I spent two days last week at an IBM Global Business Services (GBS) analyst event titled “Transforming the Front Office.” The event was designed for IBM to share its view of the future of the technology marketplace with industry analysts — and of course speak about how IBM fits into that role.

What’s clear is that IBM believes in the power of big data. Ok, so this may be obvious to the IBM watchers in the marketplace, but it’s interesting to see IBM bring to the table better marketing messages, case studies, and examples — all focused on how the GBS organization can apply that data to help clients stay competitive.

Throughout the two days with GBS, it was clear that this is more than just good marketing from IBM, it’s the core of its strategy. And that’s a fairly healthy place to be right now: Many firms tell Forrester that analytics is at the top of their list of emerging technology efforts. 58% of firms Forrester surveyed recently indicated that they’ve either implemented or are planning to implement, expand, or upgrade their BI tools over the next 12 months.

Some observations about GBS from this event: 

·         The company is shifting its focus to enabling the front office. Bridget van Kralingen, SVP at GBS, noted that, like many of its competitors, IBM recognizes the importance of the “front office” to technology decisions. It’s placing more emphasis on serving parts of the business that drive better customer interactions, create better products, and inform better marketing decisions. As an example, IBM highlighted the links between its more “front office”-focused IBM Interactive marketing organization and its more traditional outsourcing work. To me, connecting the front office to more traditional IT capabilities is a welcome strategy — one that aligns with Forrester’s view of business technology

·         BAO is leading in a real services market. Almost 3 years ago, when I wrote about the launch of IBM’s Business Analytics and Optimization (BAO) services group, I loved the aspiration but was a bit skeptical about the core value proposition. Fred Balboni, Worldwide BAO Leader, made a case that his BAO services group is well beyond experimental mode and now in a growth position. This position is confirmed by Forrester’s own Liz Herbert and Boris Evelson, who explored the BI Services marketplace and positioned IBM as a Leader in Forrester’s recent Business Intelligence Services, Q4 2012 Services Wave.  

·         Analytics can change outsourcing relationships. A topic that is very near to my heart is innovation in services relationships. Mark Chapman, the Global Leader of Strategy and Transformation Services, led a discussion that focused on the power of analytics in outsourcing. Mark and his IBM panel made a case that we are moving from a focus on “outsourcing for efficiency” towards “outsourcing for effectiveness,” and that the ability to use analytics to improve traditional application and maintenance work will be a critical part of services innovation. This focus on analytics and business outcomes is distinct from some of IBM’s competitors, who are more focused on IP sharing as their differentiators (there's overlap here, but at the core the ability to apply analytics capabilities is different from just developing software solutions).

At the end of the event, I was left with a few key questions: I'm glad to see IBM shooting for the front office, but do customers really look to IBM to help them with front-office initiatives? Is IBM a business leader … or viewed primarily as a technology leader? Or are those two things now the same thing? For now, the answer to those questions may depend on who you are speaking with. Overall, I'd say IBM GBS is doing a good job positioning itself, with a distinct value proposition, for the future of business technology. 

Working with IBM on any front-office initiatives? Skeptical of the value proposition? Leave a comment below and I'll be happy to respond.