I got a chance to sit down with Nancy Pearson, Vice President BPM, SOA, WebSphere and Industry Marketing at IBM last week to talk about Smart Work and other related topics. Smart Work is one of the four major themes that are part of IBM’s overall Smarter Planet initiative – New Intelligence, Green and Beyond, Dynamic Infrastructure and Smart Work. Like all these themes, Smart Work is a cross IBM initiative designed to create an agenda-setting conversation. Nancy has worked on the New Intelligence piece of Smarter Planet and is now leading Smart Work and there’s a great video with Nancy talking about Smart Work on youtube.
Nancy’s focus with Smart Work is on how to help organizations work smarter and on what’s new about this challenge in today’s environment. Both business optimization and business agility are critical to the Smart Work vision. In her own words
“We are hearing more and more of our customers ask us to help make their work environment that is more agile, collaborative, and connected. They can’t handle today’s disruptive marketplace shifts just by working harder. And they can’t just dedicate more and more resources to their work. Instead, they need to work smarter.” From IBM’s perspective this means that the SOA, Business Process Management, Business Event Processing, Information on Demand and advanced analytic products capabilities all have a role to play along with their collaboration tools and their various service lines. Working smarter really draws from capabilities across IBM.
Nancy has been working with clients, business partners and internal folks to answer three questions:
- How to help business evolve to adapt and respond dynamically
- How can people collaborate better to maximize their effectiveness
- How does technology enable flexibility to meet those changing business needs quickly?
In particular Nancy feels this leads to a focus on managing and modeling dynamic business processes – using SOA, BPM and business rules – but also collaboration tools. Businesses can automate some (most) of the process and collaborate on improving it as well as on handling exceptions or problems. From my perspective I see that collaboration is hot right now, with all the focus on social media, but it is important not to implement collaboration tools without a focus on a real business problem. Nancy was really clear on this – you can’t just bolt on collaboration – you must be trying to fix the process too. For instance, one IBM insurance customer is using collaboration tools to help its independent agents, underwriters and others work together on insurance processes like policy origination and claims processing. But automating and streamlining these processes is critical as well. Process optimization and collaboration must work together.
This need for a holistic focus was clear in some of the survey work IBM has done. For instance their most recent CIO study had 70% of CIOs identifying a focus on optimizing business processes as one of in their top 5 priorities. About the same identified collaboration with customers and partners as important as well. In addition, the increased use of analytics score highly and the expectations of what analytics can do is growing too.
“We’re seeing organizations address work-related challenges as an inter-related whole rather than as a disconnected set of piece-parts”, said Nancy.
IBM sees its clients asking for more sophistication, not just BI but analytics that let them micro optimize operational decisions and integrate analytics and rules/process/event management. Clearly these priorities are all getting applied to the same set of business problems and all of them have to tie to an ROI. Hence the broad nature of the Smart Work effort with multiple product and service lines involved.
IBM clients, of course, are focusing on specific problems. Nancy gave the example of Atlas Air who is using SOA and BPM to make a more dynamic business. Atlas Air is a freight airplane outsourcing company that could not handle new client requests, find airplane sin real time, change flight or crew schedules due to silos and rigid systems. Using SOA and BPM they have built a more flexible infrastructure but also seen big reductions in costs and increases in productivity. They have built real-time decision support (analytics) on top of this to help make more informed decisions in collaboration with business partners and customers.
The acquisition of ILOG and the integration of its product lines into IBM is an important element of the overall Smart Work initiative. Nancy is excited about the ILOG products’ role, for instance, in allowing business users to create rules that carry out an automated response when predefined conditions are met in their business. Deciding what to act on, what to do, what patterns matter, how to automate or modify process are all critical in handling these events and the combination of IBM’s Business Events product and ILOG rules and optimization is exciting.
I took away a key message from this discussion on working smarter – the integration points between the various information, analytics, process and collaboration technologies are critical as product combinations are the order of the day. The richness of IBM’s product portfolio is clearly an advantage here.
I think another of IBM’s strengths is its Industry Frameworks. I saw that the banking one, for instance, now has a link to rules so I asked Nancy if IBM had a systematic process for assessing the potential for rules, analytics and optimization within these frameworks. How, I wondered, is IBM going to bring these newer approaches into a data- and code-centric set of frameworks?
Nancy has been involved in 14 of IBM’s acquisitions in the last few years. With each acquisition IBM always goes back to look for opportunities in existing frameworks for the new technology. They try and find the quick wins – the obvious places to apply the technology. Each change in the technology available causes a systematic effort to re-assess the existing frameworks and see how to use the technology. From a practical point of view this should mean that companies can watch the changing nature of the relevant industry framework for their industry and see what opportunities exist to adopt new technologies. Personally I am looking forward to seeing rules and analytic adoption increase as more industries understand the potential thanks to more decision-centric industry templates.
I went on to ask Nancy about another announcement I saw recently, the new business performance center of excellence. Does this center have business rules, optimization and analytics as part of its core mission? How about performance management software and approaches?
The Business Performance Center of Excellence was recently announced as part of Smart Work. Within IBM such centers try to provide a set of capabilities to support clients who want to look at a project and see what is possible – learn how the capabilities can be applied. This new center takes skills from consultants in SOA and BPM as well as some collaboration experts and ILOG skills. The center is intended to show how IBM can help customers and to be customer driven. Customers can bring business question to the CoE and get a coherent answer across multiple technologies, product lines and skills. At the center leverages the industry frameworks too, often pointing customers to so-called hot spots or entry points. Customers, Nancy says, need help pulling together a number of things. The danger for all of us is falling into presenting one component as the answer. The Center of Excellence should help customers avoid this trap. The center will advocate a focus on BPM, flexible SOA, collaboration tools etc but where to start depends on where the client is and what they need.
I enjoyed the conversation with Nancy and particularly liked the broad-based, non-product specific approach she is taking to Smart Work. I look forward to seeing and hearing more about it. If you want to see some interesting discussions on elements of Smart Work you can check out the archive for the recent Smart Work Jam (in which I participated). You can see the results of the conversation linked from ibm.com/smartwork/virtual until early October.