Where and how do I start my digital business journey?

Digital business: Where and how do I start my journey?


“The world has become so interconnected, with trillions of sensors and smart devices communicating with each other and us, generating a proliferation of data, which I think is equivalent to the new gold rush” —Mark Simmonds (IT architect and Senior marketing professional in IBM z)

Welcome to the IBM Big Data and Analytics Technical Marketing Podcast series. In this podcast, we will talking about the digital business journey, with our guests Mark Simmonds (IT architect and Senior marketing professional in IBM z) and Jonathan Sloan (Senior Certified Executive Software IT Specialist).


Mark Simmonds is an IT architect and Senior marketing professional in IBM z Systems with 20 years IBM service. He is a thought leader in big data, analytics, mobile and information governance in the Analytics Platform Division. As a Lead IT architect he led many corporate technical architecture and infrastructure design projects for large financial institutions.  Mark has also written many papers for technical and business publications and journals on his areas of expertise and is also a professional member of the British Computer Society.  In what little spare time he has Mark enjoys his passion of  competitive archery, is an ambassador for "Imagine no Malaria" and supports many other charities.


Jonathan Sloan is a Senior Certified Executive Software IT Specialist, with more than two decades of business intelligence experience with multi-dimensional and relational database systems. He has a bachelor's of science degree in business management and finance from the City University of New York and a masters degree in Business Administration from Rutgers University.  He joined IBM in 2000 and specializes in helping customers understand the application of IBM Information Management technology to business problems. Jonathan has experience in the health care, financial services and consumer packaged goods industries. He is currently the business intelligence subject matter expert and team lead for data warehousing on System z.

Host :

As IBM's big data evangelist, James Kobielus is IBM Senior Program Director, Product Marketing, Big Data Analytics solutions. He is an industry veteran, a popular speaker and social media participant and a thought leader in big data, Hadoop, enterprise data warehousing, advanced analytics, business intelligence, data management and next best action technologies.



In lay terms, what is digital business? It is an approach that leverages big data analytics, benefits from interactions among people and technological enablers to intertwine the physical and digital worlds in all front-end and back-end business processes.

What does digital business really mean for organizations? Business becomes predictive, and new business models are created daily to address opportunities that may last only seconds. The company becomes almost organic, with an enterprise nervous system that senses, understands and adapts to local events as well as worldwide ones—minimizing risks and costs while maximizing opportunities for growth.

What are the benefits of being a digital business for various industries?

  • In all industries
    You gain immediate insight into every customer, as well as a record of every interaction with each device a person has touched, along with the individual's emotional state, sentiment and satisfaction levels. These involve a calculated propensity to buy, plus recommended and prioritized lists for each individual’s “next best actions.” Real-time restocking and manufacturing requests seamlessly integrate with organizational goals.
  • Retail
    Imagine walking through a shopping mall whose advertisements adapt in real time, using retina recognition to correctly identify you and personalize themselves to your predicted desires. You enter the store and are guided to the area where your goods are on display with recommended accessories on special offer. When you decide to purchase them, no credit card is required; you simply confirm with your fingerprint and the amount is transacted in your bank account, your purchases delivered before you get home. When you shop online, your merchandise is produced through your in-home mini-manufacturing device (think of 3D printing on steroids). No delivery charges—no waiting times.
  • Public sector
    Government agencies interact with each other by predicting and acting on what is best for citizens, towns, cities and states using the ability to deliver services on demand to meet their civic obligations—again, in real time. They also acquire capabilities for detecting and preventing social unrest, along with compiling threat profiles on individuals.
  • Healthcare
    Healthcare is built around autonomics and instantaneous continual screening enabled by wearable sensors and chemical analysis of the body and mind. Medications are released accurately and on time, preventing confusion about which drugs to take and when to take them; the prescribed amounts are released into the body through wearable accessories. Our bodies might be enhanced by embedded devices that identify and avoid mild-to-serious illnesses to help extend lifetimes and promote more active lifestyles by taking corrective and preventative actions.

What fundamentally must change at the IT level to build a digital business? An organization’s IT infrastructure needs to be real-time, secure and always on, unaffected by the unexpected while being accurate, autonomic and unceasing. In the world of the digital business, everything (devices and resources) and everyone is integrated. Systems are intelligent, dynamic, adaptive and secure. Moreover, they’re also self-configuring, self-aware, self-discovering and self-healing. And all this is true of everything from data stores and data warehouses to analytics, models, algorithms, processes and applications.

At heart, digital business needs to pervade every last element of your strategy, operations, big data, and IT strategies. It's transformative on every level, and your technical approach needs to be the accelerator for that transformation.

Download the on demand webcast "Becoming an Enterprise Digital business - A perspective from featured Gartner analyst Donald Feinberg" today. 


We've heard a lot about "The Digital Business".  Can you define it for us in layman's terms us what it really means for organizations?

Sure.  To the person in the street I would describe it as a digitally interconnected business.  This might not sound that exciting because  we’ve had things like e-commerce and e-business for a long time.  But what’s different this time though is so many of the things we do in our daily lives now involve technology. The world has become so interconnected with trillions of sensors and smart devices communicating with each other and us - generating a proliferation of data  - data that previously just didn’t exist. And then social media for example really has revolutionized how organizations view the populous – as we pour out our joys, concerns, anger, frustration, emotional and mental state about the world around us and how we feel.  You know – as I speak I’m thinking it’s the equivalent of a new gold rush – but this time prospectors are sifting through data to find new insights, new opportunities, the ability to look more holistically at situations.  I have always said that the more information we have on a particular situation, issue, a person, or product or organization the smarter the decisions we will be able to make – because we are able get closer to the truth.  So to me, it’s all about the data - and being able to make smarter decisions for better business outcomes – whether you express those in term lower costs, lower risks or opportunities for growth.   Just look at the impact of the smart phone that we seem to have all become enslaved to.   It’s always on, we check it 100s of times a day, we are always connected to the world through it where ever we go,  24 by 7.  Businesses leverage this always channel and are able to market and sell to us as individual enterprises – building ever deeper digital personal relationships.   So for businesses and organizations they are able to better understand our needs, analyze what we have done, what we have said or communicated,  how we feel  - so much so that they can predict and influence our next move. It represents a huge opportunity for growth, creating new business models to capitalize on opportunities that may only last seconds.

So tell me more about the benefits you see of being a digital business for say banking, insurance, telco, retail and government.

I think the benefits are very clear for banks and insurance Let me briefly touch on these two industries then I want to give you a personal experience in retail.  OK. so banks and insurance companies…. Many of us have online and mobile banking.  I can’t remember the last time I physically visited a bank.  I get a check in the post I take a photo of it and upload it into my account – done. All my banking is done online. No matter where I am I can get access to money not just through ATMs but when I’m shopping in a supermarket I can draw money from my account -  any where in the world. Many businesses now don’t even need a credit card to buy things – you can carry your digital wallet on you smart phone and pay using that.  One of the main costs for insurance companies for example is handling claims from sending out an assessor to take photos or an incident , through to keeping the claimant updated and settling the claim. But as a digital business they allow customers to initiate a claim, digitally uploading photos and video of damage to property.  They can keep customers informed as of the current state of their claim and as it progresses to completion.  This can dramatically help lower the costs of the claims process.   Now both these industries use a lot of information in addition to the transactional data they keep  - such as social media and emails etc. and they use this to get closer to understanding our personal needs and wants and will cross-sell and up-sell services to us. They can also detect whether we are thinking about defecting and making us offers to stay loyal to them  - so as I said earlier it has become very personalized.  Of course while there are huge opportunities for growth and developing new dynamic - almost disposable - business models, there are challenges in terms of detecting and preventing fraud as part of the digital business paradigm. But that’s just part of the package – and always will be. …………….. But let me relay to you one experience that happened to me about 9 months ago,   I had been looking for a new router for the house.  And I had been heavily researching which one to get  based on highest speeds, the latest protocols, greatest reach, support for multi-media servers, automatic fail over to a second line and more.  And after about 2 months I had narrowed it down to two routers and had found the best price and was going to purchase one of them through an online retailer like Amazon.  Anyway, about  a week after I had found the ultimate router that met my needs I visited a local electronics retail store to buy a micro SD card for my GPS and within 2 minutes of being in the store my phone beeps. So I look down and there is a coupon on my screen from the retailer offering 20% off THE TWO ROUTERS I had been considering.  So I’m thinking how did they know that ?  How did they figure out I had been looking at these two routers?  And the timing was perfect.  So I grabbed one of the sales associates, showed him the coupon and he directed me to the aisle where the routers were.  So now I could physically pick up the boxes, open them, physically touch and smell the routers… yeah I know really exciting right ?  And with 20% off there was hardly any difference in price – and I was in the store and I could physically walk away with the router today!

So think about what had just happened.  My internet searches and research on routers had generated a lot of information and cookies some of which had been identified by the retailer possible from social media sites – you know -  when you go on Facebook for example and you see items pop up that you have just been looking at one line?  My smart phone was transmitting my geo location.   The store knew I was physically in their building.  They knew they had a short period of time - say 20 minutes -  to analyze me, my data and my propensity to buy products based on recent internet research.  They influenced me into buying a router right then – even though I had convinced myself to purchase it on-line from another vendor.  So the store’s analytics had to happen closer and closer to real time to seize an opportunity that would only last a few minutes. Remember - the only reason I went into the store was to buy a micro SD card but I came out with the router I had been looking for.  …… And yes I did buy the micro SD card.

What fundamentally has to / need to  change at the IT level?

That’s a great question.  What I see – but I am going to let Jonathan take the lead on this and go to a deeper level – is that your IT infrastructure has to become more like an “enterprise nervous system”.  And by that I mean sensing, detecting, responding, acting faster, smarter, more proactively than ever before. Analytics needs to be embedded in every transaction. Everything is moving closer and closer to real time.  Take the example I mentioned earlier of my experience in the electronics retailer.  Without the ability to analyze data, match my needs to what was in their physical inventory in a particular store and focus in on my propensity to buy they would have lost the sale.  Organizations are really crying out for  hybrid IT systems that can not only handle the growing volumes, velocities of transactions and the huge varieties of data but also perform complex analytics – descriptive, prescriptive, predictive, investigative, cognitive analytics - while minimizing latency and providing the highest levels of security and threat protection.

Where can customers go to find out more on this intriguing subject?

Well the easy answer, right now I think is to register for the upcoming Gartner and IBM webcast “Becoming an Enterprise Digital Business – featuring Gartner Analyst Donald Feinberg.  And that’s happening July 28 at 11:00am Eastern.