Global CIO: IBM's Game-Changing Plunge Into Predictive Analytics

Why IBM's plan to buy SPSS will greatly accelerate the evolution of not only IBM but also that of the entire IT industry.
But along the way to that happy state there will surely be some gyrations. A while back, I was sitting next to SAS CTO Keith Collins at dinner and he was explaining how his company's latest suite of predictive analytics was pushing SAS into some unprecedented engagements with customers. As a large retail customer began to grasp the implications of what real predictive analytics could deliver, Collins said, the retailer began to scope out some massive changes in everything from its supply chain to its merchandising plans to its financials and marketing.

Collins said the customer looked at him and said, "Wow, it's really great that you guys know all about this because we're going to need your help figuring out how to redo everything based on what your new predictive analytics are showing us. You've gotta tell us how we transform ourselves from the company we've been, plodding along and looking over our shoulders, to the company we need to be, with a strong sense of what the future is likely to bring."

At that point, Collins said, he had to step in and begin to manage some expectations, explaining to this very big customer that while SAS would be delighted to do all it could capably do to help this customer, those change-management plans would have to come from a company specializing in change management. And Collins said the SAS team connected the customer with some of SAS's partners specializing in just that type of consulting service -- but it was also a sharp reminder to the SAS team that these new future-peering tools would be taking the company into unprecedented areas.

That's going to be the case with every company that, in the next 6-12 months, sets itself up as a predictive-analytics expert. And CIOs will need to bear in mind that the new perspectives that these tools can potentially offer will require new approaches and possibly new partners, and so those CIOs headed down this path will likely need to bring aboard some new levels of expertise as well.

The IBM-SPSS deal is going to make the next six months very interesting in this business. I won't go so far as to call the whole phenomenon Future Shock, but it's not going to be quite like anything we've been through before. As the saying goes, today's history and tomorrow's a mystery -- but perhaps soon, a little bit less of a mystery.

GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

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