Beginning of last week I was in San Diego for IBM’s Amplify customer and partner conference. While I have been fortunate to have had traveled to some interesting places in our world, this was the first time I had been to San Diego. One of those oddities of my travel. It certainly did not disappoint, unfortunately I was not able to visit any of the beaches nor were the Padres in town. But I digress.
IBM had over 3700 attendees and large number of their partners in attendance at Amplify 2015. Not surprising for a company of IBM’s stature. The show kicked off with Alex Banayan, Author; Venture Associate with Alsop Louie Partners on stage followed by Deepak Advani the General Manager for IBM Commerce. Nothing of great notice other than the fact this is IBM and you had a millennial hosting and IBMers presenting wearing denim rather than the pin strip blue suits and starched white shirts! But this contrast is not lost on what IBM is looking to do with retail and eCommerce. From main stage the message was clear – we are here to empower our clients to provide their customers with an experience that is second to none. IBM is gambling that their wide breadth of offerings, from software to services all tied back to powerful analytics powered by…you guessed it…Watson is a winning formula. A timely message for a market that is ripe for new business models for addressing customer demand and desire. Hardly a gamble, but more a sound strategy to gain market share within retail.
So how is IBM ready to provide the framework necessary to meet this growing need? Deepak outlined 6 pillars that IBM is building their solution around. They are split between customer engagement and partners & suppliers. Around customer engagement they are:
- eCommerce merchandising
- Customer analytics
Focusing on the partners & suppliers portion, IBM is focused on following three areas:
- Integration B2B
Deepak and IBM are betting on the belief that these areas of focus will allow them to provide retailers, and really anyone in the commerce supply chain, the framework to address many of their business issues as well as allow for new business models. These pillars allow IBM to leverage their large portfolio of products and more importantly – services – in a well-articulated offering.
The one area that is lacking is with regards the retail execution and fulfillment portion. An aspect of the commerce supply chain that during my numerous hallway and formal conversations was not lost on both IBM executives as well as customers. It will be something to watch as they have a partnership with the likes of JDA and Pitney Bowes that should address this gap in the their offering. In the long term it will be interesting to see how these partnerships evolve. Does IBM stand to lose some control of their relationships with certain opportunities if they cannot also offer these execution and fulfillment offerings from their own suite? How could this impact both their sales forces and those of their partners, aka who will lead in certain deals? What happens if an implementation of the solution does not live up to expectations, which side will shoulder the responsibility?
Clearly IBM is not shy about partnering to augment their offerings or fill in gaps. They announced during the event a partnership with Facebook, which coupled with the partnerships with Apple and Twitter, demonstrate that IBM is not averse about pulling a wide variety of players into their ecosystem. These partnerships are cleaner since for the most part they are to provide IBM with some powerful and rich data sources to feed their growing analytics machine. When it comes to filling out the pillars Deepak mentioned, in the long run will IBM want to have the remaining pillars to be IBM blue or can partnerships suffice?