Bob Lord expects to put himself out of a job. The first chief digital officer of IBM Corp. believes that if CTOs and CMOs embrace data “there would be no need for me” — and he expects that will happen eventually. Lord, formerly president of AOL, joined IBM in 2016, charged with transforming the old-school IBM into a more open architecture and a more agile and modern company.
IBM’s Watson technology gives Lord a powerful tool to lure the developer community. Among the recent developments was the launch of BlueMix, a cloud platform that brings together more than 30 IBM cognitive APIs that developers can use and buy over time, as they need them.
Lord spoke to Velocitize about the importance of not marketing to developers, quantum computing, and the 14-year-old coders.
Velocitize: Does IBM still need to focus on digital transformation? Hasn’t it moved that ball forward enough?
Lord: It is an interesting pivot point we’re in right now. The first year I was here, it was a lot about proof of concept and getting pilots done and testing — showing the organization what we could do differently and how we could get to our clients differently. Now we’re at the point where it’s all about execution and scaling.
Now the question is: how do you scale the marketplace to the next level? How do you get to the larger developer communities, and in general, how do you measure customer satisfaction around the things that you’ve been doing? A lot of the work I’m focused on now is around measurement and getting the measurement system incorporated into the flow of management processes.
The question is no longer: Are we going to become a digital company through the marketplace and get into the developer ecosystem? The question is: How do we scale it fast?
Velocitize: In an interview you said you “can’t market to developers.” What does that mean?
Lord: Developers notoriously hate the idea of being marketed to, so it’s very different, marketing to a developer. I have what I call a five-minute rule: if a developer can’t get to our site or come to our tools and provision something in five minutes, they have the freedom and the choice to go somewhere else. It’s the same as if you’re buying something at Amazon versus eBay.
You have to be more on a “show” mode than a “tell” mode with the developer ecosystem. We’ve dedicated a number of cities around the globe where we have city activation teams showing developers how to use our code. They’re inviting them to hackathons, beer events, whatever it may be. In those events, they’re not talking to them with a PowerPoint, they’re showing them how the tools work.
Velocitize: Why that departure for IBM, which always protected its intellectual property?
Lord: The root of IBM has always been open source, whether you think about Linux or us contributing to the open source community. But on top of that has always been proprietary technology. There’s no change in our philosophy around that, but developers are now making about 42 percent of decisions around which IT services you use. We have to expose the developers to our service to become familiar with it, and then they will embrace it. You can’t always ask people to buy something unseen.
Velocitize: You’ve spoken and written before about the need for “cognitive developers” in marketing. Why are they needed?
Lord: I feel technology is giving marketing a new palette to express itself on that it’s never been able to do before. With cognitive technology, you are able to garner better insights about that particular product or customer or group of customers. That allows you to have a really valuable exchange with your consumer, better than you could before.
It used to cost a lot of money to build those kinds of technologies because you had to go to the core bottom of the machine learning bits and bytes. But now, with these APIs, you can pull together a set of APIs that allows you to have those kinds of experiences. I think the marketing world, and specifically the media world, is just learning about the power of cognitive developers and cognitive insights.
Velocitize: Do you see oversight of technology eventually moving into other departments?
Lord: There’s been a lot of talk about how the CMO and the CTO come together in one role. I firmly believe that point of view. I believe as a marketer, you are not going to be able to do your job unless you have a foundation in technology and in data. The marketer and the CTO are only going to be successful in the future if they’re able to talk at least at a 30,000-foot level about those different aspects of data, technology and marketing.
Now you have CMOs who are working with technology and who embraced data and cognitive (technology) and something like Watson and see how the technology strategy is the same thing as the business strategy. You can’t do marketing without having all those things together.
The ironic thing is when kids are in school, these kids are taking interdisciplinary courses. When they come into a corporation, we stick them in a department and say: “No, you don’t think about IT anymore, you only think about marketing.” These kids know HTML-5; they know how to code. They just happen to have an interest in marketing.
We can’t stop this from happening; I think that’s the exciting thing. We have 14-year-old kids that are using our BlueMix platform and pulling the Watson API. It’s remarkable. That is the new builder; that is the new architect of how new businesses will be built.
Velocitize: Is there another disruptive technology in the horizon after Watson?
Lord: The technology of blockchain is a phenomenal technology. It’s going to legitimize the Bitcoin world for any transaction, whether it’s in banking or in shipping, and eliminate any unneeded paperwork to get transactions done in the world. Blockchain is going to be a home run to secure transactions digitally.
The other thing is IBM has invested in is quantum computing. We opened up the quantum computing area to developers to explore how you can use quantum computing on another level. We don’t even know how to code on it specifically yet and what the power of it is, but again that will bring in a whole computing power world to solve problems in a parallel processing standpoint than we have been able to do today.