When IBM’s long-serving CEO Ginni Rometty stepped down last year, she left a somewhat shaky legacy in her wake.
While she had been instrumental in moving Big Blue from its traditional on-premises software stacks to the cloud, her tenure also saw the global giant weather 22 successive quarterly revenue falls.
However, for her successor Arvind Krishna, the seeds are now planted for IBM to battle its way into the new world of hybrid cloud, container architecture and artificial intelligence -- all areas in which the vendor is admittedly playing catch-up.
“IBM has already built enduring platforms in mainframe, services, and middleware” he wrote in a LinkedIn blog post. “All three continue to serve our clients. I believe now is the time to build a fourth platform in hybrid cloud. An essential, ubiquitous hybrid cloud platform our clients will rely on to do their most critical work in this century. A platform that can last even longer than the others.”
Krishna claimed the “fundamentals are already in place”, although IBM still plays fourth fiddle behind Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud in term of market share.
In a list of priorities for his leadership, Krishna pledged to fight IBM’s two “strategic battles'': the journey to hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence (AI).
“We all need to understand and leverage IBM’s sources of competitive advantage,” he wrote. As the former head of IBM’s cloud and cognitive software arm, Krishna was likely in the best position to execute these ambitions following Rometty’s departure, with the former leader herself calling him a “brilliant technologist”.
The next main priority for Krishna will be to “win the architectural battle in cloud”, essentially allowing customers to adopt IBM’s cloud “natively” and see it run on Red Hat’s OpenShift platform.
Krishna was one of the masterminds behind IBM’s US$34 billion acquisition of Red Hat, and now believes there is “a unique window of opportunity for IBM and Red Hat to establish Linux, containers and Kubernetes as the new standard”.
“We can make Red Hat OpenShift the default choice for hybrid cloud in the same way that Red Hat Enterprise Linux is the default choice for the operating system,” he wrote.
It is perhaps no surprise then that one of Krishna’s first major moves as CEO was to name former Red Hat boss Jim Whitehurst as president, heading up IBM Strategy as well as its cloud and cognitive software unit.
In his LinkedIn post, Krishna announced that long-time Red Hat executive Paul Cormier would take Whitehurst's role as Red Hat CEO and president, while Bridget van Kralingen will become SVP of global markets.
In perhaps a more unusual move, Krisha also named former Bank of America executive Howard Boville as SVP of cloud platform.
“Culture is everything. It’s what drives capability in any organisation,” Krishna added. “One of my key priorities will be fostering an entrepreneurial mindset across our business. This is about being nimble, pragmatic and aiming for speed over elegance. And, it’s about being comfortable with ambiguity and continuously adapting to shifting circumstances.”
Nevertheless, Krishna was unable to ignore the COVID-19-shaped elephant in the room, also addressing it in his post.
From a customer perspective, Big Blue has already rolled out flexible financing options to ensure business continuity and help partners keep investing while managing cash flow and flexibility.
For Krishna however the first priority is IBM’s physical health and mental well-being, saying: “[During this] challenging time, we all need to have empathy, solidarity, and understanding for each other.
“This crisis is also changing how many of us work. I’ve been particularly impressed to see how fast so many IBMers have adapted to new ways of working, including virtually and in new settings.”
Yet at the same time, Krishna affirmed the coronavirus pandemic also shines a light on IBM’s “essential” role in keeping the world moving forward.
“We are the backbone of some of the most critical systems of the world,” he said. “Our technologies and services help banks run credit card transactions, businesses run supply chains, telcos connect customers, healthcare providers improve patient care, and companies and cities tackle cyberthreats.
“I believe we can make IBM the most trusted technology partner of the 21st century. For this to happen, we have to ensure that IBM continues to innovate and lead in the transformational journeys our clients are on.”