IBM's 2009 Forum light on user voices

Paul Callaghan keynote pushes innovation

One of the major messages of the annual IBM Forum this year is that the world is becoming increasingly “instrumented” and connected, with sensors of one kind and another – from CCTV cameras to RFID chips and retail loyalty cards – potentially reporting data on our behaviour several times a day.

At the forum IBM instituted its own small-scale data gathering exercise. Delegates were handed an i-Phone-sized portable terminal on entry and instructed to reply to multiple-choice questions in the style familiar from television’s Who wants to be a Millionaire?

The questions ranged from the serious and potentially useful to IBM, such as delegates’ business-transformation, outsourcing and cloud computing intentions, to others of a more relaxed kind. “Suck, squeeze, bang… what is the next in the series?” the audience was asked. The answer is “blow” – the four phases of a four-stroke engine. And we were told seriously that “twitter”, before it was anything to do with Web 2.0, was the word for a pregnant goldfish. Search engines do not confirm this, though “twit” is apparently used with that meaning.

The forum opened with a keynote from Professor Paul Callaghan of Victoria University. His theme was the need for the New Zealand economy to broaden beyond agriculture and tourism, with the help of research and development and a more positive attitude to science.

The text and slides were familiar from a speech he gave to a CIO Leaders Luncheon in late 2007. It is also a strong theme of his book From Wool to Weta. However, none of the subsequent speeches took up the theme with any strength, instead hewing a more specialist ICT line. A heavy dose of vendor pitches, particularly from IBM, was leavened by comparatively few user case studies.

In a brief introduction, IBM New Zealand managing director Jennifer Moxon spoke of the increasingly connected and instrumented state of the world and the changes in IBM’s business over the past few years.

Andrew Hewat of Lodestar Advisory Services gave a view of outsourcing from the consultant’s standpoint. He identifies lack of planning and effective governance as a primary cause of the dissatisfaction still evident with outsourcing.

“If you know what you want as your end-point transformed state, you can contract for it and have it done at the right price.”

He says current outsourcing is no longer a matter of simply getting rid of a toxic ICT asset and reducing ongoing costs. Good outsourcing is typically selective, giving each part of the job to someone who has the right expertise and who will transfer some of that knowledge to the in-house team. The end result should be ICT transformed to serve the business better.

“If your only reason is cost savings, do not outsource”.

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