When IBM announced its 2015 fourth quarter numbers on Jan. 19, the headline was that revenues had declined for the 14th consecutive quarter. It appears that Big Blue is a struggling tech giant with plummeting stock in the midst of a corporate turnaround that investors are finding agonizing.
The big picture is that they are reinventing themselves, and no company can do that like IBM.
If we think back, IBM started as an adding and tabulating machine business. They transitioned into punch card machines, then created the mainframe computing industry. Since then, they’ve dominated the software, computer memory, database and Windows-based PC markets.
They’ve ruled in a changing world by being a leader in innovation, by seeing emerging markets and putting American ingenuity to work. Last year, IBM filed and received U.S. 7,355 patents; it was the 23rd consecutive year they topped the annual list of patent recipients. They’ve also ruled by investing in themselves. Last year they spent over $3 billion to acquire 14 companies, on-boarding new technologies.
CEO Ginni Rometty is adamant that IBM’s future is in big data, analytics, mobile, security and cloud computing. While these more profitable businesses can offset the declining demand for servers and mainframes, the enterprise still needs IBM hardware for high end computing.
And then there’s the emerging cognitive computing revolution. When Rometty introduced the new IBM Cognitive Business Solutions division last October, she introduced the next big thing. Cognitive computing is the next area of innovation for IBM to pursue in big data and analytics.
IBM’s Watson system is already out front in this area. What started as a novelty million-dollar winner on Jeopardy is the broadest platform of cognitive technologies in the industry. It is transforming the healthcare industry with its ability to synthesize data and give medical professionals answers to questions that were previously beyond their grasp. Watson systems will do the same for telecommunications, financial services and government, by bringing new levels of clarity to data science.
Naturally, it will trickle down into our daily lives. Industry analysts predict that by 2018, half of all consumers will interact regularly with services based on cognitive computing.
At this point, we don’t know how intelligent our machines will need to be in the future. But guess who’s going to show us?
With IBM in the lead, the industry will follow.
Patience though. None of IBM’s transformations came easy or overnight. Corporate turnarounds take years, not quarters, especially with big companies. And IBM is big.
The question is, will 2016 be the year they turn the tide? I say yes. What do you think?