A GenAI discussion with IBM’s channel chief Woolley

It was an interesting series of career twists and turns that resulted in Kate Woolley taking on the position of IBM Corp.’s channel chief in January of 2022.

Prior to joining the company, she was a partner in the New York office of Bain & Company and co-led the company’s global cloud computing practice, but it would be her next career move that resulted in her being named to lead the IBM Ecosystem as well as manage the organization’s strategic partnerships and alliances.

An IBM fact sheet states that Woolley’s team is responsible for all partners who “sell IBM technology, embed or run on (it) and/or provide services for IBM technology.”

It is a mammoth portfolio, but she learned a great deal about it during her previous position, not at Bain, but as the chief of staff for IBM chief executive officer (CEO) Arvind Krishna, where, according to the same fact sheet, she “gained insight into all parts” of the company’s global footprint.”

In an interview with Channel Daily News last month at the Toronto stop of the company’s Think On Tour, she said taking on the role was “a fantastic opportunity for me to immerse myself really quickly in everything IBM and also be part of how Arvind thought about his strategy and his focus.

“It set me up very well to step into this role because (he) had declared the ecosystem as a key priority.”

Asked how the generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) revolution has impacted both IBM and the partner network, Woolley said “we think about it as AI for business, how do we help businesses to unleash the intelligence of the data that they have to help grow their business and to help serve their customers. And I think we have this pivot point where we’re going from AI being something that was thought about afterwards to how to actually lead with AI first.

“It’s going to have a huge impact on how we think about IBM’s business, but also how we think about our partnerships and alliances, how we think about our broader channel ecosystem.”

One such partnership occurred in May when IBM and SAP announced that IBM Watson technology will be embedded into the latter’s product portfolio to “provide new AI-driven insights and automation.”

Then on June 19, IBM released details of plans to expand its partnership with Adobe, with IBM Consulting launching a “new portfolio of Adobe consulting services to help clients navigate the complex generative AI landscape.”

GenAI, said Woolley, is going to be a game-changer for not only large organizations such as SAP and Adobe, but everyone from Internet service providers (ISPs) to VARS and system integrators (SIs).

“This is not about replacing human intelligence,” she said. “It’s about augmenting it.”

The cornerstone of the strategy, she said, will revolve around watsonx, the AI and data platform for business that was launched by IBM in early May. According to a release issued at the time, “enterprises turning to AI today need access to a full technology stack that enables them to train, tune and deploy AI models, including foundation models and machine learning capabilities, across their organization with trusted data, speed, and governance – all in one place and to run across any cloud environment.”

Describing watsonx as a “game changer across the board,” Woolley said the entire IBM ecosystem is looking at ways it can embed the AI platform either into their internal operations or infuse it into either their product portfolio or the type of services they offer.

Whatever happens, she said “we have to have AI solutions and we have to use AI in a way that is responsible and in a way that is trusted. As we think about the governance of AI solutions, everyone is testing and exploring and seeing what’s out there, but there’s going to become a point where we go from hype to reality.

“When we hit that, when we hit reality, it’s going to be critical that people know what data is being used, where it’s come from, how trusted that data source is, and that we know what the algorithms are using to make the decisions and make the recommendations that come out of that.

“Otherwise, it’s going to be very hard for enterprises to be able to trust the AI and use it with their customers. We’re going to end up in a very bad situation.”

As for the ecosystem she oversees, Woolley says it is constantly evolving: “If you think about the concept of an ecosystem several decades ago, we probably thought about distributors and resellers. Now we have distributors, resellers, ISVs, SIs. We have the hyperscalers.

“There are so many different types of partners and not only that they are doing different things. You can no longer put people in a box anymore.”

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Paul Barker
Paul Barker
Paul Barker is the founder of PBC Communications, an independent writing firm that specializes in freelance journalism. He has extensive experience as a reporter, feature writer and editor and has been covering technology-related issues for more than 30 years.

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