There are only a few times in your life when you get that epiphany moment, that time when you think to yourself “I get it, I understand and I don’t know why I didn’t see this before.” I had one of these recently and I want to share it with you all.

Amongst the very busy schedule at IBM’s largest get together in Las Vegas in February, there was an excellent Executive Exchange that I was invited to attend. What is an Executive Exchange? Well some of the CXOs of IBM explain their vision and strategies for the future with an audience of likeminded individuals. So, let me set the scene with a short description of the presenters first.

Linda Bernardi – Chief Innovation Officer, Cloud and IOT

Daniel Sabbah – CTO and GM Next Generation Platform

Jeff Smith – Chief Information Officer

Kevin Eagan – Vice President and GM, Digital Channels

This was an impressive line-up and I was humbled to sit at the very front table from the stage. Now, IBM has had its criticism of late in one way or another, but I have to say that what I listened to over the next two and a half hours was nothing short of that epiphany moment.

Linda was excellent with her introduction to disruptive technologies and innovations that were her vision of the future. Together with Daniel on stage describing, and ultimately leading to, a very profound statement – “by taking risks, this is by far better than not doing anything at all – Execute!” In the context of cloud technology, in my opinion, this is 100% right. We are in a current state of change that continues to evolve rapidly and in an industry where a 14-year old boy can be a multi-millionaire overnight by creating a SaaS application, because he can and not because he doesn’t try. We have everything at our fingertips to promote this change, we just need to be bold and confident that we are part of the change – disruptive and not disrupted, our perception is key.

There are three key points here:

  1. Think the Unthinkable

If disruptive changes are inevitable, it’s crucial to start planning for the post-change future and do whatever is necessary to survive. Cloud is a disruptive technology.

  1. Be Bold, Take Risks

Major changes to business models require considerable experimentation to get it right! We are in unchartered waters with cloud technology and there is not one person on this planet that can tell you exactly what the outcome will be in the next ten years accurately.

  1. Develop Strategy for Survival

Every business can benefit from embracing disruptive innovations – Not just start-ups! Never has there been a better time to use disruptive technology to embrace change. The speed of innovation is absolutely incredible at the moment and by using disruptive innovations is the only way to survive.

Now, I can hear you all say – “what on earth is he talking about”. Well let me try to explain with an analogy that Jeff Smith told far better than I will here based around disruptive thinking.

“Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it is black” – Henry T Ford

Out of the box thinking is not a new concept. Back in the early 1900s, the first automobiles were hand painted and to paint/re-paint the first cars took many weeks. Now to meet the high demand for the model T cars this caused issues with distribution and it was just accepted that this was the case. Cars in the early 1900s were basically motorised carriages using the same painting techniques for horse drawn carriages derived from the oil-based paints.

The painting process was a very complicated and expensive procedure and the drying time took several weeks. On top of this the paints couldn’t stand up to time and would end up turning yellow as there was no binding medium, so every time a colour would fade or yellow, it needed to be repainted. That long, expensive process is what prompted Ford to develop a simple but effective change; he would start using the binding agent cellulose similarly to the way it was used for glazing pottery for painting his cars. The result was miraculous; it didn’t take as long to dry (from 336 hours to 15) which also moved it in line with the assembly line process. There are various rumors that the staff painting them had to be naked to achieve the finish required, what an unusual job that must have been.

So, if this idea had not struck Ford, the automotive industry may well have not taken off as it did and given rise to where we are today, and what a pioneer Henry T Ford was.

Now back to cloud and disruptive technologies. During the afternoon we listened to each of the presenters and their visions of how to survive within this very disruptive industry, each having a profound message and strategy for us to take away and I will list out a few of my favourite quotes from that session.

Jeff Smith “The wider your vision the clearer your focus.”

Kevin Eagan “Cultural Transformation, Customer Experience, Digital Go To Market and Analytics are key to the future of your business.”

Daniel Sabbah “Taking risks is better than not doing anything – Execute.”

Businesses should not fear the future of technology. To sit back and say “I have no need to change” or “I’ll wait for a while and see how technology will shape out and then make a decision” or “the cloud is not secure” is not a smart business decision. By doing nothing in this transformational age of cloud technology you will simply become extinct, and if you have this train of thought you are a dead man walking.

What I took away from the afternoon is much simpler. I came away with the confidence that IBM has the leadership and the right strategies in place to transform and evolve into a truly open, up to the minute giant that has rolled up its sleeves and got to work. Yes, they are undergoing change, but isn’t every cloud technology vendor? This is not IBM as you know them from old, this is an IBM that has a vision, the experience and the right key strategists to spray paint a new colour for cloud tech that will see them through to the future.

Be bold, be confident and plan for the inevitable change, not only from a technology perspective but also from a business understanding.

Neil Cattermull, Director of Cloud Practice, Compare the Cloud

Neil's focus is on developing cloud technology and big data. You can often find him advising CXOs on cloud strategy.

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