Sunday, 10 March 2013

IBM and social media

Let me turn time back to the very early 1980s. IBM are feeling fairly secure with their mainframe business and have just made the decision to own the small and exciting personal computer business. I’m imaging the Execs talking about the hardware standards they will set and maintain. Then perhaps someone asks about the operating system, but they’re immediately dismissed – operating systems on PCs are two a penny, we can just buy one and use that. They’ll have to do what we tell them!

And in the real world, a small start-up company made a version of DOS (Disk Operating System) their own – MS-DOS. And that little company grew and grew into the Microsoft we know and love today. And IBM? Well, it eventually sold its PC hardware business to Lenovo.

Now some of the youngsters at that imaginary meeting back in 1980 might still be turning up for work, only now they’re hearing about the ‘third platform’, and warning bells are beginning to sound! No-one at IBM wants a repeat of what happened with the second platform, so they are very keen that IBM will keep control of this third platform – even though there are plenty of other players out there already. As an aside, mainframes were the first platform, PCs are the second platform, and this new ‘third platform’ comprises cloud services, mobile computing, social networking, and big data analytics.

My scenarios above may only exist in my head, but we’ve seen IBM embrace other technologies before. Look at how it made Linux run so much better on a big box than on multiple little ones. And now Doug Balog, general manager of IBM’s System z mainframe business, is telling us that IBM is making it easier for customers to run mobile and social networking applications on mainframes.

There’s a couple of easy wins here. For example a bank – and banks are users of mainframe technology – could provide an app for smartphones and tablets that gave secure access to users’ account information. But more likely, the low-hanging fruit will be big data. Big data generally describes large amounts of unstructured and semi-structured data that organizations generate. It might come from CCTV footage, recording telephone calls, or just logging the position of company vans throughout the day. It’s just big unwieldy data. Having some way to analyse it so you could derive useful information would be something businesses are likely to embrace. One piece of big data analytics that might draw large organizations in is the ability to identify fraud. Others might be more interested in the purchasing patterns of their customers.

Mobile phones and mainframes aren’t strangers. There are plenty of software vendors that are making the results of their mainframe software available to users working with browsers on smartphone and tablet devices. IBM itself has brought out an aggregation of mobile tools to combine big-data analytics and cloud computing under its MobileFirst heading.

In terms of cloud computing, we’ve seen IBM Docs announcements and, perhaps more significantly, SmartCloud, its storage access product for implementing private cloud storage.

In addition, IBM has demonstrated its Social Media Aggregator (SMA) at IOD, Pulse, and other events. It provides a consolidated view of real-time social activity on specific topics or events, based on hashtags and keywords.

And at the back of IBM’s collective mind – certainly in my imagination – must be the desire to sell mainframes to customers who need these facilities and are currently using alternative platforms. So keeping control of this third platform gives their sales staff a way in to potential customers’ offices.

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