Maybe IBM Canada President Ayman Antoun was feeling inspired by the renewal sentiment of New Year’s resolutions as he took the reins of his new role in January, because he describes his agenda for the Big Blue of the north as “bold, aggressive, and aspirational.”
In one breath, he grants that digital transformation is an over-used phrase. In the next, he puts it into his mandate for IBM Canada. “I want us to be the digital transformational partner of choice for clients.”
Point to a technology category that’s associated with digital transformation and IBM is there in force. It’s got an artificial intelligence platform, Watson, that attained fame thanks to defeating Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings. After acquiring SoftLayer in 2013, it has a public cloud infrastructure on top of which it provides developer platform Bluemix. And yes, it’s even got a Blockchain platform – one that one group wants to use as the foundation of a digital identity network in Canada. So you can see what emboldens Antoun.
“I want customers to come to us and say ‘help me define what my digital transformation strategy should look like,'” he says. “I need you to be there for part of that journey, multiple parts of that journey, or all of that journey.”
We spoke with Antoun about his vision for IBM Canada since being promoted up from general manager of global technology services to head honcho. Ahead are his views on what digital transformation really means for CIOs, how IBM is pushing out its AI and blockchain products in Canada, and what it all means for channel partners.
Delivering digital transformation for clients
The IBM Institute for Business Value, working with Oxford Economics, interviewed 2,258 CIOs, including a segment of 100 from Canada, for its 19th edition of the IBM Global C-suite Study. The report was released in March.
It reveals three main CIO archetypes. Reinventors have redirected their resources to achieve scale across broad networks of partners, extracting new value from those ecosystems. They’ve been through digital transformation and have come out the other side, working more closely with customers and have a work culture that encourages bringing new ideas forward.
“They are leading the pack, outperforming the peer group in the industry they’re in and running a well-connected business strategy and IT strategy,” Antoun says. “They’re participating in a platform, or have built their own platform.”
Practitioners have great ambitions for digital transformation but don’t yet have the capabilities to achieve their goals. Half of them have plans to launch new business models in the next few years and are more likely to be considering a platform business model. “They’re early in their development,” Antoun says.
Aspirationals on the other hand, just aren’t there in either their capability or their vision for the future. “The study said it more politely, but the final one-third are living in denial,” he says. “They have not done much around even thinking through what a digital journey would look like for their enterprise.”
According to IBM’s survey, 23 per cent of CIOs fall into the Reinventor category, 41 per cent are Practitioners, and 37 per cent are aspirational. Antoun says those demographic sizes roughly extend into the Canadian market too.
IBM’s blockchain platform
As reported last week on IT World Canada, IBM Blockchain Platform will be used by Verified.Me, a new mobile-device-based national identity service launching in Canada this fall. IBM’s service will be used to help verify individual’s consent to the different pieces of personal data as they’re used to gain access to government services or make major purchases. According to Antoun, IBM has been close partners on the project.
“We have provided blockchain experts that knew how to put that technology to use for the application they wanted,” he says. “Blockchain is like having all the ingredients but you have to assemble it yourself.”
IBM can help its blockchain users customize the service to their application. Much of that is done in IBM Canada’s Markham-based headquarters where 3,000 developers build out client capabilities in a lab facility.
IBM’s cloud infrastructure
IBM entered the public cloud infrastructure market with its SoftLayer acquisition in 2013 and the next year entered the Canadian market with a Toronto-based data centre. In 2015 it added another data centre in Quebec.
IBM Canada is competing against hyperscale providers such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure in attracting large enterprises and technology startups to its cloud. Antoun says the market is one that’s reached a level of maturity and has evolved beyond the commodity level driven by lower costs into a race for more flexibility and speed. To keep pace with this, IBM is identifying that enterprise clients have different needs of the public cloud and are likely to be using it as part of a hybrid model.
Antoun sees three key differentiators of IBM Cloud that sets it apart from the competition:
- AI. “Our cloud infrastructure is AI ready,” he says. “It’s designed, it’s built, and it’s operationally AI ready.”
- Security. “It is secure at the core. The way we encrypt it… is our mainframe technology that encrypts all data, 100 per cent of the time with zero performance degradation.”
- Data versatility. The infrastructure and capabilities are well suited to structured or unstructured data.
Further explaining the AI capabilities of IBM Cloud, Antoun points to its Watson AI engine that can be tapped there. Alternately, developers can tap into this service via an API. This is useful in conjunction with the tools that help enterprises move existing workloads into the cloud without having to update the codebase.
“We call it the lift and shift, zero changes required at all,” he says. “You can work literally on that cloud infrastructure and use Watson, or we can work with you using APIs if you have certain workloads.”
IBM channel plans
Antoun is now in his 14th different role for IBM as the Canada president. One of his previous roles based in New York City was as channel chief for Canada, the U.S. and all of Latin America.
“I did that for four years and I honestly developed a huge appreciation for the scale and reach that the channel would have for a company, like ours when we do it right,” he says. “This is a space near and dear to my heart.”
Antoun estimates that about two-thirds of IBM’s hardware sales business goes through the channel in Canada, and about one-quarter of the software business. Over the past 18 months, IBM has focused on helping partners reorganize their offerings into more modern solutions. This included the creation of a partners university and a technology platform that allows them to build and test their own cloud tools. For about a year now, all the tools available to IBM employees are also available to channel partners. The effort is designed to promote a greater focus on services as a way to grow business.
“I am very pleased with the progress we have made so far,” Antoun says. “I look at the revenue mix of my partners, and I’m seeing a material shift.”
After working 119 quarters at Big Blue, Antoun says he has a clear idea of what IBM is about as a company. It has little to do with the organization of the past and it’s summed up in four short sentences.
“Our solutions are cognitive. Our platform is the cloud. Our focus is industry. And our culture is agile,” he says.