IBM is the largest information technology company in the world. With offices in more than 70 countries where a total of 350,000 people work for customers in some 174 countries, IBM is an organization that is constantly dealing with changes and is constantly developing. We had the privilege to interview two inspiring women from IBM Benelux: CTO Victoria Bunyard and Red Hat Synergy Leader Iris Krijt.
Can you tell us a bit more about IBM in 2020?
Victoria: “2020 has been an unprecedented year for the whole planet. The world has been shaken by everything from pandemic to polarizing politics. IBM in 2020 has been fully focused on how the world can act and react, from the work we´ve been doing directly with clients on their ability to cope with COVID, to the Call for Code initiative that invites developers and problem solvers to build solutions that take on society’s issues.
In my personal opinion every technology company has to take a stand and say ‘OK, given everything that is happening, this is who we are’ and our focus now is to see how the world changes, acts and reacts, and how we can help and support our clients. How can they cope and maintain their continuity? You need to apply the right technology in the right way to support what you are doing, but you can´t only look at the technology, process and attitude are essential – you need the right change in posture towards a holistic approach.”
“There are a number of direct COVID examples that IBM is working on. For instance the app our team in Belgium built for the CHC Liège hospitalto connect over 1000 doctors with their patients enabling healthcare continuity following a period of postponed medical procedures.”
Iris: “In our IBM Research Lab in Zürich where we have created IBM RoboRXN which combines Automation and AI to accelerate materials discovery. We have demonstrated how that solution can help develop a vaccine against corona. That molecule is built and is being studied right now, so, we’re helping to speed up the research as this type of molecule discovery normally takes years, and our approach dramatically reduces those timeframes.”
What is your role at IBM?
Victoria: “I started as the CTO IBM Benelux in July this year, so I’m quite fresh in the role. My background is in system engineering and systems thinking. This always leads me to look holistically at a given situation, or a problem, and work to understand how and when to apply technology to improve or enhance that situation or solve that problem. Critical in that is the motivation to ensure that technology is implemented well. Safety, security, fairness and ethics must be at the front of our thinking when we implement any technological solution. You can’t only look at the technology, you have to look at the politics, the economics, the whole situation and how all of that is affecting your business.”
Iris: “My role is IBM Synergy Lead Red Hat. As you know IBM acquired Red Hat last year, but they remain two different entities so you need the glue between those two entities, and my role is to grow both businesses connecting people and creating teaming, but also to ensure that Red Hat remains independent and can grow. My personal mission is always connecting people with different beliefs in different cultures who are aiming for the same result. I see this as if Red Hat and IBM were acquaintances, but they are now becoming friends and partners, and knowing each other well, and knowing when to work together or separately, or with other partners such as HCS Company, this will lead to the best outcomes for everyone.”
Victoria: “My personal mission is fairly straightforward. Technology is the answer for so many things in our lives, but not for everything. So, when is technology the answer? How do we pull these pieces together in a way that is effective to deliver a positive outcome? And given that change IS a constant, how can we deliver a secure, safe, holistic evolution?”
Today’s IT comes with a rapid pace of change and innovation. How is IBM absorbing this rapid pace of change?
Victoria: “I am astonished every day, when I see new innovations and what our clients, and our partners, do with those. The fundamentals of how IBM absorbs this are really embedded in our culture. We are, at our heart, a technology company that has driven disruptive change and innovation for over 100 years. To me, IBM is built on two foundations: an understanding that change is the beating heart of progress; and that being endlessly curious is a virtue.”
How do you deal with this yourself, personally?
Victoria: “First, it is important not to fear change, change is growth and you should always be looking for ways to grow. Not being too hung up on the fact that what I knew for certain yesterday will be challenged tomorrow. It is all part of the innovation adventure, being endlessly curious about what is going on in the world. How new elements can be brought together and be combined to produce amazing solutions that are greater than the sum of their parts.”
“On the other hand I am, of course a technologist, so I use online media, social media, different feeds and forums, and I am also helped dramatically by our internal systems. Our internal search engines and learning platforms are now AI driven, which enhances my ability to access the vast IBM Body of Knowledge. I receive personalized learning feeds that highlight content based on my interests and ambitions for learning, and I get fast access to content from our experts across the globe including our R&D teams through to our delivery and security experts.”
How does IBM help organizations deal with this?
Victoria: “We aim to do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Parts of IBM are tasked with tracking trends and changes and bringing that to our clients in different consumable ways, take our Institute for Business Value, RedBooks or X-Force Exchange. We also provide advisory services on everything from security and data protection, through the latest in cloud, hybrid and multi-cloud implementations to AI. And of course, the AI learning platforms I mention earlier, those are also part of our product portfolio. We apply that at an Enterprise scale to improve business outcomes and drive you to success.”
Apart from innovation, continuity is of vital importance for enterprise organizations. How do you experience the IBM and Red Hat Synergy?
Victoria: “It brings new ideas and new ways of thinking. We really see it as a two-way street. We are taking two different perspectives and putting those together to bring innovation. IBM and Red Hat are doing that in a way that we can deliver secure, stable and supportable systems that give you the continuity you need. When you can rely on the underlying capabilities, then you can go crazy with the innovation on top of it.” Iris: “A great local example is an Insurance provider In the Netherlands where we are building a pensions platform. Our architects said we need this platform to be future ready, we need IT to be open, we need to infuse Red Hat, so we invited them to join us in the solutioning, and together we are building that out to be open and future ready. ”
What opportunities do you see for customers using both IBM and Red Hat?
Iris: “I strongly believe in the value that this partnership is bringing to our customers. One year on, we are still two companies but aligned as one team that enjoys working together to make a difference to our clients and to the industry. To give one example; Red Hat is working extremely close with client development teams, they have an exceptional relationship with those communities. IBM, on the other hand, has got a huge body of knowledge and broad relationships across industries. So, if you combine the industry focused business perspective with the deep technology perspective, it’s a fantastic combination.” “The benefit for businesses that are working with both IBM and Red Hat is that they get access to a whole organization that prefers to be open. We provide open standards on everything. So you literally have no lock-in. In the end, nobody knows what technology companies will look like in 2030 and we want Enterprises to also be open and have the possibilities to take advantage of everything that comes up in the next five to ten years.”
Victoria: “What you see now is that IBM is evolving, with Red Hat, and the IBM strategy of building out our capabilities – such that they sit on OpenShift and use all of those underlying services that come with containerization for example – this also makes the job of building out a solution much more simple, much more modular, more monitorable, controllable. So we get more tech, we get easier tech, and we get more flexible/interchangeable tech – and of course if it is easier, more flexible and more interchangeable, then the pace of change becomes less of a concern and more of an adventure!”
What does this synergy mean for you personally?
Iris: “Synergy in five words for me is 1 + 1 = 3. I believe this cooperation will bring us to a higher level. One of my colleagues stated it perfectly: ´Red Hatters’ passion can be compared with the love of football fans for the Champions League, the excitement is contagious. I strongly believe in the value that this partnership is bringing to our customers, one year on we are still two companies but aligned as one team, that enjoys working together, which is making a difference to us, our clients and to the industry.”
Victoria: “My totally personal techy response… Look at all the new stuff I get to play with! A little more seriously – my role has always been to look holistically at a situation and work out how to solve a problem or make an improvement – this synergy significantly extends the capabilities that I have at my disposal to do that. Engineering a solution is so much easier when I have the best elements available to me to build up the best solution that I can.“
How do you view the role of Open Source within IBM?
Iris: “Well something funny, IBM was already working with open source in the 90s. We were one of the biggest believers and contributors to Linux, Apache and Eclipse. I think in the 90s we invested over a billion in open source. So, for many people it might look new, but we´ve been there for a long time. Equally we have worked hard to make sure that we are open, ensuring that we provide open standards, open architectures and open platforms.”
Could IBM become a pure open source player? (no licenses but support)
Victoria: “It Is tricky to answer this because IBM is not only a software vendor, we are not only delivering software, we deliver a lot of services and hardware, and through our R&D we are constantly delivering new things, think of Quantum Computing, or new capabilities that are not only software based. And what you also see is that there are more models out there than one, in fact there are more open source models out there than just one. What we are always doing is evaluating what are the different scenarios, what are the different client requests, or needs, what are the different solutions or products or capabilities that we are working with, and what are the right models to apply for those, that is a constant re-evaluation and we have to balance that against continuity. But if you look at what we´ve done with our IBM Public Cloud capabilities, you can go there today, get started for free and take advantage of our open environment, start to use the capabilities in there including security and data protection, and the models vary depending on the capability and level of use. If you consider our Quantum model it’s the same thing, you can sign up today to get your hands on our quantum machine so what you will see is this continuous evolution of how we do what we do, and an ambition to find the right model for the right thing at the right time.”
“Every company becomes an AI company” was said on IBM Think. Are there any examples of AI that can guarantee continuity?
Victoria: “Continuity is not achieved by one system alone, it is an emergent property that comes out of your policies, processes, people and technology combined. AI is great for augmenting those elements, supporting the decision making, extracting policies, defining processes and automating monitoring. There are many AI solution that can augment your continuity, for example our own AIOps solution that we have developed to support efficiency and resiliency and therefore continuity in your IT operations.”
Are there examples of AI in which innovation is realized while maintaining continuity?
Victoria: “One of our hot topics right now is the question of operationalizing AI – we see too often that people are running fantastic MVP projects, and come up with new and exciting models. But they sometimes struggle to work out how to make those operational – so we worked through DevOps, and then DevSecOps, and of course as data protection and data control has become more essential to businesses we see the rise of DataOps to allow you to build a strong secure controlled foundation for your Data, and to effectively deliver enterprise ready, scalable AI solutions we also need to start thinking in terms of AIOps.”
This magazine is for CxOs, often a man’s world. All C-level interviewees of our strategic partners are women. Is this the result of a good diversity policy? Or coincidence? And is it important?
Iris: “To be honest, I don’t think that coincidence in diversity exists, as a company, you must make it your top priority, especially in the Tech Industry. That means that your entire organization (not just your top leadership) understands why a diverse workforce is important, you can´t just focus on the top 30% or bottom 50%, you need pipeline and throughput. You also can´t only focus on male/female – 2020 has really shown the need for different kinds of capabilities, different kinds of skills and therefore a full range of diversity is needed.”
Is IT leadership by women different from when men are in the lead?
Victoria: “I think leadership is different depending on the individual who is in the lead. There is a tendency to talk in terms of masculine versus feminine leadership, but I personally prefer to think more in terms of ´ethical and intelligent´ leadership versus ´dominant and destructive´ leadership, and all people of all genders can be either type of leader. For me – ethical and intelligent leadership is about lifting everybody up, and listening to everybody, and using that amazing combination of people and thoughts and ideas allowing them to use their skills and their talent to drive to successful outcomes.”
“I believe the ambition for all IT leadership should be to focus on ´ethical and intelligent´ leadership because experience teaches us that leadership without authenticity does not bring out the best in people, and especially now we need the best from people.”
How do you see the future in IT, say in the next 5 years?
Victoria: “Extreme digitization will set the tone for the coming years, we were seeing that prior to the pandemic, but 2020 has accelerated that trajectory in a way that we could not have anticipated. Whole parts of society have been forced to adopt technologies that would have been alien to them prior to the pandemic, and this will force organizations to rethink how they bring tech to the people. The risk of a digital divide is real, and we need to work hard in the coming years to make technology truly nonpartisan.”
“I anticipate that we will see a great deal of change come out of 2020 with respect to three things: New engagement models that increasingly rely on AI to support less technically capable users, leading to increased efforts to ensure fairness and ethics are addressed and bias is reduced. Second, increased importance of the ecosystem and increased engagement in open source with people becoming active engagers. And last, increased importance of open platforms, open standards and open architectures that allow you to be future ready. You will see us working side by side with our partners to drive open platforms and ecosystems that help our clients thrive in this ever-evolving landscape.”
What is the best advice you can give to organizations that are currently in a digital transformation?
Iris: “Take a good look into how you are going to invest. Of course, you have to watch your operational costs, but you also have to invest into the future. The crisis shows us that there is no constant. A lot of companies are still working on digital transformation. But what COVID showed is that we need to prepare for what’s next, because nobody knows what it will be. To do that, you have to be flexible. Therefore, everything should be open. Also keep investing in the future with the right talent and technology.”
Victoria: “It’s all about focus. What I see is that sometimes organizations lose focus a little bit and they forget that it is not just about trying to drive after any outcome, you are trying to drive after what is going to make your business successful. Some companies are so excited by new technology and all the things what can be done with it, but the key is: what are you trying to do with it? You have to understand the problem. If you don’t understand that, you are going to get the wrong answer.”
“You need a real laser focus. What is the thing that you have to solve right now?”
“So, constantly remind yourselves why you are doing what you are doing, revisit your goals regularly. The risk is that we all try to do everything and forget why. Bring it back to systems thinking, truly understand the problem you are solving, or the value that you are bringing.”Our colleague tells it best “Digital transformation is kind of like a bakery building a new factory, but every bakery is building their bespoke factory instead of focusing on what cakes they will produce to capture and grow their market. You need laser-like focus on who you are – what cakes your factory needs to deliver. The best advice is to talk to people who understand how to build the factory, use their expertise and capabilities to reduce the time, effort and risk associated with building and maintaining the factory, which is another reason why we are so excited about Red Hat who bring their amazing expertise and capabilities for building the factory.”
Are there other things you want to share with our readers?
Victoria: “You have to think holistically, you have to think about how you are going to manage, for example, your multi-cloud landscape, your data and AI landscape, your security and compliance landscape, and in context. It’s our job, IBM and Red Hat, to think this way, and help our clients to crack out of the silos to get to good outcomes.”
Iris: “We really believe in the power of the community and the ecosystem. From the start, nobody has all the knowledge, nobody has all the best solutions. In the end it is all about really working together.”