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Global CIO: IBM Top Product Exec Discusses Strategy, Systems, & Oracle

IBM's head of Software and Systems Steve Mills describes customer priorities, optimized systems, and Oracle's "bait-and-switch" philosophy.

Across his 37 years in a sweeping range of positions at IBM, senior VP and group executive Steve Mills has seen lots of things come and go: more than a few hype cycles, the coronation of various "the next IBMs" that in fact became the next failures, and scores of world-changing competitors that couldn't really compete.

So in a wide-ranging interview at IBM's Armonk headquarters recently, Mills colored most of his remarks with the sober perspective of someone who, while clearly as aggressive and competitive as anybody in this business, understands that fundamental and enduring truths will always trump fads and fanfare.

"The market is bigger than any of us, and those of us that are adaptive to the market and its changing characteristics tend to do better than those that were hanging on to whatever might have worked well before," said Mills.

"Customers evolve—they are very much a function of all the things they have done over a long time period, although often in the tech industry what's written is about the latest new thing—what makes the headlines is very different than what your typical chief information officer deals with every day because he or she is managing an IT infrastructure that's been accumulated over the course of decades.

"They run thousands—tens of thousands—of programs in their shops. The numbers are so large they boggle the mind—people can typically name some software products but the realization that some large corporations might run 50,000 or 60,000 programs in the course of any given week is a staggering statistic."

Or, as IBM CEO Sam Palmisano noted in his presentation at last year's Investors' Day event, "We don't do fashion" (see Global CIO: Sam Palmisano's Grand Strategy For IBM).

Those shared perspectives recently led Palmisano to recently double Mills' responsibilities by giving the longtime head of IBM's Software Group control of IBM's entire systems and hardware operations as well (read all about it in Global CIO: IBM Doubles Down On Red-Hot Optimized Systems).

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True to the company's long-term view, the promotion for Mills reflects not only the market's current frothy interest in highly integrated and optimized systems but also IBM's long-time leadership in that market, a legacy that goes back to its mainframe roots but now extends across many of its hardware platforms.

So in order to share most effectively some of the outlooks and strategic insights of one of the IT industry's most-influential executives, I've pulled out compelling and expansive comments from Mills on six timely topics: IBM's strategic imperatives in process integration and predictive analytics; the 80/20 budget trap; complex solutions driven by engaging IBM labs with customers; the power of optimized systems; how IBM differentiates itself in the market; and last but certainly not least, competing with Oracle.

First up are Process Integration and Predictive Analytics:

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