Highlights of IBM Think 2019

IBM Think 2019 Campus

As noted in a previous post, I attended IBM’s Think 2019 conference in San Francisco earlier this month. For four days I listened to all types of presenters, met with IBM and partner representatives, talked to people in all kinds of industries, and finally met in person a fintech-verse friend I have known for many years, Spiros Margaris.

Spiros Margaris and me

It wasn’t all positive. The weather wasn’t great, with lots and lots of rain. Also, I’ve been nursing a sprained ankle, which made the endless walking through Moscone Center and nearby areas a real pain. I can’t fault IBM for either of those.

IBM knows how to throw a party, regardless. The amount of coordination was terrific. The opportunities for networking were ample. The topics discussed varied from arcane technology topics to discussions about general innovation. There were opportunities to hear from celebrities like Joe Montana, Tony Hawk, and Rodney Mullen. Also, during the Chairman’s Address we heard from IBM’s President and Chairman, Ginni Rometty, Hyundai Card CEO, Ted Chung, and Geico CIO, Greg Kalinsky.

The hot topics that I heard during these four days were: AI, Cloud, Diversity, and Innovation. Other topics that I sought were Cybersecurity, and APIs (Open Banking).

Artificial Intelligence

On the topic of AI, IBM Watson and its capabilities were front and center. During the conference, IBM announced IBM Watson Anywhere. IBM described it as making “Watson portable across any cloud and empowered businesses to prevent vendor lock-in and start deploying AI wherever their data resides.” There was quite a buzz about that announcement. You can read about the announcement here.

AI Ladder

My simple takeaways from the several discussions on AI were:

  • “There is no AI without IA (information architecture).” This quote from Rob Thomas, GM for IBM Data and AI was the viral quote of the conference.
  • Chris Brasher, Head of Banking Ops at Regions Bank talked about using Watson not just to drive more self-service but also to help bank staff assist customers better and quicker. The ROI for Watson deployment was built around a 27 second decrease in on-hold time at the call center. It paid for itself within the first year.
  • Hyundai Card CEO, Ted Chung noted “No one gives you an AI solution out of the box. It must be built to serve the business.”


Like AI, IBM had an announcement about their new hybrid cloud offering “to help businesses migrate, integrate and manage applications and workloads seamlessly and with security across any public or private cloud and on-premises IT environment.” As expected, the announcement generated quite a buzz.

Highlights from cloud discussions included:

  • Industry is having difficulty moving to cloud fast enough. The methodology is now lift, shift, and transform to ease the move.
  • Hideki Shibata, Head of IT at Fuji Film spoke about their cloud journey. The drivers of their move consisted of predictability, security, and speed. A public cloud wasn’t a good solution due to security concerns. They have chosen a hybrid cloud. Their approach has been 4 times cheaper and 10 times faster than prior to migrating.
  • Jaqui Visch Director of Cloud Services at Westpac also spoke about their journey to cloud. They began with the question “how do we offer exceptional digital services to Westpac customers?” Their lessons learned:
    • Understand the ecosystem first.
    • Define applications needed, how they connect and where do we want them.
    • It’s all about the upfront planning and being able to shift as you execute.

During the conference Harley-Davidson also announced their partnership with IBM to combine cloud, IoT and AI technologies to “reimagine the everyday riding experience. The new experiences will arrive courtesy of the iconic American motorcycle manufacturer’s first electric motorcycle, LiveWire™, and will transform the motorcycle industry over the coming decade.”


I was able to join a couple of cybersecurity discussions. The first one was with Twistlock who talked about how they are integrating with IBM Cloud Security Advisor, specifically “alerts pertaining threats to the IBM Cloud Kubernetes.”

The second was with my old friends at IBM Trusteer. I’ve known Trusteer since before their IBM days. I was glad to see that they have extended their excellent browser session protection to mobile devices. Admittedly, I’ve been away from directly managing digital banking and haven’t kept up with IBM Trusteer. They pointed out that 32% of customer say mobile banking is the most important deciding factor when switching banks but security is the main inhibitor to adoption. Per Javelin Research, 50% of customers don’t believe mobile is secure. There were similar concerns about browser online banking. 37% of respondents don’t believe online banking is secure. IBM Trusteer expects to see mobile security concerns to follow a similar path, driving up mobile banking adoption.

Open Banking/APIs

A banking specific area that I wanted to hear about was Open Banking and API management. I attended sessions with Max Life Insurance, Lloyds Bank, and Gazprombank.

Pankaj Gupta, Head of Enterprise Architecture at India’s Max Life Insurance covered their three year API journey. It began as APIs as integration, moved to APIs as products, and will be complete with APIs as a platform.

The Lloyds Bank session featured Mark Cornforth, Lead API Integrations Architect. He indicated that Lloyds is the only major UK bank to be compliant with the Open Banking industry deadline. Mark walked through their approach in making the bank API-enabled. Their target IT architecture will include:

  • API Platform multi-cloud enabled
  • API connect v2018 configured on cloud leveraging auto-scaling and self-healing
  • API Marketplace delivered for seamless customer experience
  • API Test Facility cloud hosted allowing early prototyping with API Consumers

Another session featured Dmitry Bulychkov, Deputy Chief of IT Innovation at Gazprombank. Dmitry talked about their approach towards Open Banking. As Russian banks don’t have a mandate for Open Banking yet, their main driver was improving operations. Their challenges included:

  • More than 200 backend systems
  • Peer-to-peer and host-to-host integrations
  • Different protocols
  • Different SLAs
  • Lack of unified processes
  • Security concerns

They chose to implement IBM API Connect simply because they have a full IBM stack. They found the platform to be flexible and very quick to market. They were able to launch the platform within 6 months and have begun their environment cleanup.


One of my favorite sessions was the Future of Infrastructure hosted by IBM’s Tom Rosamilia with Cloudera’s Machine Learning GM Hilary Mason, Forbes Publisher and Futurist, Richard Karlgaard, and Founder and CEO of Senzing, Jeff Jonas. You can replay this session here

Tom began the session by covering the 5 areas he believes are the future of infrastructure:

  • AI becoming more transparent,
  • Hybrid Cloud takes center stage,
  • Blockchain supporting everyday experiences,
  • Regulations increasing to protect citizens, and
  • Quantum computing goes mainstream.

The discussion that followed was wide-ranging in these topics. Some of my highlights were: Hilary Mason speaking at length about the past, present and future of AI. She talked about how AI problems across very different use cases have identical mathematics and have been solved by the same approach. She gave the example of tax auditing and dating apps sharing the same solution. She spoke of a very near future when unstructured data will be used for machine learning and AI.

Jeff Jonas talking about privacy said “a surveillance society is inevitable, irreversible, but the more interesting thing is that it is irresistible…” He described how he was “uploaded himself into the cloud.”

Richard Karlgaard talked about the diversity of team makeups, as he covers in his upcoming book, “The Late Bloomers.” He also noted that Google found a weak correlation between math scores and the “elite-ness” of a school and how well someone performed at Google.

Another great innovation session was IBM Research’s annual “5 in 5.” The session featured 5 researches speaking about their work. I encourage you to watch it here.

Juliet Mutahi, Software Engineer, spoke about using Watson, IoT, and blockchain for agriculture planning. Sriram Raghavan, CTO IBM India, covered the use of the same three technologies for food supply chain tracking. Gerard Dubois, DGM Science to Solutions, spoke about using big data analytics to ensure food safety. Donna Dillenberger, IBM Fellow from Enterprise Solutions, described the use of an optical device attached to a mobile phone, the IBM Verifier, coupled with AI software to improve food safety. Jeannette M. Garcia, Global Lead for Quantum Applications, described how PED can be truly recyclable at scale in the next five years.

IBM Q – Quantum Computer

On the topic of Quantum Computing, I attended a session with Katie Pizzolato, Director of IBMQstart. Right off the bat, Katie warned that when talking quantum computers, it’s easier to talk about what they won’t be doing. They won’t replace traditional computers. They’ll be used for new computational challenges. A summary of her comments can be seen on this YouTube video:

Quantum Computing

I missed a great session on Blockchain but was able to catch a replay here. It featured Mary Wieck, GM of IBM Blockchain, Robert Mancone, COO of we.trade, Natalie Dyenson , VP of Food Safety and Quality at Dole Food, and Karen Oldfield, CEO of Halifax Port Authority.

IBM Blockchain Session

Natalie Dyenson covered the use of blockchain for traceability of the food supply. Karen Oldfield discussed their vision of being the most connected port in North America. This vision includes digitizing processes, sharing data, and more importantly tracking cargo through the process not just within the the port but from origination to delivery using blockchain. Roberto Mancone talked about the formation of we.trade and how they are using blockchain to help banks and businesses to trade internationally more efficiently and cost-effectively.


One area that Ginni Rometty spoke about during her opening remarks was IBM’s #BeEqual effort. Having been in corporate America for three decades, I took those comments with a big grain of salt. I’ve heard many organizations talk about diversity and meritocracy, yet it usually is a hope at best or PR at worst.

IBM Q Panel

After spending four days with IBMers, I believe that IBM is truly making moves here. I was blown away by the great number of women, and people of color presenting and in leadership positions. While in total there were more men than women in some of the panels I attended, there were several with equal gender representation or even more women than men. I’m used to panel after panel with nothing but men. It was a welcome and hopeful change.


Nerding Out in front of think sign

During the waning hours of IBM Think, the rain stopped and the sun shone over the Moscone Center. Many people, including myself, took the opportunity to take pictures in front of the “think” sign on Howard Street. It was a great four days. While technology continues to change the world we live in, there were various signs that industry, and IBM in particular, will bring positive impacts to our world. I’m already looking forward to IBM Think 2020.