology. Is it even more important after a tumultuous year like 2020?

Bill: First, I must point out that there are different types of research disciplines. From a technical point of view, we primarily think about scientific and technology research.  However, there are many types of research disciplines, including business development, competitive, and market research.  And there are different types of research methods depending on the specific discipline.  Most research processes start with a question that needs to be answered.  From there, a hypothesis can be constructed, which leads you down the path of finding answers to the question.

Research is important for two reasons. First, it drives innovation through activities such as team brainstorming, exploration and experimentation. Innovation is the lifeblood of any company. If a company does not perform research, it will be very hard to innovate. Without continuous innovation, it is only a matter of time before that company goes out of business or is swallowed up by a competitor. 

Research is also important because it drives fact-based decision making. Gone are the days when leaders were expected to make decisions based solely on a hunch. Today they rely on data from research about the past, the current and the potential futures.  Companies that are not making data-driven decisions will find it harder and harder to stay in business.

A recent report by McKinsey stated, “The companies listed on the S&P 500 index have an average age of 22 years, down from 61 years in 1958”.  IBM has beaten the odds as we are celebrating our 109th year in 2020. That is amazing, considering all the changes that have happened since 1911.   IBM has survived in part because of its strength in research disciplines across the company.  We have always been innovating and transforming based on shifts in the market, and we are doing that now.

You asked about the challenges of 2020. This year we are seeing firsthand what happens to companies, industries and whole ecosystems that were not prepared for the possibility of pandemic. There is a niche type of research discipline called foresight research that, if used properly, could have prepared companies better for a contingency such as a pandemic.  The Foresight research discipline includes specific processes, methods and techniques that help teams explore potential future states of markets and technologies.  Foresight research professionals are skilled at listening to market signals, understanding key drivers of change, projecting potential futures, and then translating that understanding to implications of change on business, technical and organizational strategy.

AoT: What are some of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on recently? What value do you think they bring for IBM and our customers? 

Bill: There have been so many interesting Academy of Technology projects I have had the pleasure to work on, lead or sponsor over the years.  These include projects on 3D Printing, Augmented & Virtual Reality, Fintech Payments, and accelerating IBM Research innovations.  Here are a few of the projects I have been involved with this year: 

Top Trends in Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning:   Our goal for this work was to develop an updated point of view on the current and emerging trends in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.  Working in an agile manner, in a matter of two months the initiative team had research and developed a final report.  The report details ten important technology trend areas that will define the success of artificial intelligence for the next 20 years.  The report was featured on an internal AoT showcase event.  

Connected Industries Ecosystems:  This project is looking at the trend towards connected industry ecosystems and what has been referred to as Society 5.0.  This trend represents a vision where industries create new added value through offerings that help solve societal challenges.  They will do this by connecting a variety of data, technologies, people, and organizations during the global rise of the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). For more about this trend, see the recent IBM Institute For Business Value report titled “The new age of ecosystems” 

Responsible Computing:   We have a team in Europe leading this project and exploring the question: What does it take to become the most sought-after responsible computing (provider)?    More than 100 IBMers are working in a series of 6 initiatives.  Their goal is to develop a point of view on this topic, with recommendations for IBM and educational and consulting assets that can help IBMers communicate within client discussions and engagements about this topic.  The starting point for this team has been all the capabilities IBM lays out on our IBM.org site.  If you have not seen that site, check it out.

AoT: Tells us a little about how you combine Marketing, Strategy and Technology in your role. Do you find that the three disciplines work well together? 

Bill: Marketing and strategy can be very technical disciplines.  There are elements of how I approach my activities that are very similar to how IBM Research Scientists approach the work they do.  We both start with a question and set of hypotheses.  From there we perform research and experiments in order to come up with answers.  Brainstorming is involved and you are always thinking about what the future might look like.

It’s important to note that the marketing and strategy disciplines have changed dramatically in the past ten years in the area of data, analytics and statistical research.  We simply have so much more data than we did ten years ago.  Today’s marketing and strategy professionals must be very comfortable with the technical methods and tools used in analyzing data.

It is critically important that the three disciplines of marketing, strategy and technology are connected to each other within an enterprise.  There needs to be a feedback loop between the disciplines that both feeds and receives information from the other disciplines.  

For me, the intersection of the three disciplines allows me to think about the future of IT.  I have a love for analyzing and understanding emerging technologies and then using that knowledge to imagine the potential future states of the IT marketplace in the next century.  This is where I find the intersection of the three disciplines.  We are living right now in an amazing time in human history, the birth of an era of automation that will impact our lives.  And I believe the impact will be mostly positive and one that will significantly benefit society.  My experience in marketing, strategy and technology allows me to explore the potential futures of these emerging technologies and help IBM and our clients to be better prepared. 

AoT: 2020 has been a challenging year. How do you think IBM, the AoT, or you personally are addressing those challenges? 

Bill: Yes, 2020 has been challenging.  In January I will mark 40 years with IBM.  My father worked for IBM for 38 years (starting in 1953).  From that point of view, I can honestly say that IBM has not seen a year like this year ever.  The pandemic has had a tremendous impact on us all.  And it is not over yet.  4Q2020 and 2021 will continue to present challenges to how we work and engage with our clients, stakeholders, and other employees. 

Through all my years, I have felt honored to work for IBM and to be a part of the Academy of Technology.  Our culture has always been to demonstrate leadership to the rest of the world in times like these.  Again, I mention IBM’s IBM.org site as an example of the type of work we are doing.

Regarding what we are doing related to the pandemic, just take a look at IBM’s COVID-19 portal to explore all that we have done or are doing.  Many of the initiatives on that IBM COVID-19 portal are ones that were led by the Academy of Technology.  

And in regard to racial inequality/injustice issues, we have seen IBM  leadership advocate for changes.  Two examples of the AoT-led initiatives are the ongoing  Call for Code: Racial Justice initiative with our developer community and another important initiative to drive our technical community towards more inclusive language.   As far as how 2020 has impacted me, my story is quite interesting.  You see, I have been working from home since 1994 when IBM initiated an experiment around working from home.  I took an opportunity to test out working from home and I have been doing so ever since, and it is something I have done naturally for most of my career.  What has changed is that everyone else is now doing it, and therefore there is a new appreciation for ‘remote working’.


Meet William Chamberlin

Bill joined IBM in 1981 as a Systems Engineer in Chicago, and after various sales and sales management positions, transitioned to a Corporate marketing role in the mid 1990s.

Bill founded IBM’s internal HorizonWatch research program and community in 2001 to help IBMers understand potential technology futures. Bill’s expertise lies in performing emerging technology trends research and translating that research into insights for reports/presentations that impact both business and technical strategies/plans.

In 2016, Bill was named an IBM Distinguished Market Intelligence Professional (DMIP). 

Bill is currently on IBM’s Corporate Market Development & Insights (MD&I) Bluemine Team, responsible for promoting Bluemine content to IBM employees in Europe and MEA. He is also a member of the MD&I Labs team which experiments and develops new applications and tools to help IBMers leverage market insights. 

Bill was appointed membership into IBM’s Academy of Technology in 2014 and became a member of the Academy’s Leadership Team in 2016. In August of 2018, Bill was awarded the Academy’s President’s Award for his contributions to the Academy of Technology. In 2019, Bill was appointed Vice President – Strategy, IBM Academy of Technology.

Bill has a B.S in Finance from University of Illinois and an MBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Evanston, Illinois). 

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