After 10 weeks in his new position steering IBM Australia, Andrew Stevens sat down with ZDNet Australia to talk about how he's pushing the company into new industries and locations as well as the possibility of Australia getting its own Watson-style supercomputer.
Andrew Stevens (Credit: IBM Australia)
Stevens inherited the IBM top job from Glen Boreham in early January after Boreham decided to spend more time on personal pursuits. Boreham was most recently appointed to steer the Federal Government's convergence review.
Stevens joined IBM in 2002 as a result of the company's merger with PricewaterhouseCoopers' consulting arm. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in accounting, finance and systems and commerce marketing, and loves technology.
A big focus for Steven's IBM will be catching the resources wave, according to the executive.
"Of our priorities, natural resources and supporting the natural resources industry is a significant one," he said, adding that Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia are all states that IBM is looking to expand in.
"There's about $380 billion of investment that will go into natural resources, oil and gas over the next five years and Queensland, WA and SA are the three really big [states]. I would see, over time, more [IBM] people in those locations," Stevens added.
Natural resources heavyweights warned Stevens during recent meetings that if IBM wanted to play in the resources boom, it would need to bring its own staff to add to the skills base in big mining states.
"Skills generally, like in WA, are really important. Big mining companies and oil and gas I've spoken to are keen for us to add to the skill base in Western Australia. Their words are 'don't come here and just hire our people and add to the already tight market, come here and net add [people]'," Stevens said, adding that the company is likely to increase its headcount over the next 12 months, but not necessarily increase its office footprint.
"Whether or not we open more offices isn't the point — we will be having more people working in and around [non-traditional] sorts of locations of all types."
According to Stevens, IBM Australia is now importing talent into mining regions, bringing the best and brightest from other regions into states like Western Australia.
"[Resources] industries are really expecting a lot from us and from other companies to help them achieve what they need to. $380 billion [of investment] over five years is about the same as what will be invested in the Middle East with oil and gas, so it's not trivial.
"To do that with a population base of 21 million as a country, that's a big ask, so they're going to need a lot of help," he said.
IBM recently demonstrated its latest and arguably greatest supercomputer, Watson, which trounced the two best players of quiz show Jeopardy! in a series of matches. According to Stevens, everyone now has a Watson-style supercomputer on their Christmas wish list.
"A number of clients have said that [Watson] could be very useful for them because they deal in a very text-based, rule-based, decision-making mode and I think health analytics is going to be one, as you'll need to look through unstructured text to find things," Stevens said.
When asked if a Son of Watson would make it to Australia, however, Stevens indicated that it is less than likely, and that IBM Australia is instead researching ways to push technology beyond the Watson supercomputer for use in Australia.
"I don't think we'll bring Son of Watson just so that we can say we've got one. The next level is to look at it, test it and try it to look at applications for it so we can say 'how can we use this technology?'" Stevens said.
"Our director of research, Dr John Kelly said 'I can guarantee you that your mobile in 10 years will have Watson power'. And that's what we're researching right now.
"The challenge is to get that sort of storage and that sort of power into something that'll work … and that's an exciting prospect," he said.
"Has there been a better time to be in our industry? I certainly don't think so," he said.