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A new way of thinking at InterConnect 2015

Director of Interactive Sales, WNEP-TV / WNEP.com

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I was invited to attend IBM Interconnect 2015, which made its debut this year. Understanding this is a combination of three smaller conferences (Pulse, Innovate and Impact) I was left to wonder what the main focus of the week would be, and how it would all fit together. The conference organizers had a myriad of subjects to tackle from the three previous conferences, all while faced with the task of providing value to the more than 21,000 attendees. Oh, and what do they mean by “InterConnect” anyway?

A new way to think

One of the main catchphrases of this conference was “A New Way to Think.” This couldn’t have been more obvious as IBM provided plenty of live customer testimonials to demonstrate how they transformed their business practices using cutting-edge technology. These topics included everything from cloud platforms (IBM BlueMix, IBM MobileFirst) and data security (IBM InfoSphere) to advanced predictive, social and cognitive analytics (SPSS, Social Media Analytics and IBM Watson Analytics). There was a lively discussion surrounding new products and features, as well as new areas of potential implementation and transformative use cases. I was inspired by speakers at the head of their respective industries, discussing how they’ve leveraged technology to take an evolutionary step in business processes or customer service.

Cloud platforms

One of the main thrusts of InterConnect was how to advance utilization of cloud services while covering the new technologies available to those implementing them. I’ve learned that the reach of BlueMix continues to grow at an incredible pace for a product of any age, let alone one that is only one year old. BlueMix is IBM’s next generation cloud platform whose goal is to provide a tremendous amount of features all in a single place.

As a cloud system architect, I’m impressed by the way IBM has differentiated this product from the numerous other cloud solutions on the market. New(ish) to IBM is the ”freemium model,” and BlueMix offers this option. Free to try for a period of time, you’ll quickly determine that this is something special.  What makes it special? Glad you asked!

Watson Developer Cloud

Previously, Watson technologies were nothing more than a far-off dream of most average developers. Those outside of major R&D facilities and education research facilities wouldn’t dream of getting their hands on technology with this power. Not anymore. The Watson Developer Cloud brings cost-effective access to next generation technologies for just about anyone.  Some of the advanced API offerings include:

  •      Natural language speech to text
  •      Text to natural speech
  •      Machine translation
  •      Language recognition
  •      Cognitive personality insights
  •      User behavior modeling

BlueMix Cloud Marketplace

The BlueMix Cloud Marketplace allows IBM to boldly enter the cloud as a service arena.  Competing against some well-established players, IBM needed to bring value to the developers it hoped to attract to this platform, and I think it succeeded. The IBM Cloud Marketplace connects developers with more than 500 IBM and Partner services to quickly integrate into cloud platform development. Taking a quick look through this section, I’ve found some highlights:

  • IBM Mobile Web Push. Quickly triggers targeted notifications on mobile websites.
  • IBM Customer Experience on Cloud. This feature allows developers to provide a consistent, compelling and relevant experience to users of many different verticals across all platforms, everywhere. Whew, that was a mouthful! But seriously, developers understand the challenges in providing a platform-independent experience with complete continuity and without sacrificing user friendliness.
  • IBM Cloud Managed Services for SAP Applications. Enterprise developers and architects will appreciate this set of cloud-managed services which will reduce the amount of time necessary and platform specific costs associated with deploying a similar in-house cloud platform.

IBM MobileFirst

The IBM Mobile First Platform is one that I’m especially excited about. The MobileFirst Platform is a suite of products that allow developers to quickly develop, test and deploy mobile apps across a wide variety of mobile platforms. MobileFirst helps to reduce multi-platform development headaches, while providing an environment that can assure consistency of experience and robust QA testing tools. Much like the products mentioned previously, this platform follows a “freemium model” in that it’s free to try, but licenses must be purchased to deploy into production.

It’s all about analytics

I had the opportunity to try IBM Social Media Analytics, which wasn’t at all what I expected.  Typical social media analytics tools are focused on social statistics like follower metrics, total reach calculations and content performance, but this product is something very different. IBM Social Media Analytics is what I would consider an enterprise-grade product that allows social media analysts to dive deep into the social sentiment surrounding their own brands, as well as competitors. The tools provided here are robust, and are of the level that businesses and brands can feel confident in using this data to support major business decisions.

Watson Analytics continues to be refined as a class-leading smart analysis tool. The big announcement at InterConnect was that this product will soon be connected to Twitter to allow for data analysis in combination with a real-time social data feed.

Cloud and data security

Cloud and data security were very important topics at InterConnect. The idea of moving any form of business operations to the cloud may absolutely terrify some business stakeholders, which is understandable. Even hybrid cloud systems are somewhat open to public penetration, and a certain level of respect must be given to the determination of those who would attempt to bypass your safeguards.

But while you may respect these tenacious individuals, you shouldn’t give them the keys to your servers! Enter IBM Cloud Security. IBM Cloud Security is a portfolio of products and services whose sole mission is to prevent unauthorized and malicious access of your private cloud and data systems. An overarching theme at InterConnect was trust—trust that the platforms will help you to build and scale, trust that the tools will help you to measure and pivot and now trust that your systems and data will be safe and secure. Without trust, what’s the point of deploying cloud accessible services that are mission critical to your company’s bottom line?

IBM is startup-friendly

Over the week of InterConnect, I came to appreciate just how startup-friendly IBM has become.  From agile cloud services, “freemium” and tiered pricing of next generation products and  services and robust mobile offerings, IBM is providing the tools for the next bootstrapped business to develop industry-disrupting technologies and to quickly deploy and scale them cost-efficiently. If this weren’t enough, IBM launched the Global Entrepreneur Program for Cloud Startups. While this program isn’t brand new, I am impressed by IBM’s continued dedication to providing leadership and guidance to the next generation of potentially game-changing technologies.

So that’s what “InterConnect” means

At a glance, InterConnect was a tremendous way to get 21,000 people together to make a variety of product announcements and updates—that’s what large tech conferences typically are, right? Well, this was different. Attending InterConnect, it was easy to get a sense that IBM wasn’t just selling products from a portfolio, but rather telling us a compelling story about how it fits and how it is relevant in the ever-changing world of mobile and cloud technology. IBM is developing an ecosystem of “interconnected” tools (see what I did there?) which help to support a vision that cloud doesn’t need to be a headache, and that you don’t need to build patchwork architectures based on unrelated tools from a multitude of various developers. This interconnected vision is tied together by the BlueMix platform, made accessible by the “freemium” pricing model, made desirable by next generation technologies such as Watson and supported by a robust cloud marketplace. These platforms may be readily built to scale to not only support vast amounts of usage and traffic, but also the smallest screens on the most portable mobile devices. IBM has a “future-proof” vision, and they just announced it in a big way.

In the past, whenever I needed to spin up a cloud server cluster, the thought of using an IBM service never crossed my mind. Today, it wouldn’t be easy to convince me to do otherwise.