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IBM's Global Technology Outlook

Editor's Note: Dr. William R. LaFontaine will be a speaker at the 2012 Fusion CEO-CIO Symposium on March 8, 2012. Dr. LaFontaine's keynote is "Global Business Strategic Outlook".


IBM’s Global Technology Outlook (GTO), which has been developed annually for 25 years under the leadership of IBM Research, provides a comprehensive overview of advances in technology, how new technologies can be applied in the marketplace, and how they are expected to change and create new industries and businesses.

At Fusion CEO-CIO Symposium on March 8th, Dr. William R. LaFontaine, vice president for technical strategy and worldwide operations, research, will present the Outlook and explain its findings. Fusion is produced by WTN Media.

IBM says that “the Global Technology Outlook examines in great depth the current trajectories of new technologies in the lab and marketplace, concentrating on trends that could be disruptive or the harbingers of change.”

With the Outlook, IBM restricts circulation to company employees and presents the findings to customers, partners and academics in formal presentations. Only a general outlines of the latest Outlook is publicly available but one presentation has appeared on YouTube and it shows a shift in thinking about cloud since 2008.
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In its Global Technology Outlook for 2008, Cloud Computing for business was one of the top items on IBM’s look into the future. Now a leading company researcher sees areas where cloud won’t work, and it’s not because of security.

The problem is big data.

Challenges with cloud computing arise when the large quantities of data are generated in a location far from the analytical engine, according to Dr. C. Mohan, an IBM fellow, in one of the few publicly recorded explanations of the latest GTO. In his presentation on the Outlook in Colombo, Sri Lanka late last year, Mohan said that if the data generation source is totally different from the location of the cloud, it may cost too much to push all that data to the cloud for processing, he said.

“The transmission cost may become the dominant factor even if the CPU cost is cheaper on the cloud,” he said. Mohan also encouraged his audience to check service level agreements with their cloud providers.

“You have to read the fine print on Amazon Web services to see what they will guarantee you, and there is pretty much nothing they will guarantee.”

IBM Research leads development of the GTO which goes to senior executives for approval and then guides the company’s $6 billion annual investment in research and development.

In its overview of the latest Outlook, IBM says:

“We are at a tipping point in which traditional structured business data and unstructured information created by and about people and their social networks can be brought together with analytics in new ways – leading to socially synergistic enterprise systems. These systems will allow businesses to integrate computation with human cognition, and take actions to gain deeper insight into the value of their products and services.”

Many of the points in the Outlook tie in with the social media emphasis in Fusion 2012.

“Discussions about a product on Twitter or Facebook, for example, can lead to new understandings of how a brand is perceived. Analyzing this data can uncover previously known influencers on sales by understanding and tracking topic evolution in response to campaigns, statements, finding root causes, and having advance warning of emerging problems or opportunities.”

Bank of America could have used that sort of intelligence. As Fusion presenter Bruce Richardson noted on his salesforce.com blog, a single recent college grad, Molly Katchpole sparked an immediate consumer revolution against banks looking to impose a monthly surcharge on debit card users. Upset with Bank of America, she launched an on-line petition on change.org that gathered 300,000 signatures in 30 days from every state in the U.S. Her petition was accompanied by angry posts on Facebook and Twitter. A few weeks later, the bank blinked. The new policy was abandoned, writes Richardson, although the bank is now looking at imposing other fees on its customers.

Much of the social media content will be in big data, which IBM defines as 10,000 times larger than a typical enterprise database. Systems such as mobile phone networks can generate 100,000 records per second while Homeland Security can confront 600,000 records per second and make a decision within one to two milliseconds.

“To extract maximum insight from Big Data, businesses must continually integrate the predictive models generated from Deep Analytics with the real-time monitoring and responsiveness of Reactive Analytics.” The company expects a petascale analytics appliance by 2015 capable of applying a Petaflop of computing power over a Petabyte of memory.

A third area of focus in the current Outlook is natural resources transformation and management. Natural resources industries are asset intensive, and IT can improve asset utilization and production. The company expects natural resource firms to manage their IT with operational technology. Echoing a point about companies competing on business models, which Kay Plantes will include in her opening keynote, IBM says that “Natural resource firms are exploring new business models to improve their use of capital, and increase their production and profits....With the enormous size of the asset base in natural resource industries, trillion-dollar impact levels are possible.”

An Internet of Things (IoT in IBM-speak) will require a new foundational end-to-end infrastructure. In addition to their use in smart electrical grids, IoT could be used by a shipping company to improve operational efficiency through advanced planning and scheduling.

Mohan said the Internet now connects about 7 billion components. By 2020, 50 billion will be connected and accessible, including machine-to-machine communications and sensor-to-machine. Among the areas that will use sensors are electricity grids to improve power management and container ports like Singapore and Hong Kong to track the flow of tens of thousands of containers.

On the frontiers of IT, IBM sees a shift in computers from calculating machines to learning systems. Watson, the Jeopardy! winner based on IBM’s DeepQA system is an example -- a milestone in artificial intelligence. An IBM researcher said that when people look back at computer development, they will see Watson as a breakthrough.

Using the computer’s ability to digest and understand, clinicians are feeding Watson hundreds of thousands of pages of medical research to teach it about congestive heart disease in Texas and cancer in California. Physicians expect this will help clinicians make better use of the latest research and, in cancer, assist doctors in moving beyond surgery, radiation and chemotherapy to deploy new genetic approaches to treatment. The computer will track outcomes to improve its recommendations, and it will also offer integrated tracking of billing with clinical records.

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