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Executive Profiles: Disruptive Tech Leaders In Social Business – Alistair Rennie, IBM

Posted By R "Ray" Wang On June 20, 2011 @ 20:05 In Alistair Rennie,disruptive,disruptive technologies,disruptive technology,e2conf,Enterprise 2.0,Executive Profiles,Forbes,IBM,IBM Lotus,ibm software group,R "Ray" Wang;,rwang0,Social Business,social business software,social enterprise,social enterprise apps,Software Insider,SoftwareInsider,Thursday's Tech Showcase | No Comments

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Welcome to an on-going series of interviews with the people behind the technologies in Social Business.  The interviews  provide insightful points of view from a customer, industry, and vendor perspective.  A full list of interviewees can be found here [3].

Alistair Rennie - General Manager IBM Collaboration Solutions, IBM Software Group



Alistair Rennie is General Manager, IBM Collaboration Solutions, IBM Software Group.  Alistair was appointed to this position in January, 2010.  As general manager, he has oversight for an extensive portfolio of social, collaboration, and Web experience solutions designed to empower people to be more effective, responsive and innovative within the context of the work they do.  This portfolio includes IBM branded, Lotus Software branded, and Websphere branded software that enables businesses to communicate, collaborate, increase productivity, and enable organizations to design their Web experience with personalized applications.  Rennie is also a member of the IBM Integration and Values team, a select group of executives who provide leadership across IBM on various business and strategic issues.  On the public service side, Alistair is also IBM Senior State Executive for Massachusetts, providing leadership for IBM in the community statewide.

The Interview

1. Tell me in two minutes or less why social computing is changing the world for your customers

Alistair Rennie (AR): For our customers, their fundamental expectation is (improving) business outcome.  They have watched social computing evolve in a consumer context.  In the back of their minds, they wonder if the ideas and the concepts of social computing have all the potential in the world to evolve into a viable business platform.

A typical IBM or enterprise customer cares about applying these advancements to speed, innovation, and differentiation.  When they look at where this comes from, there’s only so much progress in terms of how organizations can compete and automate backroom processes and systems that deal with finite decision making processes. Where they see a chance to connect with their customers and drive innovation, they realize all of those things are dependent on people.  Organizations are highly dependent on how people become visible, how they connect, make decisions, and connect those decisions to the actual processes that run the business.  They see this as a platform to fundamentally unlock the potential of the people in their organizations for competitive advantage.

2. What makes social computing disruptive?

(AR): Once you take into account how people work with each other in the organization, a lot of things come into the picture.  If you think about the type of work people do in the enterprise, this work increases in visibility with social computing.  With better visibility, we have the ability to understand measurement and interaction.  Now, we can optimize these decisions.

For example in retail banking,  many of the loan origination decisions are accomplished by groups.  In general, that’s not repeatable, so how do you apply a social lens to a more defined lending process?  More importantly, how do you expose outcomes to be more visible?  If you are in retail banking, how would you leverage the banking relationship for the branch manager speaking to you as a client?   How do you recreate the people process as a foundation of the business.  The disruptive part is taking systems that have been transactional in nature and wiring them for person to person (P2P) interactions.  At the end of the day, these will be visible and measurable.

3. What is the next big thing in Social Business software?

(AR): Beyond Social – if you follow this thread of how do you become more viscerally connected on a people dimension, the next question is how do I tie this into process?  We are starting to see the beginning of deep conversations with clients about enterprise app development.  How do you build social out as a platform and enable lots and lots of quick focused applications?  How do we build to a model of connecting social into the systems of record that run a business?  How do you tie to work flow without making it (too) cumbersome?  What does the infrastructure stack look like for social? How do you rethink enterprise apps development to include social elements in processes?

The second thought is better instrumentation.  We have a real time sense of what’s happening in a community.  Now add a big push around analytics into the platform and getting to real time response around people centric processes.

The third big thing will allow people to rethink the process itself and the design of the firm and enterprise itself over time.  For example, what does an extended supply chain look like over time when people are tied together in a social platform?  What does employment mean when you have experts connected through social networks with well regarded reputation and a talent exchange?  What does it mean to how you put an organization together, small or large. What does it mean in terms of new product cycles and innovation cycles.

Mid term what is the structure of an organization look like over time. Social will be a fundamental influence of new org design.

4. What are you doing that’s disruptive for Social Computing?

(AR): We’ve been at the social computing movement for more than a decade.  We believe in it because it’s helped IBM transform itself into a global organization.  This is the large scale nature of an enterprise.  IBM builds from a significant degree of strength.  From the very fabric of a smarter planet we focus on being instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent.

For example, we’ve taken the challenge in physical systems such as water supplies and power grids.  We’re focused on how people interact with these physical systems.  We’ve built an enterprise class social networking platform called Connections.  It meets government requirements and compliance.  We build off our expertise in analytics to deliver real time information.  We are allowing these social networks to get instrumented, visible, and quantifiable.  We enable work across various product lines to make the connection between social and other forms easier to do.

One way is to work with social BPM and tie networks into BPM, process management, and work flow tools for end to end solutions.  Then we’ll drive this (capability) into the cloud. Even our cloud offerings is inherently social. It’s fundamentally part of the greater smarter planet agenda.

5. Where do you see technology convergence with Social?

(AR): I see two types of convergence – technological and societal.  On the technological side,  convergence occur when enterprises think through how applications will expand to include more of an applet and social lens.  Large customers every day talk about different approaches on how enterprise software is put together.  In true form, we don’t expect many more systems of record.  You can expect a social layer to be put on top  that’s interactive, light, fast, and move at consumer pace.

Additionally, we will see absolute integration across all the systems to support enterprise deployment. Social has emerged as a collaborative tool set, we’ll see it pick up a set of capabilities that will allow it to integrate with the enterprise. This ties to work flow, life cycle, big data, and analytics initiatives. This will converge into a a well orchestrated platform in the next decade

On the societal side, social liberates how people work.  You and I have ability to manage our careers very differently than in the past.  Take reputation.  Using reputation points you can improve participation. As we add more people to the organization, they are federated and not centered around headquarters or physical space.   The more dispersed and social we become, we will rely more on reputation, value, and contributions.  By putting these concepts into use, firms can be much more agile in terms of how they assemble teams to solve project and client needs.

We also gain flexibility for individuals and organizations.  Closely related to this will be an opening up of learning and probably a really significant change in terms of how high value information I shared across network more effectively.   Think about this – how would the best practices in medicine be shared in content and expertise on one platform. Can we have innovation distributed very quickly and accurately?

6. If you weren’t focused on Social Computing what other disruptive technology would you have pursued?

(AR): If I wasn’t applying social to business than I’d be applying social to learning at scale.  I think this is a big problem for organizations and a big societal problem. If we watch how organizations learn and share information and the models of delivery for dragging people to classrooms to learn, this has difficulties in scaling.  We can change how education, learning, training, and mentoring by leveraging social as a platform.

7. What’s your favorite science fiction gadget of all time?

(AR): Ray, I’d have to go with the StarTrek transporter as an oldie and a goodie.  Have you spent anytime in an airport recently?  The other one I could use is the Dr. Who sonic screw driver.


Your POV

What do you think? Got a question for Alistair?  Add your comments to the blog or reach me via email: R (at) ConstellationRG (dot) com [6] or R (at) SoftwareInsider (dot) com. [7]

Additional interviews will be added and updated!  To be considered for the series, please reach out to Elaine (at) ConstellationRG (dot) com. [8]


Reprints can be purchased through Constellation Research, Inc. To request official reprints in PDF format, please contact sales (at) ConstellationRG (dot) com. [9]


Although we work closely with many mega software vendors, we want you to trust us. For the full disclosure policy, see the full client list on the Constellation Research website [10].

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