Paul Horn, senior vice president and director of IBM Research, oversees IBMs more than $5 billion research and development budget and helps the systems company turn its research nuggets into valuable hardware and software gold. Now IBM Research is trying to do the same for services, which make up half of the companys revenues. eWEEK Senior Writer Darryl K. Taft met with Horn in his office in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., to discuss Horns thoughts on Researchs role in the services business.
Can you define what you mean by services science?
Ive been sort of an evangelist on services science. Last week, I was at [the University of California at] Berkeley. Im on the advisory board for the school of engineering, and I beat them up in a friendly way over the same thing. I ask, “Why arent you providing more leadership and giving your undergraduates more skills for the marketplace?” And theyre barely scratching the surface on services, which is the biggest opportunity for their graduates.
What are some new twists youre adding to the space?
This whole services thing is very exciting to me. And if youve got a problem like business transformation … one of the things thats happening in that space is what we call the Component Business Model. Its basically the concept of breaking up a hunk of software into components and looking at a business as a collection of weakly connected components. If you look at a business as a collection of weakly connected components with well-defined interfaces, just as you would have in software, then you can re-engineer this very surgically. You dont have to rip the whole company apart to do a CRM [customer relationship management] system. You can do it very surgically, little piece by little piece. Thats a way that information technology can play in business transformation at a level that it hasnt played before.
So you guys are employing this Component Business Model?
It sounds sort of like what you guys have done with modeling in general.
Well, yeah, theres a lot of modeling in that space. Take a company, lets say a retail company, and you break it up into a set of components that have to do with strategy and execution and infrastructure and the key elements of what the company does. And you take a look at an individual component, such as operations or supply chain or whatnot. And you look at those. And to the degree that theyre well-defined and weakly connected, you can look at them more or less independently and pick the one or two that are critical for your business model, model it and then optimize it. So it is very much a modeling issue. And there are software tools like WBI Modeler that you can use to model it and go from a component to a service-oriented architecture on how you would implement that component. Then that can be implemented with [IBMs] WebSphere [middleware stack] and our standard infrastructure. And it then can be monitored on a business process portal so that you have the key performance indicators, in business language, on the portal, which you can monitor as you run your business.
How much does Research work with customers and spend time at customer sites? Is that something that you foster?
Absolutely. And if I want to think about my tenure here and the areas that Im proud of, thats therein one of the biggest things. Im proud of the change in the culture in Research and that we think about innovation in the marketplace with our customers. Thats a powerful way to innovate. Because youre basically working with your customers; youre using their deep insights into their business problems. It wasnt a trivial transformation. Even this latest one in consulting. Some even wondered, “Are we that poor that we have to supplement our salary by going out and getting consulting dollars?” And there was a little resistance because this was something that was new. But once they got into it, they really were excited about it.