BIF and Irving Wladawsky-Berger by Walt Mossberg

Irving Wladawsky-Berger   Vice President, Technical Strategy and Innovation, IBM
www.research.ibm.com/  Blog: http://irvingwb.typepad.com/

Wladawsky-Berger is vice president of Technical Strategy and Innovation at IBM, responsible for identifying emerging technologies and marketplace developments that are critical to the future of the IT industry. He has led a number of companywide initiatives like Linux, Grid Computing and, in October 2002, IBM’s On Demand Business initiative. He is visiting professor of Engineering Systems at MIT and adjunct professor in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Group at the Imperial College Business School. Wladawsky-Berger was born in Cuba and came to the US at the age of 15, in 2001 he was named Hispanic Engineer of the Year.

  • WM: how did you change the way IBM worked with research; 15 years ago there was little happening
  • IWB: IBM came very successful with mainframes, but companies that are great do not always stay.  As the environment changes the leadership may not adapt to it.   The mainframes were so profitable; there was all this innovation in the labs that was not been noticed.  Even the PC business was treated as a toy, the profits were so low it did not get the attention.  IN the early 80s we had a prototype of a multithread system, we wanted to do the OS but the message from MSFT was that Billy would be pissed. So we did not do it
  • WM: so how did it get well?
  • IWB: I went through that as I’m not sure that a company can reinvent it self without near death
  • WM: so apple were within 90 days of bankruptcy
  • IWB: so that may be why.  for us, we got a new leader, the internet was a lifeboat.  We had lost the franchise for the mainframes.  so we clutched the internet like a lifeboat and I do not know if you can do great in business without that fear
  • WM: I want tot talk about virtual worlds as a business environment,  but before, Steve Balmer was at my conference in spring and he said he had 2 main businesses, both gifts from IBM, one was the desktop software the other is the enterprise business and he had come to realise in the last 2 years, that the business model they had was not the model that could apply to all products, so needed a multiple one.  One new one was search and advertising and the other was consumer electronics., to go after Apple,\.  So here is the question, when you did not want to make MS unhappy, he had about 100 employees.  Balmer has 72k employees, he’s trying to go after the nimble..so how?
  • IWB: once the near death clears out the brain, we switched fro  being inward facing to be a much more market facing company.   MS does not Linux, have been fighting open documents.  I wonder if the real fight is in MS it self.   When you are doing this in the market you are setting culture, if your people see that your culture is to attach Linux or ODF then how can the people believe that you want to be this innovative company in other places.  I do not know if it can be done, IBM could not.
  • WM: Bill has bragged about the labs, researchers
  • IWB: the labs are the back office, but the game is won in the field not in the back office
  • WM: IBM embrace these things and the latest is virtual worlds, so how do these worlds got to do with business?
  • IWB: if you are smart in a company like IBM, you watch what your smart people are doing and see where we should move.  In 2006 there were ore and more people having meetings in Second Life, on their own.  No one had told them  they found the experience of dealing with each other than a conference call.  an in person meeting is better but if the are all over the world there are only so many meetings.  There’s more chit chat in the SL meetings.  We saw this as an evolution in the social networks, the killer apps are meetings and learnings and training.    We went to see what our clients are interested in.  So much of what people do in business is collaborative, this is becoming a major collaborative platform, these are complementary things
  • WM: there are other ways, with conference calls there are no visual queues, so Cisco and HP etc are working on these video conference
  • IWB: the are missing 2 things-  one their costs is really high, SL is cheap.   And their technology does not scale, 2-3 places only,  In IBM we have built classrooms in the worlds and it is more scaleable.
  • WM: so looking ahead, the number of gestures etc in SL is limited, you would not get the full set of gestures
  • IWB: did you see Happy Feet?  It is possible.
  • WM: in 5 years?
  • IWB: we need to do a lot of research, on what people do,.  At MIT the media lab is doing a lot of research on the digital world.  Hybrid real and digital world.  The tech is cheap, the innovation comes from looking how people are using it.  At IT we look at a global university, the courses are on the web that is the passive content but if they want me, then there is more to do.  Everyone in business can have meetings in virtual .  This is the evolution into a collaborative space.
  • WM: the web, is still mainly text
  • IWB: yes.  but as the visual things take over it will just be one more chance to collaborate and the potential is enormous.

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