IBM's Ginni Rometty on Leading Through Disruption

October 18, 2018

Contributor: Heather Pemberton Levy

In the Mastermind Interview at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2018, Ginni Rometty shares her perspective on cloud, AI and how to manage disruption in the enterprise.

Ask Ginni Rometty, Chairman and CEO of IBM, about her lessons learned turning a ship the size of IBM in the midst of digital disruption and her initial response will sound familiar to many CEOs.

“It has clearly been the time of the most rapid change,” she told the audience of over 9,000 CIOs in the Mastermind Keynote at Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2018 in Orlando, FL. “It used to be one change at a time but now they are all at the same time. The pace is unabated.”

Responding to a series of questions from Gartner’s Dennis Gaughan, VP Analyst, and Daryl Plummer, Distinguished VP Analyst, Ms. Rometty affirmed that IBM will remain focused on the enterprise market versus broadening into consumer products. From this grounding, Ms. Rometty discussed how the company continues to focus on helping organizations plot and execute their journeys to the cloud, developments with artificial intelligence (AI) and experiments with blockchain and quantum computing.

“We are very clear it’s a multi-cloud world,” Ms. Rometty said, noting that IBM’s clients have an average of six clouds (public, private, hybrid) and 1,000 apps in those clouds.

Read more: 5 Questions to Ask When Building a Cloud Strategy

She then discussed her biggest lessons at the helm of IBM.

Lessons learned from digital disruption

After seeing the market changing quickly, Ms. Rometty said her inclination was to push the organization to work and change faster. But after two years of “faster, faster”, she realized people were exhausted. This led the leadership to change how work was being done by examining how startups approach change and speed.

She became an advocate of design thinking.

The leadership team focused on hiring as many designers (15,000) as they could to help deploy design thinking for all development. This prioritizes an outside-in, empathetic approach which she acknowledged is not always a focus for an engineering-driven company.  

There was also a push towards agile development by launching minimum viable products and enabling co-location, and multidisciplinary teams. The enterprise made an investment in real-estate to create open workspaces, more tools, and a move to net promoter score for better feedback from clients.

Diversity and inclusion drive success

Ms. Rometty highlighted a history of diversity and inclusion in the company as something that drives company value. IBM hires people with aptitude as opposed to raw talent, allowing for what they’ve found to be is a more inclusive environment, Ms. Rometty said.

“IBM has a focus on making people feel they can bring their whole self to work,” Ms. Rometty said. “A more diverse workforce and a more inclusive workforce produces a better outcome.”

The company also started a “returnship” program to help women re-enter the workforce. After noticing a trend that women self-select out of returning to work when they believe it will be hard to learn new technologies, IBM designed a three-month course to help women get up to speed.

Responsible stewardship of technology

Cloud, AI, blockchain and quantum computing should be focus areas for organizations, according to Ms. Rometti.  

“AI will change 100% of jobs, industries and professions,” she said. Not all jobs will be eliminated, she said, as the most effective implementation involves people augmented by AI. However, technology companies must be good stewards of the technology and establish trust and transparency principles.

Read more: Getting Digital Ethics Right

Ms. Rometty shared three principles for leading through disruption:

  1. The purpose of the new technologies is to augment people. We’re builders and must take seriously the responsibility to create technology that works alongside human capabilities.
  2. Data belongs to its owner and its creator.
  3. Technology needs to be explainable and transparent so it is not frightening to people.  

“Companies will be judged on whether you adhere to good or bad tech principles,” she said

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