I am no expert, so these are my impressions from a slew of outside conversations and insights (right or wrong) gleaned at conferences and on Twitter and Medium. But with those caveats, I think this is going to be a very important year for IBM, as they start to regain profitability and reach the decisive stages of various technologies they have bet on or invested in. These are on no particular order.
Cognitive computing - After a few years of shaking out the generalities and calming down the hype, it is high time that the Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning effort either bears fruit or fades in importance, at least as far as Watson is concerned. IBM has some tremendous technology, but has wandered about somewhat in terms of vision. Sometimes it has aimed too high, sometimes too low, and sometimes it has shot itself in the foot by not properly looking at the last foot (between the user and the keyboard and screen). With the experience they've gained, they either find a way to do this better or they likely lose out to competitors whose technology may bot be as grand, but whose vision and usability are greater.
Blockchain - While not in exactly the same place, Blockchain is an area where IBM similarly needs to find a way to fish or cut bait. In this case, I think it is less of a vision issue and more of a nuts-and-bolts issue. I think IBM is fairly well placed to make a strong play in blockchain-related business, if there is really such a thing. IBM deals with the kinds of companies with the size and scope to possibly benefit from Enterprise blockchain technology, but there need to be a compelling business case, and probably some real investment in scalability. Blockchain can be extremely slow and intensive, but IBM has the talent to find solutions to those bottlenecks. (I imagine they are already working hard on this.) While I think everybody knows there is a blockchain bubble, there is a case to be made for real opportunities on the other side of the bubble bursting, and IBM may be positioned well to sweep up the opportunities once the smaller players collapse along with the bubble.
Data analytics - This is a more mature technology, and IBM seems to be doing fairly well at it. The opportunities for growth and profitabilty are in more synergy with cognitive computing and cloud computing, as well as with IBM's slew of other services and technologies. While I think IBM is pushing in the right directions, I think they could do more to integrate data analytics across the various technologies.
Cloud computing - This has become the key to IBM's recent rise, as I understand it. It is the area about which I know least, even as it seems to be the area where IBM has had the most success, but I think the key opportunity for IBM is to leverage its different technologies even better. If IBM wants to be more than a commodity competitor with cloud computing, it needs to recreate the success it had in a past generation of fulfilling more of the enterprise needs on the back of cloud computing. I think they know this and are working hard on it, but a lot rides on their successful execution.
Note: In relation to these areas, Genii Software currently has some valuable add-on technologies with regards to cognitive computing and data analytics, mostly in the area of smart data extraction and cleanup with the Midas LSX and AppsFidelity. We will be continuing with these directions, but keeping an eye out for how we can provide products as adjuncts to cloud computing and blockchain as we see needs arise. We are always open to suggestions or requests for features and products to assist companies in using the IBM products, as well as those of other enterprise-facing technology.
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Tags: IBM Watson Cloud computing Blockchain