IBM adept at transformation amidst market changes: APAC CEO

Having experienced several significant market changes, IBM is adept at transformation and will continue to do so by focusing on "strategic imperatives", says its first female Asia-Pacific chief Harriet Green.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Having gone through several significant market changes, IBM is adept at transformation and will continue to do so by pushing through its investment in key technology areas such as blockchain and quantum computing.

"This is a company that knows how to transform [where] many companies do not survive [changes]," said Big Blue's Asia-Pacific chairman and CEO, Harriet Green, who pointed to the company's ability to evolve amidst economic uncertainties. Naysayers, for instance, had said mainframes were losing relevance as businesses moved to the cloud and servers gained higher compute power.

However, these systems still were a mainstay today especially amongst banks, with IBM continuing to release new offerings in the product category, Green said in an interview with ZDNet. She noted that the tech vendor had just announced its z14 series, touted as mainframes for cloud data centres and capable of handling 12 billion data incidents a day.

The Asia-Pacific CEO was responding to questions about 106-year-old IBM's future amidst declining revenues and competition against comparatively younger players, such as Google and Amazon.

For the first time in 22 consecutive quarters, IBM in January reported a year-on-year revenue growth of 3.6 percent. However, its annual numbers dipped 1 percent, marking the company's sixth consecutive year of revenue decline to US$79.14 billion.

According to Green, IBM was "one of few tech companies" with over 100 years in history that had been through "extraordinary transformation". She noted that Dell had to exit the stock market because it was unable to access capital and Hewlett-Packard, too, had its challenges.

The IBM executive said the company had been driving its transformation with investments in "strategic imperatives", specifically, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud, quantum computing, and blockchain. Together, these represented 46 percent of the vendor's revenue, she said, noting that some of the investment went back decades. For instance, IBM had been investing in AI for more than five decades and quantum for 20 years.

Pointing to her team in Asia-Pacific, she said the region would help spearhead the company's transformation by identifying customers in each of those technology areas and providing the relevant skills.

Green took on the regional CEO hat only in January, becoming the first female to be appointed to the role, which was responsible for IBM's business in 14 Asia-Pacific markets including Asean, India, and Australia.

Asked about her priorities for the region, she stressed the need to help small and midsize as well as large businesses tap those emerging technologies, such as Internet of Things and blockchain, to create new products and services.

She also was focused on supporting incumbent companies to be more effective in the era of digitisation and use their data to gain deeper business insights.

Green said: "The next big development is, now with all of this data being created [and] much of it which has value, the use of cognitive and Watson to to process data in real-time and at great speed, and communicate that back to businesses in natural language.

"Whether that's pollution management or traffic management or water management. The central theme is cognitive application...taking all of the sensors and data, and making sense of it in real-time to improve lives," she said.

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