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Q&A: IBM Global Business Services CTO Talks Cloud

IBM Fellow and Global Business Services CTO Kerrie Holley, who helped shape SOA, shares his thoughts on cloud trends, the future of IT, and more.

InformationWeek: What really excites you the most in terms of what's going on in technology now? What can you not get enough of?

Holley: It's a great question. I think the area that excites me the most is that I've spent most of my career working, to be honest, extensively with IT, with a heavy business focus. So, often the CEOs or other C-suite executives have imperatives they could look upon IT to facilitate and [to] adopt. One of the biggest challenges that businesses have been facing is to get IT out of the loop. When I say "out of the loop," I don't mean to eliminate IT, but to not have IT as a bottleneck, whether [that means struggling with legacy systems or waiting on service queues]. [To put it another way,] I'm actually very focused on right now is this whole concept of business agility. How do we actually create outcomes faster that matter? How do we actually make agility something less than a platitude, something that sits in a strategic document as "We want more," and something that can actually be engineered?

So what excites me is that we have a wealth of technology today that's come together to allow us to create business-centric approaches, where the actual business is actually driving the approach and the method and the adoption, where technology is being leveraged to actually drive these better outcomes.

InformationWeek: Can you provide an example of that?

Holley: I can. [This involves a project we did in the Eastern part of the world for an insurance carrier, working with a telecom provider.] I'll contrast two scenarios. One scenario is where I'm looking to be maybe number one. "I want to be number one in my market, but today I'm number three." So a traditional approach might be to attack the problem by looking at, "OK, maybe I'll grow more customers. Maybe I'll offer new, innovative products." Not that those are bad approaches, they're great approaches. But at the end of the day, the outcome of being number one may not have been achieved. And you may have met your metrics. You may have actually achieved more growth in clients. You may have achieved more differentiated products. But perhaps your competition did something that was equally as productive, and you were already behind.

So the former approach focuses on this notion of improving processes and efficiency, whereas an agility approach would not solely focus on that but would actually look at, "OK, what do we actually do?" So first of all, it approaches on the outcome that you want. The outcome that you want is not to simply be better. The outcome that you want is to be number one. So in order to achieve that outcome, you have to actually identify imperatives that can be achieved in your window of time, which, in this case, was literally a 12-month window of time, that would actually propel you into that number one position.

So, first and foremost, [the business agility approach] focuses on the key performance indicators that must be achieved. That's sort of obvious. But then secondly, it requires this fusion between how the two teams work together in terms of what innovation is necessary versus what's on the truck that we can do right now.

I can give you more detail, but that's the base difference in approaches. In the second scenario, we don't just look at the processes and try to make them more efficient and more effective. Instead, we look at the agility indicators in terms of outcomes that would actually make a difference.

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