At the IBM Think Virtual event this year, IBM clearly articulated what most of us are only beginning to realize, and that is the world we live in is about to change a lot. You might argue it has already changed a lot but recognize that with this latest COVID-19 pandemic we aren’t at the beginning of the end—only the end of the beginning. A lot of the companies that were struggling before this event won’t be around by year-end, and entire industries tied to travel like airlines and particularly cruise lines may exit at a fraction of their prior scale if they exist at all.
First Impressions Of A New CEO
In the IBM CEO keynote by their new CEO, Arvind Krishna, he argued that the world would look back at this time as a pivotal change, and I think this was if anything, a massive understatement. The firms that survive, let alone flourish, will be those that can rapidly pivot to the new normal, protect their employees, investors, and customers and find a way to emerge from this event eventually stronger and better prepared than they went into it. This is because we have more major disruptive events coming.
The world is effectively at war, and wars tend to drive innovation and change. Arvind spoke about the big, bold moves the firm had already taken, like buying Red Hat, investing in Blockchain to strengthen supply chain logistics and make them more reliable and robust, and massive investments in cloud and particularly hybrid cloud technology.
And, perhaps their biggest bet, into something called AIOps, which provides a CIO with something close to a superpower, making them far more able to protect and pivot their company during disruptive events like this one.
Arvind came across as both knowledgeable and capable, clearly hitting the ground running, and thankful for the continued support of the outgoing CEO Ginni Rometty. It was an impressive start, but what was even more impressive was one of the cases.
He walked us through several cases like CLS Systems, a firm that handles much of the world’s global financial market infrastructure and how IBM helped them pivot rapidly to the new post-COVID-19 world.
However, the most interesting was his case on Anthem, which is pivoting from the largest healthcare provider in the Blue Shield family with 40 million members and mostly focused on the insurance side to a revolutionary alternative to traditional break/fix healthcare. You see, today’s healthcare is primarily reactive. You get sick, you seek help, you are diagnosed with massive testing, and then you are given an increasingly unaffordable expensive cure. Anthem wants to turn this on its head by massively simplifying and automating the solution, which is less about fixing what is broken and more about finding a way to avoid getting sick in the first place.
With the potential for massive monitoring, something we are likely to get as part of the COVID-19 track and trace efforts anyway and the ability to analyze massive amounts of eal-time data Anthem believes they can provide far better early warning and better address future problems before they evolve into critical illnesses.
If you can significantly reduce the number of people getting injured or sick, you can dramatically reduce the cost of healthcare. Thus making universal programs far more affordable than they currently are and, well, people are better able to afford these programs effectively working the financial aspects of this from both ends.
Under a branded offering called “Sydney,” they plan to provide a single easy to understand interface to all their users’ healthcare information. This solution will be backed by the power of an advanced AI that can answer questions and provide well-curated trusted advice on a wide variety of health-related subjects and better prepare medical staff for when you do need their help. The result is a ground-up redesign of their current operations based on their existing data foundation, including designed in interoperability between currently separate systems, which now make timely diagnosis and response almost impossible. This data will be turned into timely insights built on the OpenShift scalable architecture and using the full concept of Open design to provide both flexibility and scalability to the solution. They chose IBM for this solution because they viewed the company as most effective when it comes to the diversity of tools, the security and performance of their platforms, and how IBM stood above the rest in terms of effectiveness with their solutions.
Anthem was particularly impressed with how IBM’s AI managed supply chains during the early parts of the Pandemic, helping Anthem respond to its customer’s needs more effectively.
Wrapping Up: Some Additional Observations
During Arvind’s keynote, he quoted one of the industry’s most famous CEOs and forward thinkers Pat Gelsinger of VMware on the concept of the hybrid cloud. Often CEOs don’t even admit they have peers let alone that they learned from them. Often, we see CEOs and leaders who think the world revolves around them and that everyone else is an idiot, and things rarely end well for them. Arvind seems to know he isn’t always going to be the smartest or even most capable person in the room, but if he can recognize who is and learn from them, he can become one of the greatest CEOs in the world. Few CEOs get that to be great you don’t have to be the best, you have to recognize the best, learn from them, and if they work for you, don’t feel threatened, and instead enabling them to help you build a better firm.
I was left thinking that, like most iconic IBM CEOs, Arvind Krishna is one of this rare breed that understands that to be a leader you must listen, enable your people, and lead by example. His opening example impressed me a great deal and implies that IBM remains in good hands.