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Carroll School of Management


Virginia M. Rometty

Chairman, President, and CEO, IBM

Virginia M. Rometty

IBM CEO says Businesses Win with Big Data
By Judy Rakowsky

Businesses will rise and fall based on how they capitalize on major trends in big data—predictive analysis, cloud computing, and cybersecurity—said IBM CEO Virginia Rometty at a CEO Club Briefing last month.

A major fault line for data is transitioning from historical to predictive analysis, said Rometty, whose company recently made 150 software acquisitions. With the explosion of data—the amount of financial data increases 40 percent a year—mere analysis of information is not enough.

An example she gave is how GPS programs have gone from merely offering route advice to incorporating traffic conditions into travel time estimates. And banks now need not only to notice fraud as a transaction occurs in real time but to predict where a breach might next occur.

IBM is investing heavily in this frontier, spending $24 billion to build out its profile centered on Watson, the super-intelligent computer that made a famed appearance on Jeopardy and got the right answer to a question about the subject of the Beatles song “Eleanor Rigby.” The difference between its predecessors and Watson, Rometty said, is “it learns; you don’t program it.”

Watson is helping doctors tailor medical treatments to individual cancer patients, many of whom can’t go to a major cancer center. It also diagnoses patients and is changing the way doctors are trained. “We will change the face of health care with this,” Rometty said.

How businesses manage data, which functions they perform on-site and which on the cloud, and how they protect data are critical to their futures, she noted.

Regarding security, she said companies need to “train, test, and trick” their cybersecurity systems and employees to protect customers’ data. Rometty personally conducts employee training, and emphasizing that most data breaches come from hackers exploiting vulnerability caused by employee carelessness.

IBM has gone from a company known for personal computing to one devoted to serving businesses since Rometty started as a systems engineer more than 30 years ago. She is its ninth CEO and the first woman to lead the company.

IBM, a major employer in Massachusetts, has acquired 22 Boston companies since 2003. It has spun off hardware units to focus on software and cloud-based services in recent years but lately has been pelted with poor earnings reports. Rometty says that will change as its strategy takes hold.

“I’m a fact-based optimist about the future,” she told the business leaders. “We will be a great part of your future.”