In my role as a Mobile Solution Architect I have spoken at length with several customers about the need to tie existing business processes in with their mobile strategy. There is a wealth of value in this approach because it enables organizations to enhance the customer interaction while streamlining the overall process.
In this blog I discuss the value of combining IBM Smarter Process and IBM MobileFirst initiatives to achieve an IBM Mobile Smarter Process. To be clear, a Smarter Process is simply a business process, which is invoked in response to an event (for example, a loan application or an insurance claim). The IBM MobileFirst platform enables an enterprise to support a complete mobile strategy.
Mobile Smarter Process helps customers to reinvent how their business executes by exploiting mobile technologies. The goal is to fundamentally change how an organization does business by integrating Mobile and processes. It enables a radical simplification of every customer interaction and leverages new mobile contextual opportunities for customer engagement.
Mobile provides the channel and the functionality. Process provides the rigor and the discipline. Organizations should identify the mobile interactions that add value to their processes and then re-designed or re-invent those processes to harness the mobile interactions. Mobile creates numerous timely interactions that can be harnessed for goal-oriented results with Smarter Process.
Harnessing Mobile interactions with Smarter Process
By definition, IBM Mobile Smarter Process enables organizations to take advantage of mobile technologies and embed those very technologies directly into the enterprise. It promotes radical simplification of every interaction, allows organizations to use new mobile contextual opportunities for customer engagement and personalization, and it allows the clients to interact with the organization when, where, how and as much as they want to.
Additionally, IBM Mobile Smarter Process creates a "never before seen" level of personalization between the organization and the client. It allows organizations to empower their employees. No longer are employees tied to their desks in an office, now they have the ability to work more closely with their clients, make improvements, and come up with new innovations to drive greater value and efficiencies. Lastly, it allows organizations to establish their ecosystem where new partners, new sensors, and new data lead to the establishment of completely new set of experiences and possibilities.
IBM Mobile Smarter Process is a true game changer, and it's ready for primetime now! The IBM Redbooks publication Extending IBM Business Process Manager to the Mobile Enterprise with IBM Worklight outlines an approach that organizations can use to identify where within the organization mobile technologies can offer the greatest benefits. This book discusses architectural patterns for exposing business processes to mobile environments and it includes practical implementation examples.
Steve Mirman is a Senior Certified IT Architect focusing on IBM Worklight and the MobileFirst portfolio. He has over 15 years of IT experience as an application developer, solution architect, and product specialist. In his current role, Steve leads proof of concept implementations and consults with customers throughout North America on mobile strategy, architecture, and integration. He holds numerous IT certifications and has authored several technical articles. Steve is a co-author of the IBM Redbooks publication Extending IBM Business Process Manager to the Mobile Enterprise with IBM Worklight
We're excited to announce that IBM Chairman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty will be our very special guest at InterConnect this year and will share her vision on how to speed our journey into A New Era of Smart.
Ginni will be joined by IBM's senior leaders Robert LeBlanc, Mike Rhodin, Tom Rosamilia and Jim Bramante who will help us understand how to effectively leverage the breadth and depth of IBM's capabilities to execute against this most compelling vision.
At the conference, attendees will learn how:
The convergence of Cloud, Mobile, Social, and Big Data & Analytics will deliver better business outcomes
Expert Integrated Systems are changing the dynamics of today's infrastructure
Security Intelligence can make organizations smarter and safer
DevOps are innovating the way products and services are brought to market
Smarter Commerce Solutions are transforming today's consumer experience
Don't miss this unique opportunity to hear these speakers, deepen your knowledge of comprehensive business-IT solutions and network with peers. Register today at www.ibm.com/interconnect!
Following the success of the inaugural IBM InterConnect last year, Singapore has again been selected to host this IBM global event that is expected to receive more than 2,500 clients, business partners and industry leaders from around the world at Marina Bay Sands from October 9th to October 11th, 2013.
IBM InterConnect 2013 is uniquely special as our Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Ginni Rometty, will be speaking at InterConnect to share her vision on the New Era of Smart.
As our key priority, we want to feature the broad range of our client successes at this event. We are looking for YOUR stories and best practices with topics covering Cloud, Mobile, Social, Big Data & Analytics, Expert Integrated Systems, Security, and Smarter Commerce. If your role is in marketing, finance, IT, HR or operations, we want to share your real-world examples. Take a look at the dates below and speaker guidelines here.
Call for Speakers closes - August 16, 2013
Speakers notified - August 30, 2013
Final presentations due - September 20, 2013
Conference begins - October 9, 2013
Register and submit your experiences today at www.ibm.com/interconnect! For questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mobile is a whole new ballgame for IT security. I've written before about my cordial dislike for the phrase �paradigm shift.� Here's my objection in a nutshell: there aren't very many paradigms and they don't tend to shift. As in all things, however, there are exceptions.
Pen-and-ink ledgers giving way to spreadsheets? Single-app servers giving way to virtualization? Yeah. Paradigm, check. Shifting, check.
We are, I think, currently living in the middle of another such shift, and as paradigm shifts go, this one is arguably bigger and more significant than either of the two I just mentioned. It involves far more people, far more transactions, and creates, as a result, far more change.
I'm talking, of course, about the rise of mobile technology. In one generation, we've gone from landlines to cell phones to smart phones. And the new smart phones are so much smarter than the old ones, the old ones can now be called stupid.
Recently I was reading Jeff Crume's blog, Inside Internet Security, and I discovered there a video interview of Jeff holding forth on the subject of mobile security and everything it implies for organizations today.
This quote in particular stood out for me:
�Whereas we used to have the data in some glass house, in some controlled environment, now it's sitting in somebody's pocket. Or worse yet, it's sitting in the back of a taxi cab that you took an hour ago. And it's still riding around New York City. And you aren't.�
You see what I mean about paradigm shift being justified in this case. Spreadsheets and virtualization, you have just been dethroned.
Successful security strategies acknowledge social realities
Jeff is a Distinguished Engineer, Master Inventor and IT Security Architect for IBM, so it struck me as a good idea to talk to him a little more on these topics. So that's what I did.
As it turns out, we have many of the same opinions. One in particular is that the mobile computing paradigm shift is multiplied because it involves not just a technological, but a social, dimension.
If you move from ledgers to spreadsheets, or from single-app servers to virtualized hosts, you generally (unless you're a complete freak) only do so at work, and only for business reasons.
But for mobile devices like smart phones and tablets, the appeal is far wider. The utilization is far greater. And from a security standpoint, the upshot is that mobile devices have now often become a sort of path-of-least-resistance for employees who want to conduct work activity offsite.
Having bought the browser-equipped device largely for personal reasons, they now want to use it for business purposes, too -- even though it was never originally designed for that job, and isn't particularly secure.
And the fact is that this will happen whether anybody in IT likes it and approves it or not. As far as the user is concerned, the convenience to him flat-out trumps any abstract logic, however correct it may be, that security-poor mobile devices shouldn't be used for business purposes.
�When it comes to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), we as IT security professionals have to learn to say 'how' rather than 'no,'� said Crume. �Because if we don't, users will do it anyway, and in a far more insecure manner.�
Let me give you an example of the kind of thing he means.
Imagine that Employee Joe buys an iPhone, which of course has as browser pre-installed in it (Safari). Joe travels a lot for work and wants to use his iPhone to check company e-mail. The company supports a browser interface for e-mail, so Joe's goal can actually be accomplished.
Problem is, the company IT policy forbids him to do it. And the company backs this up by seeing to it that browser-based e-mail is only available over a secure VPN-based connection, such as Joe has from his security-rich laptop.
Joe, however, has other ideas. Maybe he loves his laptop (which weighs a few pounds and is portable), but he loves his iPhone more (because it weighs a few ounces and is far more portable). So he's determined to find a workaround to this e-mail issue. And it occurs to him that he can simply set his corporate e-mail to forward automatically to an off-site service such as Gmail... which has no such prohibitions on how it's used.
So now the enterprising Joe is, indeed, using his iPhone to send and receive his company e-mail. This, needless to say, is a security disaster for his employer. Not only does all that e-mail travel over relatively insecure networks to a relatively insecure device, but its full contents are also donated to Google (a company whose business model revolves around milking the world's information for everything it's worth).
The root cause of this increasingly common situation is simple: Personal and business devices and services are getting stirred together into a melting pot which is, to an IT security professional, overflowing with sinister potential.
Or as Crume puts it: �Mobile devices typify the blurring of lines between our work and non-work personas.�
Applying familiar security best practices in unfamiliar ways
You can also interpret this situation from a technical standpoint, if you like.
Think about potential security exploits and what can be done to stop them, for instance. If organizations are going to support the use of personally owned mobile devices, the platform may have changed, but the security goals and challenges haven't.
Just as with laptops/desktops, IT will have to pursue key tasks like
Establishing and enforcing access control rights
Provisioning devices with recent patches and software updates
Configuring devices in ways designed to minimize vulnerability
Encrypting data and transactions
Fending off the ever-growing body of malware -- much of which specifically targets mobile devices, exactly because the paradigm shift means they're a mighty big target for malware designers
Accomplishing all that is a bit of a puzzler given that most mobile devices typically aren't based on robust, security-rich operating systems like UNIX.
They're based on... well, let's be diplomatic and call it �something else.� And if you happen to be a malware hacker interested in easy exploits, that something else is awfully tempting.
Crume's opinion, which I share, is that organizations need to wake up to these realities -- creating and pursuing a strategy that allows employees to use mobile devices, albeit in a fashion that is as secure as possible.
�The form factor has shrunk, but the threat has not. We can either learn how to surf the tsunami of mobile devices or be crushed by it,� he said. �And since the waters are shark-infested with hackers, the risks of getting it wrong are significant.�
All of this context is, no doubt, directly responsible for IBM's recent, very notable interest in mobile computing -- and it's plain to me that IBM means to get it right.
Consider, for instance, the launch of IBM Endpoint Manager for Mobile Devices. This solution specifically targets BYOD security for the enterprise, providing security that's as comprehensive and robust as the underlying platform allows it to be.
On Joe's iPhone, for instance, Endpoint Manager for Mobile Devices can leverage Apple's management API (given approval from Joe). This gives the company new power to reach across the carrier link and actually remove key data from the phone, no matter where that phone goes.
If it is, to use the Crume for-instance, sitting forgotten in the back of a NYC cab, that's a shame, but at least it's free of sensitive company e-mail, not to mention all those personal photos of Joe's house and children that Joe would prefer strangers not have.
And on platforms like Google's Android, that support agents, the Endpoint Manager agent can simply be installed -- providing an even greater range of management options, such as device configuration and application updates, that make the device even more secure.
These many security capabilities thus benefit not just Joe's employer, but Joe himself -- a critical point that Joe will probably need to have explained to him before that agent's going to get installed.
I have a friend in Canada who doesn't trust technology. For years we've discussed this over the Internet -- the standard communications platform for people who want to argue at great length, across great distances, to no apparent benefit or conclusion. His idea is that since he didn't design and build the tech himself, he can't really trust it. But my idea is that in discussing this over the Internet with me, he is trusting it.
The Internet, after all, is really an unimaginably complex �system of systems� comprised of switches, routers, microprocessors, storage arrays, networking protocols, various transmission media including fiber and copper and radio waves, and other elements ad infinitum. All of them interoperate to deliver holistic value for users.
If any one of these elements were fundamentally untrustworthy, so, too, would be the Internet as a whole, and our argument could not continue. But year after year, it does continue... which would seem to endorse the tech.
Lately, I've been pondering just how many other aspects of modern life could similarly be characterized as systems of systems or -- things we casually think of as a monolithic entity, like the Internet, but which are in fact far more complex and have complex systems embedded in them. A short list:
Smartphones. Apps, operating systems, processors, cameras, multiple simultaneous radio links. These aptly named devices are not exactly a tin can on a string.
Cars. Many embedded processors, running dedicated software, handle myriad tasks from tracking transmission performance to calculating gas mileage to determining global location.
Airplanes. See the cars description, except that in this case, the system of systems also plays a major role in keeping the airplane from falling out of the sky.
In every case, software running behind the scenes is responsible for orchestrating the total functionality, and taking care of that so perfectly we don't even think about all the complexity. Instead, we just trust it to work.
It's a good thing the software developers know what they're doing -- and have some outstanding tools to help them do it.
Optimize your software development process and working environment, and you're one step closer to optimized code
One such is the IBM Rational solution for systems and software engineering. The entire Rational portfolio, of course, helps development teams deliver quality code that's feature-complete, and as bug-free as possible, in a governed, methodical manner -- often, under budget and within target deadlines.
But this particular capability is intended for the kind of ultra-complex, system-of-systems software design I've described above, in which many individual systems, each with its own specifications and requirements, must not only work properly, but also collaborate with other such systems to deliver services.
To get the inside story on what the Rational offering is all about, I was fortunate to be able to speak to Greg Gorman, Program Director of World-Wide Systems Engineering Strategy and Delivery, IBM Rational Software, and Hans-Peter Hoffmann, PhD, Chief Systems Methodologist, IBM Rational Software.
Both of these experts were quick to point out how neatly the capability fits into IBM's larger Smarter Planet story. �How can you even have a smarter planet without smarter products?� asked Gorman hypothetically.
It's a fair question. IBM conceives of the Smarter Planet essentially as the ultimate system-of-systems, the superset of all others because it is, in fact, the Earth's complete infrastructure.
While I have, as a former IT guy, a fairly solid understanding of just how complex software development can be, I've really never thought of it on this kind of scale before. But IBM has.
�Many systems today have millions of parts -- and miles of wiring,� said Gorman. �Our customers create incredibly complex systems -- airplanes, ships, missiles, cars, etc. Each of those consists of hundreds if not thousands of smaller subsystems, that all have to cooperate for the system to perform its intended function. It requires coordinating vast numbers of requirements, tests, source code, designs, changes -- you name it -- across a large team of engineers and developers, sometimes at many different companies and locations. A huge challenge that the Rational tooling and practices help them solve.�
That, it turns out, is key to the value proposition of the Rational offering. It's not just about getting code to interoperate, but, far beyond that, all the stakeholders associated with that code -- developers, architects, line-of-business guys, executives and end users.
And the Rational solution for systems and software engineering also spans the entire software development lifecycle, from project conception to ultimate retirement and every stage in between. Just as today's systems-of-systems need effective, governed orchestration to work properly, so, too, do the projects that make those systems possible in the first place via high-quality software.
An engaging past, tied to a bright future
IBM has an incredible depth of experience in business technology, of course -- what other IT solution provider is a century old? -- but I was curious how IBM first got its feet wet in systems-of-systems project optimization of this type. It turns out that the inciting event was America's space program.
�Among other, very early contributions, we built NASA's Apollo mission control in Houston -- you know, 'Houston, we have a problem?' -- that mission control,� said Gorman. �Obviously a complex system-of-systems challenge, to say the least, given the available technology of the time.�
Today, IBM's client roster is interested in a lot more than space exploration, though that, too, continues. I asked Hoffman what kinds of projects he might typically consult on.
�Monday and Tuesday, maybe consulting with an aerospace company on a spacecraft project,� he said. �But Wednesday? A diesel-electric locomotive project. And Thursday could be a medical company, for a pacemaker project. It's all software engineering, but each domain has its specific viewpoint and requires a different approach.�
This really struck me as a diverse range of applications for one guy -- or, for that matter, one consulting company -- to handle in such short order. How has IBM managed to become so expert, in so many fields? Turns out that there are abstract principles that remain fairly constant, though their specific implementation will vary from case to case.
�Based on our experiences in the A&D, automotive, industrial automation and medical industries, we identified best practices that are key to systems engineering, covering both the selected tools collaboration as well as the methodical approach,� said Hoffman. �In our engagements, we help our customers to adopt those practices that give them the most benefits, i.e., higher quality requirements and a significantly shorter development time.�
One particular case study that stands out in Gorman's mind: Invensys Rail, a European provider of on-board signaling systems used by Portugese and Spanish railway systems.
When you've got hundreds of trains flying along at 200 mph or more, the margin for error in the way you schedule them is very close to zero. So is the opportunity to improve your software later. Getting it right the first time is not just a goal; it's a mandate.
IBM's Rational technology played a key role in ensuring that outcome, while also making it relatively simple for Invensys to comply with various government regulations -- despite the fact that those regulations are in a constant state of flux.
And looking ahead, Gorman sees tremendous potential for even more complex, domain-spanning system-of-systems integration in the future.
�Imagine a car wreck,� he said. �Telemetry technology links to the car's GPS data, then broadcasts the car's exact location, notifying emergency first responders that a medical situation applies. The first responders, in turn, can find out even before they get to the scene who the car's owner is, and having accessed medical records, establish that he is allergic to certain medications and is a diabetic. Checks could even automatically be run to locate cellphones within a specified range, to discover any probable witnesses of the event who might be needed for legal or insurance reasons. The possibilities are really endless.�
About the author Guest blogger Wes Simonds worked in IT for seven years before becoming a technology writer on topics including virtualization, cloud computing and service management. He lives in sunny Austin, Texas and believes Mexican food should always be served with queso.
Every so often you experience an eye-opening moment that brings into clear focus the realities of the world around you. I experienced such a moment recently reading a quote from Google's chairman Eric Schmidt. It was this: �Every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization until 2003.�
My goodness. We've become quite the information-creating monsters, haven't we? And we�ve got technology to thank for it.
Granted, some of this has to do with a dramatic population increase, and some of it has to do with the fact that as a society we�re addicted to instantaneous communications.
Still, it seems to me the biggest difference between now and the dawn of society is that our lives, personal and otherwise, rely on an infrastructure of zeros and ones as much as they do wood and steel - perhaps even more so. This modern infrastructure that we�ve recently built is both the source of, and answer to, the complexities of this brave new world.
When IBM talks about the world becoming a smarter planet , this, indeed, is the sort of thing it has in mind. Beyond the obvious tech underpinnings -- desktops, laptops, servers -- think of all those billions of smart phones and millions of tablets out there, not to mention embedded processors, device sensors, switches and routers, RFID tags, software applications, device drivers, middleware and innumerable other instances of binary tech.
Each creates and sends data in some form. And all of it, combined, is the information Mr. Schmidt is talking about. We don't just create information ourselves, directly; we've created tools on a vast scale that, in turn, create information, too.
The question is: What are we doing with all that information? What could, and should, we do with it? And what might be the benefits, if we did?
IBM is determined to infuse analytics smarts everywhere it can -- almost literally boosting the Earth�s IQ
I found out recently that I'm not the only one impressed by the Schmidt quote or the volume of data that seemingly permeates our daily lives. It is one of the core topics that Mike Rhodin, Senior Vice President for IBM Software Solutions Group, talked about at the IBM PartnerWorld Leadership Conference in New Orleans.
Mr. Rhodin also brought up a number of related points during a recent keynote address at CeBIT 2012 that may be worth your consideration:
There are 1.8 trillion gigabytes of information available in today's digital world.
Every day the New York Stock Exchange creates and captures more than a terabyte of trade information. That's a hundred thousand times more data created daily than the storage capacity of the first IBM mainframes only 50 years ago.
Two hundred million tweets are sent every day -- roughly 12 terabytes of unstructured data from tens of millions of devices.
Given that approach, how are we (on the largest possible scale of �we�) utilizing all that data to make the world a better place -- the Smarter Planet of IBM�s dreams?
�This explosion of data from incredibly diverse sources is creating tough complexities but also new opportunities to better understand the new realities of our world,� said Rhodin. �We are in the era of big data, and it is ushering in a new approach to computing, one that�s more insight-driven, more intelligent, and leverages technology designed to be more cognitive.
Enter IBM Smarter Analytics -- a new strategic initiative from IBM that turns information into insight and insight into business outcomes. Basically, it helps organizations transform big data into big business opportunity.
As part of this initiative, IBM is releasing a suite of signature solutions � outcome-based, industry-focused analysis of mass data volumes. These solutions are specifically designed to tackle some of the most pressing analytics challenges organizations face today (reducing fraud, managing financial risk and accelerating consumer intelligence) that drive better outcomes through better insight.
According to Rhodin, solutions of this type are not just needed, they�re critical for long-term success. And IBM has really stepped up by putting analytics front-and-center in its strategy.
Today IBM is weaving advanced analytics capabilities into the fabric of its products and services to support our evolving digital infrastructure and the nearly limitless things we use it to do.
�The role of big data and advanced analytics does not just sit at the center of this evolution -- it permeates it � through every computing system, process, connection and data source,� said Rhodin. �On a smarter planet, analytics becomes the central nervous system through which information is received, analyzed and acted on, in a single fluid motion.�
Get on board with analytics, and you and your customers will both win
According to recent studies conducted by IBM and the MIT Sloan Management Review, some 57 percent of responders cited analytics as a key competitive advantage.
Organizations with advanced analytics were cited as 260 percent more likely to substantially outperform analytics �beginners.� And top-tier performers were 84 percent more likely to have analytics already integrated into both core strategies and day-to-day operations.
The lesson seems clear: If you're not up to speed on analytics, you're probably falling behind your peers. It's not simply an IT topic, but, increasingly, the IT topic -- the one of highest priority, because it informs and optimizes everything you do.
Rhodin concurs. �When we first launched Smarter Planet a few years back, we knew advanced analytics would have a fundamental role to play,� he said. �[But] it has quickly become the silver thread woven throughout our portfolio.
�Analytics is no longer advancing single organizations, it is transforming entire industries,� added Rhodin.
And the new IBM Smarter Analytics solutions prove that point in no uncertain terms. Consider the following, very diverse examples:
Smarter customer interactions. If you want to succeed in business, you can't do much better than constantly pleasing your customer base. To do that, Smarter Analytics can help you understand much more precisely who those customers are, what they want, how best to deliver it, and even how to communicate its value to them. Essentially, this is CRM 2.0, re-imagined for the 21st century and done right.
Smarter CFO insight. How efficient and cost-effective are operations in one area compared to another? How profitable are strategies, products and services in different contexts and aimed at different demographics? These questions are very close to a CFO's heart. And IBM's new solutions can generate the necessary answers.
Smarter fraud management. The insurance industry has long been driven by stats and analysis, of course, but fraud identification remains a thorny and expensive issue. IBM's Smarter Analytics solutions can help underwriters determine when they've paid too much in the past, predict when and where fraud is likely to occur in the future and score current claims in real time to trigger immediate investigation in appropriate cases.
Here�s the pudding. See the proof?
If all that seems a little abstract to you, bear in mind that many of these solutions -- albeit in earlier versions -- have already been deployed by, and have created incredible value for, all kinds of organizations in all kinds of ways.
Take the case of Vestas Wind Systems , for instance. It routinely uses IBM InfoSphere BigInsights to sift through two petabytes of weather data and thus determine exactly where their turbines should go -- as well as roll those turbines out faster, and keep them up and running longer.
Or look at a wildly different case of XO Communications. By using IBM Business Analytics and an IBM Netezza analytic appliance, they were able to reduce its customer churn rates by nearly 50 percent and helped save XO millions of dollars by uncovering deeper insights into customer behaviors, spotting trends and identifying those likely to defect. With a better overall customer experience, XO is now able to stay competitive against other carriers and improve its overall satisfaction.
And if private sector instances aren�t enough for you, ponder the Sonoma County Water Agency. They are using IBM's Smarter Analytics solutions to optimize pressure valves throughout a distribution network that delivers water to more than 600,000 people all over the California wine country -- reducing needless water loss and predicting future problems with equal ease.
In what areas is your organization using analytics? And how has it improved your business?
Hear Mike Rhodin�s keynote speech at CeBIT 2012 About the author Guest blogger Wes Simonds worked in IT for seven years before becoming a technology writer on topics including virtualization, cloud computing and service management. He lives in sunny Austin, Texas and believes Mexican food should always be served with queso.
What's the ideal private cloud? The one you never have to think about. Lately I've done a certain amount of writing on best practices. And as usual, when I write about something, this means I find myself wanting to apply the root idea in all sorts of new ways.
So almost against my will, I come up with best practices for things like making espresso, playing scales on a guitar and finding a restaurant in an unfamiliar part of town.
This morning it struck me that there are underlying concepts that practically all of these best practices have in common:
1. Faster is better. 2. Cheaper is better. 3. More consistent results are better. 4. More automation is better.
That last idea is particularly powerful.
The less I have to think about any of the details of (for instance) making espresso in the morning, the more I can think about whatever I actually need to do that day instead.
This is helpful because without coffee, I am nearly useless and can be confused by doorknob locks. I need all the brainpower I can get. So it's nice being able to pull a shot or two of good espresso -- not a trivial job -- completely on autopilot.
It also occurs to me that if you apply those four concepts I list above to IT infrastructures, you get a pretty clear sense of where things have gone in the last 10 years -- and where they're heading. To wit: higher performance, lower costs, greater consistency and smarter automation.
And once again, the fourth one is particularly powerful. Especially in a cloud context.
A significant chunk of the appeal of cloud architectures, to business leaders, is simply this: You don't have to think about the details of the technology (which is relatively unimportant). You can instead think about what you're trying to accomplish with the technology (which is very important). You can more easily go, in a business sense, from early-morning, pre-coffee haze to clarity about your strategies and their execution.
And this is surely part of why, in recent years, pay-as-you-go public clouds have flourished, but private clouds (despite lower operating costs over time) have been a little slower off the mark. Private clouds, being private, require creating and maintaining the actual cloud infrastructure in-house. I imagine business leaders look at that idea and say, �Oh, geez, we're back to the details of the tech.�
This being so, the more IT solution providers can simplify and accelerate private cloud creation and maintenance, the more successful private clouds are likely to be.
Day one: No private cloud. Day two: Killer private cloud.
Well, the IBM SmartCloud initiative, launched last fall, strikes me as being directly on point in this respect.
When I talked to Murtuza Choilawala, Product Manager for Cloud Solutions with IBM Tivoli Software, he agreed -- pointing specifically to provisioning as a key cloud capability.
�Simplifying and accelerating private cloud rollout -- of new services, new servers or the whole cloud -- is really what SmartCloud is all about,� he said. �A big part of that comes thanks to a particular element of the offering called IBM SmartCloud Provisioning. Using it, organizations can easily get a private cloud up and running, starting with nothing but the hardware, in less than a single business day. If you're looking for a fast, effective implementation of business strategies, where you don't have to struggle with the technical details? You can't do much better than that.�
A single business day? To go from no private cloud to an up-and-running private cloud? �Game-changer� is not a phrase I like to use, but it seems to apply in this case. In fact, an upcoming Tech Talk on Cloud Computing to be held January 18 with Choilawala will show you why.
Further conversation revealed that this is no coincidence. SmartCloud Provisioning was designed specifically for the scenario I described above: An organization is interested in private cloud. It likes the idea of the reduced operating costs that come from owning its own cloud. But it's leery of the expected setup, maintenance and management a private cloud will require.
Forget about the usual hassles of setup, maintenance and management
What IBM SmartCloud does is reduce all three of those problem areas to a bare minimum.
Setup, for instance. In this area, SmartCloud Provisioning discovers new host (node) hardware, then allows administrators to create new virtual servers that will run on that hardware, and provision those virtual servers from an image library, at blistering speeds. How blistering? IBM cites up to 100 VM�s in less than 3 minutes
This strikes me as an incredibly fast, Usain-Bolt-level rollout. I'd watch it happen with a sort of stunned expression, blinking at the painful memory of what it was like to be an IT guy manually provisioning one server at a time, and envious of IT guys who will never have to deal with that experience.
The setup capabilities get stronger yet. Let's say your private cloud services are more successful than you expected and demand is higher. So you decide to scale up your private cloud by adding more hardware.
Turns out that you can simply add that hardware and start using it right away -- basically, hot-swapping in new hosts -- without bringing down your cloud or cloud services. This is because SmartCloud Provisioning will automatically detect the new hardware you've added, reflect the addition in your management console and give you the option to create new virtual servers running there.
Then your services will automatically leverage those virtual servers, scaling to meet the higher demand. It's really that simple.
Maintenance is similarly effective because IBM SmartCloud Provisioning can leverage these same capabilities when things go wrong. Let's say one of those physical hosts, for whatever reason, goes offline. As it does, SmartCloud Provisioning will detect that change. It will also try to solve the problem on its own via rebooting/microbooting (or reinstallation of PXE, which is used to boot servers remotely).
Either that will work, or if it doesn't (due to true hardware failure), the IT team can simply pull the problematic hardware and replace it with a new host. Then SmartCloud Provisioning will detect the new host and reprovision it on demand.
�SmartCloud Provisioning is actually so advanced in this area that we're using the term self-healing to describe it,� said Choilawala. �The idea is that when things go wrong, the private cloud should always notice that and, whenever possible, fix the thing that went wrong by itself -- like somebody with a headache taking an aspirin. It should hardly ever be necessary to go to the doctor. So medical bills (operational costs) go way down. And cloud productivity? Given the headache-free reality, that goes way up.�
If you've gotten this far, you can probably see that management -- our third potential pitfall for a private cloud -- is also really straightforward. SmartCloud Provisioning keeps administrators constantly apprised of which virtual servers are up and where they are on which hosts. It also supports multiple virtualization environments ranging from VMware to Xen to KVM (Linux). The everyday management functions it doesn't handle automatically, it empowers IT team members to handle with minimal ado and (more importantly) practically zero service downtime.
Learn more at Pulse 2012
All this means that the private cloud becomes a much simpler, less intimidating and more pragmatic possibility for organizations today. And over time, as IBM continues to revise and enhance SmartCloud, that's just going to become more and more powerful an argument.
�SmartCloud Provisioning is best understood as a foundational offering,� said Choilawala. �Already we offer complementary solutions like IBM SmartCloud Monitoring, that tracks cloud assets and status levels in more granular detail, to give organizations higher service availability and performance with what-if analysis and capacity management. And as more capabilities are added to SmartCloud, in areas like service management, it's going to become an increasingly superior private cloud platform.�
Interested in knowing more? Attend Pulse 2012, to be held in Las Vegas March 4-7. Attendees can expect both an in-depth look at SmartCloud's capabilities today, via technical demos, as well as a sneak peek into its future roadmap of development for the immediate future.
Register for Pulse 2012 About the author Guest blogger Wes Simonds worked in IT for seven years before becoming a technology writer on topics including virtualization, cloud computing and service management. He lives in sunny Austin, Texas and believes Mexican food should always be served with queso.
One thing I like about asset management, or in this case integrated workplace management, is that I get to talk about it in heroic language: �You get more control over both space and time.�
Maybe that sounds a little dramatic to you? If so, here's my justification: Asset management solutions aren't just about assets per se. They're also about how assets generate value over extended periods -- their complete lifecycles.
I'm not just talking about the things that you�re familiar with like IT assets. I�m talking about physical and capital assets that are part of a smarter physical infrastructure for manufacturing plants and facilities. I mean the whole kit and kaboodle: IT assets, facilities assets, mobile assets, field assets -- any sort of asset you can imagine. Using asset management tools, you can continually collect information about all of those asset groups, then maintain, configure and enhance all of them as needed over time.
If you do, they will last longer, perform better and contribute more to everything you're trying to use them to do. Thus, you have the capability to obtain more power over both space (all assets, however distributed they may be) and time (years or decades).
Drive up the business value of entire buildings, campuses and geographic sites
In recent years, the case for asset management solutions has only gotten stronger. Partly, this is because all of these ideas are now being applied to entire categories of assets that haven't really been managed very well at all before. Take buildings, for instance. Here we have a sort of mega-asset incorporating many subclasses of assets.
It's one thing to talk about optimizing a server; it's quite another thing to talk about optimizing an entire data center full of 5,000 servers, as well as HVAC units, lighting, electricity and plumbing infrastructures, etc., for total business value. This is an area where enterprise-class asset management solutions can really deliver unique value.
Furthermore, you can scale up that argument even further to encompass whole campuses of buildings or geographic sites altogether. Even if you focus strictly on one little slice of asset management functionality, such as energy efficiency, it's plain that most organizations with multiple buildings, or multiple sites, don't really have the visibility, control, and automation they need to optimize the return from facility assets, one of the top four expenses for most organizations.
So when I read in April of this year that IBM had purchased TRIRIGA, a provider of software solutions for Integrated Workplace Management Systems (IWMS), I wasn't the least bit surprised. It seemed like IBM was rounding out the Maximo asset management capabilities of IBM Software with new solutions designed to increase the business value generated by buildings and campuses in new ways.
When I recently talked to Mary Gorczynski, Marketing Manager for IBM Asset Management, she confirmed this basic interpretation.
�TRIRIGA helps organizations reduce operational costs of facilities, increase return on real estate assets, and mitigate environmental regulatory risks,� she said. �Key functionality includes space and facilities management, energy and environment sustainability, capital project management and real estate portfolio management.�
Of course, there are other solution providers out there in this space, and IBM is well known to have deep pockets. Meaning, IBM could have bought any of several players -- so why TRIRIGA, instead of them?
TRIRIGA: Excellence in both vision and execution
A little digging gave me a pretty good answer to that. Turns out that Gartner, the independent research organization, has positioned TRIRIGA as a leader within its coveted Magic Quadrant for Integrated Workplace Management Systems this year -- the spot on its evaluation chart characterized by excellence in both vision and execution.
Well, that tells me TRIRIGA's solution delivers not just all the key capabilities IBM would be looking for, but also the depth of features in each capability group.
If you check outa recent blog entry from Gorczynski, for instance, you'll learn how she wished it applied to her lawn (which, though green, is not perfectly maintained at all times). You can also watch a closely related video -- and if you'd like to make one of your own, you can submit one. If it attracts enough praise, IBM will then cheerfully promote it, and you, next March at Pulse 2012, its service management event, to be held in Las Vegas.
About the author Guest blogger Wes Simonds worked in IT for seven years before becoming a technology writer on topics including virtualization, cloud computing and service management. He lives in sunny Austin, Texas and believes Mexican food should always be served with queso.
Customers of the world, unite! Recently I was discussing high tech with my mother, who continues to hold out hope that computers are only a fad. I can't blame her. First impressions are powerful, and her first impressions of high tech came from statistical analyses on a university mainframe using an interface of�punch cards.
This was a joyless experience from which she has only recently made a full recovery.
Even so, I continue to tell her that modern tech has its selling points.
Recently, for instance, I've pointed out how, because of the Web, consumers like her are way more powerful than they used to be. In the past, consumer feedback was, at best, a faint melody, heard dimly by business leaders. Today, thanks to the Web, that melody is routed through a 100-watt Marshall guitar amplifier, and it is loud enough to blow down the doors of companies that get things wrong.
Want an example? Ponder the case of Netflix.
In 2010, this company was a darling of the movie-watching public. But in 2011, thanks to a string of PR and pricing mistakes that were echoed instantly all over Twitter, Facebook and the Web generally, Netflix has lost close to a million subscribers. Its stock is sinking, down about 75 percent just since July.
But for Mom, it's great news -- it means that if she complains, companies are a whole lot more likely to sit up and pay attention.
CMO: Does the C stand for Chief these days? Or Customers?
It was with this context in mind that I recently had a chat with Carolyn Heller Baird, the CRM Global Research Lead at the IBM Institute for Business Value. Baird is the global director for a recent IBM study that tackled a lot of the most important points in this area -- how things are changing for CMOs, what kinds of problems they're facing that they never used to face before and how the smarter ones are coping and even thriving.
More than 1,700 CMOs were queried about this stuff on a sit-down, face-to-face basis, each for an hour. And there was, in addition to that impressively large data set, a lot of diversity among the CMOs; the organizations for which they were CMOing spanned 19 different industries and 64 countries.
�Clearly, the role of the CMO is evolving beyond just being the go-to person for brand stewardship and relationship with ad agencies,� said Baird. �In this digital age, CMOs need to play a far more strategic role across the whole enterprise. They need to be more tech-savvy, and more dynamic in the way they use the insights they get from that tech.�
So, for instance, there is the question of data analytics. What I was expecting to hear from Baird on this subject was something like this: �organizations need to do a better job analyzing their information to create user value.�
But the story I actually heard was much larger than that. It turns out that CMOs need to acquire more kinds of information, from more sources -- including Web 2.0 sources. And they need to leverage it much more extensively than I would have imagined.
�Anything that comes out of advanced analytics that allows CMOs to not just capture traditional customer data like sales figures, but also understand what people are saying through social media would be a major step in the right direction,� said Baird. �This way, they can get their arms around what's going on in the blogosphere -- in real time -- and actually turn that data into meaningful insights they can act on.�
Baird also pointed out that these customer insights can be directed internally. To wit, they can inform not just obvious marketing platforms like online ads, and not just obvious business policies like what to charge for different kinds of services�but also subtler-but-still-important internal things. Like how their company�s unique values are understood by the outer world, and how this impacts the brand. .
�Values, like everything else these days, are very transparent,� Baird told me. �So it's critical that an organization�s policies and practices � how it behaves � demonstrate its value system and that these jive with the values customers think are important. Those values are propagated throughout the organization in all kinds of ways - everything from how retirees are treated to a company�s environmental policy is now a matter for the CMO because of the impact it has on brand perception. Most CMOs recognize this is an area where there is major opportunity for improvement.�
Value propagation? Wow. That is certainly way, way outside the scope of what I would normally have considered a CMO's job description. But I really like the sound of it. I bet my mother would, too.
Track and improve your ROI -- and not just in the ways you'd think
Another major aspect of the way life-as-CMO is rapidly evolving lies in ROI. Not ROI in the way you'd imagine by default -- not ROI of this campaign or that ad agency -- but ROI of a much more personal type to a CMO and related investments.
This is a critical question: How much return is the organization actually getting from its investment in what the Chief Marketing Officer spends?
It turns out that this is another major strength of advanced analytics capabilities. Beyond helping the CMO understand and connect with customers, develop new strategies, verify that the right internal values are in place and propagate those values in many ways, they can also help quantify the value of the CMO�s marketing investments.
And that's a major issue for today's CMOs, who according to the IBM study, are more financially accountable for their decisions, and the success of their strategies at every level of abstraction, than they've ever been before. Some 63 percent of the study respondents said they think marketing ROI will be the most important measure of success over the next three to five years. Sixty-three percent! That's almost two-thirds -- a number that, in a political election, would be considered an historical landslide.
Obviously, those CMOs are going to need some help not just in tracking ROI, but also in improving it rapidly when it's not what it should be. And that means new analytics solutions specifically aimed at enterprise marketing.
In fact, software solutions of this type can go beyond even that. They can actually perform the same function -- ROI evaluation -- for themselves. This struck me as particularly cool: software capabilities that not only do new things that help the organization, but also prove they've helped, in concrete terms. Imagine if every other asset you had did that!
Ever been instantly sure something new was a good idea? Recently, this happened to me at a friend's house during dinner. She had concocted a new quesadilla -- duck and roasted tomato and apple -- that struck me as a winner right from the description.
Now, granted, I have little knowledge of quesadillas. I have not studied at quesadilla academies. I am not a mover and shaker in the quesadilla world. Nor am I the heir to a quesadilla empire created by my grandfather, the Quesadilla King of Mexico.
Even so. Duck + roasted tomato + apple = world-class quesadilla. No doubt in my mind.
Well, this week I had much the same sort of reaction watching a presentation from the New York Business Agility Executive Forum by IBM WebSphere VP of Worldwide Sales, David Farrell. This presentation discussed what's standing in the way of business agility, and what IBM can offer to improve it.
And just like that duck-tomato-apple quesadilla, Farrell�s presentation struck me immediately as a winning combination of ingredients.
�Business agility,� of course, is a term that's defined in different ways by different folks. So I'll define it, very casually, like this: the power to change, quickly and effectively, to suit changing circumstances. To create new services, new products, new strategies, and do so in the least time, using the least resources.
This is not a little thing. This is a big thing. And it's a thing that pretty much every company, in every industry, is struggling with, to at least some degree.
Farrell put it rather bluntly like this: �There's a graveyard of failed companies who have failed to adapt, who have failed to recognize what was happening and deal with it in a proactive way. So the stakes are pretty high going forward.�
If you want a specific example of the kind of stakes he's talking about, you don't have to look very hard to find them, either. For instance: following Napster and the rise of digital music and music piracy on a mass scale circa 1999, there were basically two available roads to take:
1. Adapt to the new world and become Apple
2. Stick to the old business model and don't become Apple
Turns out that Apple had it right.
So, in my opinion, does IBM. Business agility is a complex area; really improving it means both understanding it at a deep level and having the range of capabilities needed to deliver a better outcome. And I don't think there's any single organization on the face of the Earth as well positioned in terms of capabilities, in both categories, as IBM and IBM Software.
Said Farrell: �We're all observing the same thing -- a tremendous amount of change and volatility in the marketplace today. How do we harness all of this change and turn it into a competitive advantage vs. headwind?�
Here, in short, is the IBM answer to that question.
Smarter decisions: See what's coming and do the right stuff in the right order
Business success stems, ultimately, from the decisions the business makes along the way -- large and small. But all too often, that decision-making happens without full consideration of the best available data.
This is particularly true in the case of service delivery -- how services are rendered to users, customers and business partners via IT architectures. The goal should be to replace guesswork with analysis, detect and utilize trends and patterns that guide decision-making, and wherever possible, proactively address problems before they even have a chance to manifest.
This may sound like common sense, but it's not -- at least judging by the way services are typically monitored and managed today. While most organizations have monitoring capabilities, they're still essentially handling outages in a reactive fashion.
A typical pattern: service goes down -- service outage is detected -- root cause is detected -- root cause is fixed -- service comes back online.
Let's compare that to this: service is predicted to go down -- IT takes steps to prevent that -- service never goes down.
You can improve on that still further by adding prioritization to refine the middle stage: IT takes preventative steps in the order that makes the most business sense, based on the anticipated business impact of downtime in different scenarios.
This is not a trivial improvement, but a dramatic one. And it makes the business as a whole much more agile.
Smarter processes: Connect the dots, simplify, and help your people collaborate better
Is there similar room for improvement in the way business processes typically work? You bet there is.
For instance, think of what happens when new software is created and rolled out -- software of the kind that drives all kinds of services to paying customers. This is usually a pretty clumsy process, and those paying customers are at the receiving end of the clumsiness.
See if this sounds familiar. The development team comes out with a build; the ops team deploys the build; customers try the new software and soon report that the build has problems. Then the development team comes up with a new build and the cycle starts all over again.
Well, so far so good, but the problem is that there's usually not much collaboration between the dev team and the ops team. Perhaps a new build requires a new set of Java libraries -- are the ops guys aware of that? If not, well...oops.
Similarly, if customers report problems to ops, is that information really getting back to the dev guys as fast as it could? Does that transfer of information resemble a cheetah? Or a glacier?
A much, much more agile process emerges when the dev guys and the ops guys share their information collaboratively, at all times, so that they're both aware just what's needed to render a better experience to customers. Which, really, is the whole point.
Smarter service delivery: Use the most efficient, scalable technologies
Here, we're talking in large part about delivery platforms themselves: the actual infrastructure that renders services to the people who use them.
If you've paid any attention to IT journalism in the last five years, your mental predictive analytics might tell you where I'm going next: cloud. That's because the improvements in agility you can get via cloud computing are absolutely stunning.
If you want a clear example, just look at provisioning times for cloud-based virtual servers. Manual provisioning, in a distributed architecture, typically takes days or weeks for a server cluster. Automatic, policy-driven provisioning in a cloud? Not weeks, but minutes. And every one of those virtual servers will be set up in exactly the right way -- no inadvertent mistakes. This is about as agile and accurate as you can get.
Mix and match to suit your needs
Now, in the course of trotting out my arguments, I have simplified things quite a bit. So let me add that there are a lot more capabilities, in each of these three areas, than the ones I've discussed.
And let me also add that if you work with IBM Software to improve your overall agility, you're basically able to order as if from a Chinese menu -- any capabilities you want, in any of the three areas, selected to address your particular needs and goals.
But any road you take, I think you'll struggle to come up with anybody but IBM who has all the experience, and all the solutions, you're going to need.
And that's why I say IBM is simply better positioned to help organizations improve their business agility, regardless of their specific context, than any other single IT provider you can name today.
About the author Guest blogger Wes Simonds worked in IT for seven years before becoming a technology writer on topics including virtualization, cloud computing and service management. He lives in sunny Austin, Texas and believes Mexican food should always be served with queso.
What's the face of business today? Just 15 years ago, the answer to that question might have been �the retail presence� or, in a few rare cases, �the celebrity CEO.�
But today, the best and most common answer is, quite simply, the web.
Doubt my conclusion? Consider the numbers. Recent statistics suggest that there are now more than two billion Internet users worldwide -- and as new platforms emerge, that number is rapidly escalating. Cell phone subscriptions have topped five billion (and you can be sure that before long, every cell phone on Earth will be web-capable).
If you really want to engage your customers, you have to go wherever your customers are -- not just pull them in the direction you want them to go.
More, you have to provide a compelling, consistent experience for them, one that focuses on value as they define and perceive it, not as you do.
That means a lot more than just the company site (at least, the company site as it exists at most businesses today). It means leveraging the web as a whole to attract and interact with past, current and future customers. And it means connecting with them in a much broader sense than simply e-commerce. I'm talking about actually learning from them and using that information to serve them better, as well as empowering them to interact with each other.
Pursuing all those goals in parallel, though, will typically require more capabilities than organizations have at present. What's needed is a core platform that's smart enough, and flexible enough, to support business strategies, link customers, scale to unpredictable demand levels and expand over time to address new ideas going forward.
And I'm not alone in thinking that -- which is why leading IT providers are quickly introducing powerful new software solutions designed to deliver exactly those capabilities.
Compelling and differentiated. �Compelling� is often used in modern marketing simply to mean �good.� But in this case, the original definition applies as well: capable of beckoning, of bringing customers in. Toward that end, one key factor is personalization.
�Organizations can really differentiate themselves from the competition, and improve customer loyalty via an experience that is personalized to customer needs, to their behaviors, to their preferences, as well as the language of their choice,� said Carrier.
If you want an example of what she has in mind, consider Lufthansa Airlines -- an IBM customer. This organization has moved away from delivering a stock, one-size-fits-all web experience to an experience carefully tailored to each specific customer�and in every respect Carrier described.
�The first time you get there, it asks you for your country, your language; it's personalized for more than 80 countries and 12 languages,� she said. �If you log in, you can then see your information, [such as] your flights, your awards, all your content tailored to your preferences.�
Why is this crucial? It stands to reason that when sites understand customers better, they can serve customers better. And with better service, better business outcomes will emerge for organizations.
Mobile-aware. Another important form of personalization: the Lufthansa site is now device-and-mobile aware. It now recognizes which type of device a customer is using, then renders to that device a version of the site that has been tailored to the device's strengths and weaknesses
So, for instance, if the user happens to be on a smart phone -- typically characterized by both limited screen resolution and lower-bandwidth connection rates -- the Lufthansa site knows that and takes steps to compensate.
�You're not going to see a huge site that you need to scroll around with, that's hard to use,� said Carrier. �You'll get an experience optimized for the form factor of your phone.�
Socially infused. Beyond customer-by-customer personalization, though, another angle to consider is the social web. Sites that engage with customers, Web 2.0-style -- instead of simply selling to customers -- will almost by definition deliver a better customer experience.
You can think of this in terms of service management theory, if you like. Service management is all about aligning your products and services as closely as you can to what your customers need and want. But how can you do that if you don't know what they need and want
Socially aware sites answer that question by providing a microphone for customers to speak up.
�The social web has really been a great equalizer in terms of getting customers' voices to be heard,� said Carrier. �It could be as simple as allowing users to express their feedback by commenting or rating or participating in forums and communities on your site.�
Simple trumps pretty
Customers, just like water and electricity, will typically follow the path of least resistance. That means no site, however powerful or sophisticated it may be in theory, will satisfy customer needs if it's hard to use. Just as the GUI replaced the command line a generation ago, easy-to-use sites are rapidly replacing those that seem to customers to amount to a barrier of entry.
In my own experience, this principle is so powerful, it can even outweigh another -- that unusually good-looking sites attract more user attention and create more business value for organizations.
Carrier sees things in much the same terms.
�I've seen a large number of sites where they're absolutely beautiful, they're like completely flashy, and you go there and try to get something done, but it's so hard to navigate; it's really hard to get the task accomplished,� she said. �Organizations need to focus on ease of use and making sure that the actions people want to take when coming to your site are as easy [for them] to execute as possible.�
Open pudding, find proof
So what, exactly, has been the business outcome for organizations that have deployed customer-experience web solutions with the capabilities of the type Carrier cites from IBM Software -- solutions that �provide a foundation for very compelling, differentiated, socially infused, mobile-aware experiences�?
�There is a large county government located here in the US that basically needed to make it a lot easier for citizens and various associations to do business with the county without having to drive all the way into offices or fill out tons of paperwork,� said Carrier. �They built this really exceptional web experience and eliminated a bunch of information silos and presented information in a really nice, aggregated citizen's view instead.�
And what kind of bottom-line benefits are they getting?
�Well, just last year from January to April, they had 10 million visits and collected $468 million in revenue.�
About the author Guest blogger Wes Simonds worked in IT for seven years before becoming a technology writer on topics including virtualization, cloud computing and service management. He lives in sunny Austin, Texas and believes Mexican food should always be served with queso.
Just like the Internet transformed retailing, media and entertainment in the 1990s, social networking and mobile communications are now putting even more power in the hands of individuals.
Today, 70 percent of a customer's first interaction with a product or service takes place online, 64 percent make a first purchase because of a digital experience and of the two billion people connected to the internet, more than 600 million are on Facebook. This is compounded by an explosion of mobile purchases, which is tripling annually to $119 billion this year alone. Think of this as the era of the connected consumer.
The shift is a good thing. It means consumers know more than ever about their choices and can comparison shop for the best price with ease. They get what they want when they want it. And they can make their opinions known � positive or negative � to thousands or even millions of other consumers.
The power of the connected customer
This big shift in how customers connect brings profound consequences � redefining the term �commerce.� What used to be seen as a flow of goods from manufacturers through a distribution chain to customers has become an interactive feedback loop, where consumers, producers, distributors, the media, and marketers all have new roles to play. Smart companies see "selling" not so much as a traditional function of their organization but rather as an ever-evolving set of services they perform for their customers � performed in concert with their business partners.
Toward that end, organizations are getting more intelligent, so that vast amounts of customer data � from demographics, to product-purchase histories, to online conversations � can be analyzed and turned into real value in real time.
They are getting more interconnected, so that customer insight can be fed into every point in the process � from design to distribution. And they are extending this network of insight to suppliers and partners, because no business can innovate alone.
And they are getting more instrumented, so every item of inventory can be tracked; every interaction with customers can be understood.
Smarter Commerce at work
Leaders in every industry are turning to dynamic business networks that span human, digital, social and mobile modes.
For example, an electronics retailer is using seemingly unrelated purchasing events to get the products its customers want on the shelves when they want them, and make the whole shopping experience seamless across all channels � from brick-and-mortar, to the Web, to mobile.
An automaker is continuously improving its products by infusing customer feedback and reviews into the design process, and pulling in the best parts, suppliers, and assembly expertise without disruption as market needs continuously change.
A bank lender is taking a 360-degree view of its customers using predictive analytics to determine which types of products might interest a patron and even when, where and how to approach them � putting customers at the center of its strategy for what new services are introduced.
The complexity of the task
Building dynamic business networks that span human, digital, social and mobile access modes isn�t easy. Businesses often find themselves with too many siloed systems, and too many unique processes that don�t share information or integrate very well.
But now there�s new technology that enhances and automates the way businesses connect � across the wide range of systems and activities flowing between departments, businesses, and into the cloud. There�s also clever analytics software that can turn vast streams of data into a narrative that people can understand and put to use.
Defining a new market
Powerful software tools and services are available from IBM to help companies to better address the connected customer.
In 2010, IBM added to its own WebSphere Commerce software platform with three related acquisitions � Sterling Commerce for order management and supply chain optimization; Coremetrics for analyzing customer behavior; and Unica for managing marketing campaigns from beginning to end. Together, they address a broad spectrum of enterprise commerce activities � new ways to buy, sell and secure greater customer loyalty in the era of mobile and social networks.
In March 2011 IBM debuted its Smarter Commerce Initiative with new software solutions designed to help companies intelligently automate supplier and trading partner interactions, automatically turn marketplace insights into marketing and sales actions, and seamlessly connect online, mobile and social channels to physical stores. IBM is defining and leading this new market, which is expected to grow to a $20 billion opportunity in software alone by 2015, driven by demand from clients that must bring new levels of automation to marketing, selling and fulfillment, and managing brands.
IBM has also put together a robust consulting services practice and a �university� program to teach commerce skills to clients. It�s packaging all of these capabilities together and presenting them as an integrated set of technology and business solutions. And now with IBM's help, leaders in every industry are serving the connected customer's needs at every turn.
At it's first Smarter Commerce Global Summit this week in San Diego, CA, IBM announced newsoftware and servicesthat address a broad spectrum of enterprise commerce activities � new ways to buy, sell and secure greater customer loyalty in the era of mobile and social networks.
At its first Smarter Commerce Global Summit on September 19-21 in San Diego, CA, IBM will announce new software and services that address a broad spectrum of enterprise commerce activities -- new ways to buy, sell and secure greater customer loyalty in the era of mobile and social networks
Here's a simple video on the 'how' and 'why' of Smarter Commerce.
The following contribution is by guest blogger Wes Simonds. Over the next few months, Wes will share with you his perspective on the role of software in transforming business and building a smarter planet. Wes worked in IT for seven years before becoming a technology writer on topics including virtualization, cloud computing and service management. He lives in sunny Austin, Texas and believes Mexican food should always be served with queso.
Customers today are more informed and powerful than ever before. Commerce strategies should be as well. Going forward, organizations need a smarter approach to commerce -- an approach that's not just smarter than what they're doing now, but that also becomes smarter over time.
Making that happen, though, will often mean rethinking the commerce cycle to put the customer at the center. For best results, customer interests should be incorporated throughout the commerce cycle, from initial materials procurement all the way through post-sales service and support -- creating value for customers by anticipating and fulfilling their needs and interests as proactively and accurately as possible.
Tap the wisdom of crowds
Establishing just what those interests are, of course, is an area where many organizations could stand to improve. Today, customer information is available from far more sources than ever before -- a clear opportunity, but one that's not always pursued ideally. Sales data, the most common assessment of customer needs, can be supplemented with many other forms of insight.
Example: 155 million daily status updates on Twitter. Any time specific companies, products or services are mentioned, that�s a data point worth considering. Are organizations really leveraging that tremendous and freely available data -- tracking customer interest and sentiment before and after the sales numbers come back?
"The convergence of social networking and mobile computing has given rise to empowered consumers who demand a tailored, compelling online experience," said Robert Gilbreath, E-commerce Director, Calendars.com. "IBM is the company we trust to help us continue to evolve our approach to customer-centric, online marketing, and identify new opportunities as they arise."
Once information has been obtained, there's also the question of how it should be integrated into, and across, business processes and domains. Many organizations have already integrated the various stages of the supply chain to reflect customer demand, drive up business agility, and drive down costs. But have they applied that idea on a larger scale, linking customer information obtained in one domain to other domains entirely -- such as marketing and service -- in order to create as much customer-defined value as possible?
To see how this can happen, consider the commerce cycle in terms of four essential stages -- buy, market, sell, and service. Smarter commerce strategies put customer interests at the center of all four.
Buy: Get what you need to satisfy your customers
This stage revolves around the sourcing and procurement of basic goods and services in proportion to customer demands. Common functions include trading partner management, supplier management, supply chain visibility, logistics and inventory optimization.
Up-to-date customer information is critical to ensure that the Buy stage is as intelligent, adaptive and efficient as possible. As customer interests change dynamically, so must operations in this phase -- always mirroring as closely as possible the changing customer picture.
TrueValue -- one of the world's largest retailer-owned cooperatives, serving more than 50 countries with more than 5,000 stores -- recently enhanced this phase of the commerce cycle to excellent effect. In order to simplify getting the right products to the right locations at the right time, the organization implemented a software-driven supply-chain visibility solution to integrate data across its entire trading network.
The results? A 57 percent reduction in lead time, a 10 percent increase in fill rate and an 85 percent decline in back orders.
Market: Connect with the right people, the right ways
Creating unique value via products and services, of course, isn't enough. It's also critical to communicate that value to customers (and potential customers).
This is the heart of Market, the second stage in the commerce cycle: personalized, tailored communications designed to strengthen the brand, express competitive strengths, and even engage the audience with context-relevant offers.
Establishing just what that context means, though, is no simple feat. It requires deep insight into how different customers think, what their interests are, and how those interests are changing over time. Organizations that manage this task quickly and accurately will find it much easier to increase customer satisfaction and, in return, experience an improved business outcome.
Already, leading retailers are achieving these goals through customer-centric, analytics-driven marketing. One example is L�Occitane en Provence, an international manufacturer of skin care products and fragrances that, observing a decline in customer engagement via e-mail, decided to provide more targeted marketing -- pairing customer interests more specifically with carefully selected content.
As a result, the conversion rate (percentage of e-mails that result in a sale) has climbed from 0.14 percent to 2.43 percent -- a seventeen-fold improvement. Even more impressively, revenue per e-mail has increased by a stunning 2,500 percent.
Sell: Close the deal in a customer-chosen way
The third stage, Sell, is the direct fulfillment of products and services across all channels. The goal is to enable customers and partners to buy what they want, when they want and where they want -- or via the platform deemed most convenient and desirable.
Key to this stage is flexibility. As attractive new sales platforms emerge, such as mobile technologies and more generally the ongoing juggernaut of the web, organizations must leverage those platforms to the fullest extent. In this way, they can better serve both their customers' interests and their own growth goals.
Among many organizations pursuing this aspect of smarter commerce is fashion retailer David�s Bridal. Recently, this company decided to pursue a major revision of its website in order to better accommodate rising levels of customer traffic, present its catalog in a customer-centric fashion, and scale to meet anticipated future needs. Also central to the project was this goal: learning from customers what their particular needs might be, and meeting those needs online.
David�s Bridal implemented an IBM e-commerce solution with enormous success. Traffic has climbed in a single year by roughly 20 percent, and the average customer also now views an estimated 20 percent more pages per visit to the site. That increase translates into a better understanding of each customer -- key information needed to drive a better, more personalized experience.
Service: Stand behind your sales
Following sales, it's crucial that organizations continue to create customer value through effective service and support. Without it, temporary customer issues could become permanent problems, threatening brand strength and competitive positioning going forward.
One of the top car rental organizations, Hertz, recently decided to optimize its post-sales support and service capabilities for exactly these reasons. Instead of manual analyses based on customer feedback -- a relatively slow and inconsistent process -- the company selected smart analytics solutions to capture customer experiences in real time and quickly deliver the prioritized results to management.
This technology, based on linguistics rules, can accurately classify digital customer feedback ranging from a "no problems" report to a request for a callback. And thanks to its speed, it positions Hertz to serve customers more quickly, substantially driving up customer satisfaction as a result.
Smarter and smarter over time
Smarter commerce is thus smarter for both organizations and their customers. It offers an optimized way to create business growth by creating more value, in more ways, to more people -- a definitive example of a classic win-win business strategy.
And beyond the optimizations possible in each stage of the cycle is cycle-to-cycle optimization. Just as each stage provides information to improve the next stage, each whole cycle can provide information useful to the next cycle. In this way, the organization's commerce strategy not only is smarter, but gets smarter.
"Being competitive today means being a lot smarter about all facets of commerce, from initial marketing efforts to customer interaction in the buying and selling phase to the product delivery and subsequent service that ensures customer satisfaction," said Steve Bozzo, CIO of 1-800-FLOWERS-COM. "We are optimizing our entire order life cycle and improving the customer experience with a comprehensive solution from IBM that manages incoming orders from multiple channels in a timely and accurate way."
Interested in discussing these topics further? Consider attending the Smarter Commerce Global Summit 2011 -- a thought-provoking conference focusing on how to redefine your approach to commerce and deliver a superior customer experience by making better use of available information. Specific topics will include e-commerce, supply chain management, mobile and social commerce and analytics/insight.
Does your organization really understand what its customers want? Is it meeting those needs as swiftly, accurately and comprehensively as it could? Is customer information integrated into every stage of the commerce cycle?
About the author
Guest blogger Wes Simonds worked in IT for seven years before becoming a technology writer on topics including virtualization, cloud computing and service management. He lives in sunny Austin, Texas and believes Mexican food should always be served with queso.
I can�t recall how many times I�ve said something along the lines of, �I don�t know all the ways this will eventually be used, but it seems like the right approach.� When Lou Gerstner made the decision to keep IBM together in the early �90s, he probably wasn�t quite so flippant in his decision making, but I imagine that there were elements of that reasoning. He saw value in a company that was able to solve large, complex challenges that feature products, services and expertise from all corners of the business. IBM was then, and is today (more so than ever before), a company capable of taking on big things.
We use the word �smarter� a lot these days and I promise it�s about more than patting ourselves on the back for our newest work. In a lot of cases we�re talking about a dramatically different approach to whatever it is that we�re calling �smarter.� This Monday we announced a brain for our Smarter Cities initiative and we�ve named it the IBM Intelligent Operations Center. With this announcement, we are taking a more centralized approached to city management, which is a task that brings in more than a few products and services from around the company.
I feel like a broken record talking about convergence because I�ve been writing about endpoint management so much recently, but this is another area where we�re seeing real value being derived from not looking at specific technologies in operational silos. When it comes to the endpoint we�re talking about systems management and security management, but when it comes to cities we�re talking about public safety, water, transportation, weather, etc. Let�s say a natural disaster were to occur in a city, the Intelligent Operations Center would enable people to identify the impact on the key elements of city infrastructure (such as the water system), deploy first responders to the most critical sites and then help coordinate with hospitals to understand where there are open beds.
It�s admittedly a bit bleak to put these new capabilities in the context of a natural disaster, but it�s one of the few times when a whole city is called to respond. IBM is helping people to make better decisions in these moments. That said, natural disasters are certainly not the norm, and on a more routine basis you might find people using real-time analytics to avoid traffic on the drive home from work.
You also might feel a bit safer knowing that public safety will be one of the first three focus areas of the Intelligent Operations Center. IBM has been in the business of public safety for quite some time with our managed security services team. We�ve used video analytics technology to do everything from tactical implementations that might only require a handful of cameras, to citywide deployments in places like Chicago.
This week�s announcement will enable local, state, federal and nongovernmental authorities to harness the intelligence derived from analytics fed by sensors, crime data bases, cameras and integrated communications to make smarter and more timely decisions. Informed decisions that can make the difference in people�s daily lives.
IBM's Video Correlation and Analysis Suite can be integrated with the Intelligent Operations Center to enable rapid response to physical security events through the real-time and historical analysis of multiple video streams. Not only does IBM help authorities to respond more quickly to incidents, but we�re also improving the speed and accuracy of forensic analysis.
I feel safer already.
For more information about IBM�s Physical Security Services go here