IBM’s new CEO sees gold in data mining

Bob Moon Dec 30, 2011

Jeremy Hobson: If you scan the list of chief executive officers at America’s biggest companies, you won’t find many women. The latest Fortune 500 list includes just 16 female CEOs.

But on Sunday, that number will go up when longtime IBM exec Virginia Rometty becomes CEO of the world’s second-largest publicly traded technology company. So what’s the word on the new CEO’s vision for IBM?

Here’s our senior business correspondent Bob Moon.

Bob Moon: If Virginia Rometty had just one word for you about the next big thing, it might sound a bit reminiscent of that famous scene from “The Graduate.”

“The Graduate” clip: Just one word. Yes, sir? Are you listening? Yes I am. Plastics.

That is so 1960s. Just ask IBM’s incoming chief what she’s focusing on. Are you listening?

Virginia Rometty: Analytics.

Yep. Virginia Rometty sees a bright future for her company in… analytics. I know, I had no idea what that is, either. So I got Forrester Research analyst Bobby Cameron on the line to help explain it.

Bobby Cameron: The amount of information, the amount of data we have, is exploding continuously, and people are learning how to turn that data into information that they can take action on.

The new IBM chief is staking the company’s future on doing just that — developing ways to mine all that data, and put it to productive use. She spoke like an evangelist at a recent conference, about a panel discussion on this new way of doing business.

Rometty: What these future leaders talked about was, could you build a culture of analytics in a company. And that doesn’t mean reports and reporting — they meant, no, change the very fiber of what it is that you do. Let it permeate everything that you do.

Rometty has been pushing that goal as a company vice president. She was a big supporter of IBM’s TV game-show stunt on “Jeopardy” this year, that helped demonstrate the power of data mining.

“Jeopardy” clip: Ladies and gentleman, this is Watson!

Turns out, that was more than just a stunt. IBM has already sold Watson’s technology to health care provider WellPoint, to help doctors diagnose patients. Tech analyst Rob Enderle says it’s a natural extension to IBM’s focus on providing “solutions” to the business world.

Rob Enderle: Heavy on services, heavy on software, and then wrapping the hardware underneath, to fix real-world problems.

Transportation systems could predict traffic jams, and water systems are being developed to instantly pinpoint costly leaks. For IBM’s new CEO, those kinds of integrated systems are the future.

Rometty: What does it mean to be “systems thinkers?” Our generation, that’s an expectation. And that will be a requirement to build the systems that will govern this world.

Forrester’s Bobby Cameron points out the new IBM chief has her own critical systems to worry about.

Cameron: It’s a huge corporation. And to try to move that huge body as if it were an integrated whole, and yet let all the individual parts be as creative as they’ve historically been, that’s one heck of a challenge.

In Los Angeles, I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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