"The model will involve researchers working in the consulting context, but we aren't farming out researchers to do services," Clay Williams, senior manager, front office transformation, IBM Research, told eWEEK. "Researchers will be directly involved in engagements with clients in order to understand and bring real problems into the lab, help solve them and then deploy the solutions for clients.
"By bringing IBM Research into client engagements, and then taking the insights back into the lab and using it to drive a very focused agenda, we can gain deeper insights on the innovations that will matter most to clients," he continued.
IBM might even apply its Watson cognitive systems technology to the new lab environment, Williams said. "If we find the right problems, Watson technology may be used," he said. "However, machine learning is a very broad set of techniques, and there are many approaches and projects that use these techniques inside of IBM Research. Our reference to learning was pointing to the broad applicability of technologies in this area."
HfS Research analyst Jonathan Yarmis said in a report on the new lab, "Some might question the wisdom of tying the Labs more closely to actual commercial output, but we think this is a very shrewd, and ultimately necessary, move on IBM's part. Simply put, the pace of technology change and adoption requires this. It was possible for a science fiction author like Jules Verne to be more than a century ahead of commercial realities.
"However, look at one of my favorite science fiction movies, 'Minority Report.' The movie, barely a decade old, presents "future" technologies which today are approaching mainstream deployment—personalized shopping, behavioral prediction, autonomous automobiles, touch-screen interfaces. More tightly coupling Research to real customer requirements and beyond, to customer outcomes, is a bold direction for IBM … and one we applaud," he said.
In the new age of big data and analytics, organizations are reassessing how to move from addressing mass audiences to personalized relationships. The same technologies allow enterprises to engage in new ways with their employees, allow government agencies to build new relationships with citizens or enable new models of interaction among students and educational institutions.
"The new effort reflects a couple of ongoing trends," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "First, IT has become so enmeshed in processes of every kind that establishing a broader, clearer view of the potential impacts of technology—from the data center to management to employees to end customers—isn't just wise, it's critical to business success.
"The other trend—the growing influence of C-level execs other than the CTO and CIO—is also reflected in IBM's Customer Experience Lab," he said. "While those executives and other high-level managers may not have the technological acumen of IT-focused leaders, they tend to have deeper insight into the business strategies that IT serves, which is why it's important for them to be more deeply involved in IT design and purchasing decisions. IBM understands these points clearly and has designed its new service to address clients' requirements in these areas."
IBM Research is developing technology assets and capabilities that can help deliver front-office capabilities as a service from a cloud, design novel products to match customer preferences, and leverage math and psychological theories of personality to improve marketing effectiveness.
"Specific things produced to date include a platform for driving recommendations and customer engagement using social analytics, new technologies supporting augmented reality in stores and analytics to help develop deep customer insights," Williams said. "Many of our capabilities will be delivered as cloud-based services, and we are seeking to develop innovations in that area, based on insights from customer engagements. We anticipate that IBM Smart Cloud with be a significant platform for hosting services. However, we can also deploy services on other platforms that a client may select, such as private or open-source platforms."