This content is part of the Conference Coverage: IBM Think 2019 coverage: Spotlight on data and AI analytics
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AI democracy, hybrid clouds top IBM Think takeaways

SAN FRANCISCO – IBM’s bold push of its Watson AI technology to the masses may produce product and services opportunities, but the democratization of AI won’t happen overnight.

Perhaps the strongest message at the IBM Think 2019 event here was the company’s “Watson anywhere” strategy to allow customers to run Watson AI services on any public cloud or in any hybrid cloud environment.

“You might call this the democratization of Watson and the effect should find a growing number of organizations leveraging IBM AI technologies across various business processes,” said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT in Hayward, Calif.

This “democratization” comes from IBM’s services heritage to meet customers where they are technologically. To gain an advantage in the quickening AI race, IBM is giving folks the opportunity to use Watson on any cloud they want.

Several attendees said this would likely lead their organizations to at least try Watson out to add a bit of AI to applications to build smart apps.

“One thing that kind of popped for me was the Watson AI thing, but also that ‘There is no AI without IA [information architecture],” said one attendee who asked not to be identified, echoing a line from IBM CEO Ginni Rometty’s keynote. The idea is that a prerequisite to AI is machine learning, to get machine learning you need analytics, and analytics requires the proper data and information architecture — thus, there is no AI without IA.

Despite IBM’s AI splash, one partner said AI is of little use to the majority of enterprise developers today because it’s still nascent.

“IBM, like all the rest, is not selling you AI – not AI out of the box,” he said. “They are selling services for you to build your own stuff. And it doesn’t always turn out like you want it to. Plus Watson is expensive.”

Multi-cloud management
Aside from AI, other buzz at IBM Think 2019 involved IBM’s hybrid cloud and multi-cloud strategy, approaches that more enterprises have begun to embrace.

“Almost every enterprise on the cloud has more than one provider and they all want to keep some of their stuff private,” said Dave Link, founder and CEO of ScienceLogic, a Reston, Va.-based IT monitoring system provider. “IBM has a lot of legacy stuff out in the wild and everybody cannot move it to the cloud all at once.”

The multi-cloud and hybrid cloud services opportunity is huge. Last month alone, IBM inked a $325 million services agreement to manage Juniper Networks’ infrastructure, applications and IT services and facilitate their move to the cloud, and a similar $260 million deal to move the Bank of the Philippines to hybrid cloud and hasten the bank’s digital transformation.

Multi-cloud, particularly multi-cloud management, was on the mind of an IT director who works for the Saudi government. His organization has an array of IT systems, gobs of data and multiple cloud providers, and he needs to bring that all together and manage it.

Yet, he identified the IBM Garage Method as the big draw for him at the show because it provides a methodology to digitally transform an organization.

“My organization is in the early phases of a digital transformation and I believe that this method can be of value to us as we modernize our systems and software,” he said.

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