IBM CEO Rometty: Big Data Is Job No. 1

IBM's Rometty spoke on the importance of big data as a competitive advantage in her first public speech since becoming the company's CEO.

In her first public speech since becoming CEO of IBM, Virginia "Ginni" Rometty showed the world what IBMers have known for years: That she is a force to be reckoned with.

A poised and polished Rometty spoke at a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York City March 7 and discussed the use of big data and the ways in which organizations are learning to compete in a new landscape. Appointed president and CEO effective Jan. 1, 2012, Rometty is IBM's ninth CEO and the company's first woman chief executive.

Rometty delivered IBM's message on big data, but as the event was dubbed "A Conversation with Ginni Rometty," she gave about 10 minutes of formal speech and then sat down to talk on a variety of subjects, including education, immigration, cyber-attacks, politics and more with Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

To start, Rometty cited three "vignettes" including the Memphis police force reducing crime, a Mexican cement maker tapping social media for success and the presidential campaign being able to predict outcomes as seemingly "random unrelated" things. However, she said, "These things are examples of the same phenomena," and that is big data. That is how organizations will compete from now on, Rometty said.

"Data will be the competitive advantage for any business," Rometty said. "Data is going to be the next natural resource." She added that data will change how organizations make decisions, how they create value and how they deliver value. "Things will be based on predictive analytics, not on gut instinct."

IBM has been at the forefront of the big data and analytics push in the industry, investing heavily in building up a portfolio that others might covet. IBM's big data strategy has included the expansion of R&D, acquisitions and business initiatives across its software, hardware and services portfolio. In the last five years, IBM has invested more than $16 billion in 30 acquisitions to boost its big data analytics portfolio, so when it comes to big data, Rometty knows from which she speaks.

Rometty said access to more and better data will help remove biases organizations have. Moreover, as the world becomes more social, "Your value will be not what you know, but what you share," she said. "You'll be rated by the information you create. … What you will see with the emergence of big data, social and mobile is you will see the death of average, and you'll see the era of you."

Indeed, the confluence of cloud computing, mobile, social and big data is happening so fast that it is forcing new ideas and new ways of doing business. "This is changing the front office of the company, especially professions like marketing," Rometty said. "Marketing is going to be the steward of the culture of a company."