IBM's Smarter Commerce Conference - Serving the 'Chief Executive Customer' Better

By Leslie Hand – September 28, 2012
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Earlier this month Simon Ellis, my IDC Manufacturing Insights colleague, and I had the opportunity to attend IBM's second annual Smarter Commerce conference in Orlando. Better organized, and attended, than their inaugural event in San Diego last year, the message from IBM was much more complete and comprehensive - given both the internal progression of their messaging and the aggressive acquisition of key parts of the overall portfolio.

It all starts with the consumer.  IBM makes reference to the notion of the 'Chief Executive Customer', at IDC Manufacturing and Retail Insights we talk about the 'empowered' consumer, and some still think in terms of the 'connected' consumer (how 2005 it that?).  The reality is that they are simply different terms to describe a consumer who now sits at the apex of the commerce 'food chain'. Indeed, the seat of power has shifted in the industry; from manufacturers (1980 and early-90s) to retailers (late 1990s and 2000s) to now sit firmly with the consumer who has ubiquitous access to information to make more informed decisions and purchases:

  • Mobility and social business connectivity are transforming the way that people interact with each other and with consumers, customers, and manufacturers.
  • Traditional forms of outreach are quickly being augmented, and in some cases replaced, by these new ways of communicating, reporting, and promoting.
  • The consumer, retailer and manufacturer all have key roles around the central 'omni-store' - which can be a traditional store, an e-retailer, a manufacturer website, or various permutations of all three.

In many cases, the consumer has access to better collaboration tools in the B2C relationship than businesses do in their B2B relationship. IBM is certainly credentialed to provide both. Craig Hayman cited IBM has managed over 100 billion B2C commerce transactions, 27 billion B2B commerce transactions and has saved companies 11% on average in commerce costs.

The point in all this is that with their Smarter Commerce initiative, IBM clearly gets it, and they have articulated a vision that offers agility and integration across the spectrum of buy, market, sell and service that is quite compelling.  All the pieces are not there yet, as IBM will admit, however on the heels of a busy acquisition year (i.e Emptoris for Buy; Tealeaf for Market, Sell, and Service; and DemandTec for Market and Sell), there are certainly more in place now than a year ago.

This year there was also real evidence that IBM is successfully stitching together many of these acquired assets in a classic the total package is greater the sum of the parts. The end result are solutions that are faster to deploy and more comprehensive than each of the applications separately. For example, by integrating necessary components of Cognos, Sterling Commerce and Emptoris companies can deploy a real strategic procurement suite that enables a full execute to settle process instead of just plan to contract.

Another great example of this synergistic expanded value is evidenced in the powerful combination of Unica and Coremetrics. Now customer profiles can be linked automatically, and real contextual purchase patterns can be identified and acted on. Tealeaf's capabilities and enhanced event detection from InfoSphere streams enable automated triggers of real time marketing actions.

Cloud based delivery models and examples were front and center at the event as well, as cloud services for commerce, CPQ and digital marketing and analytics officially launched. Newell Rubbermaid told a compelling story about why IBM's Commerce in the cloud service is not only the right capability technically, but also the best technology to support better collaboration with their trading partners.  

The event in Orlando was an interesting combination of celebrating customer wins, with keynote presentations from companies including Lenovo, Husqvarna and Bank of America; and making challenging and intriguing industry observations. Observations include:

  • How do I combine multiple 'channels' into one experience for my consumers
  • Converting one channel of millions into millions of 1:1 channels
  • Moving to systems of engagement, where consumers expect more than they did from systems of record
  • The evolution of 'personalization' as the sixth 'p' of marketing - not just the product, but the shopping experience too
  • The three legged focus on innovation, operational excellence and customer focus

None of us have all of the answers, but IBM is beginning to ask the right questions and bringing IT capability to the manufacturing and retail marketplace.  Further, Craig Hayman, who oversees Smarter Commerce for IBM observed that they are seeing significant growth potential for smarter commerce and smarter processes by providing broad, horizontal capability, customized by vertical buyer … and they are new buyers for IBM … chief procurement officers, chief marketing officers, vice presidents of customer service, chief sales officers, etc. These are people that IBM has not always done an effective job of reaching that Smarter Commerce is affording them opportunity to engage.

The devil is always in the details with these things, and that continues to be a work-in-progress for IBM.  An impressive stable of assets is now in place to enable Smarter Commerce across buy, market, sell and service.  The WebSphere and former Sterling Commerce and Cognos capabilities are at the core of the offering, with new acquisitions like Emptoris, Unica, Coremetrics and Tealeaf as exciting complements. Work is already underway to better align and integrate these assets, but that shouldn't dissuade manufacturers and retailers from looking at IBM for specific capabilities in any of the four pillars of Smarter Commerce.


About the author

Leslie Hand

Research DirectorIDC Retail Insights

As Research Director for IDC Retail Insights, I provide fact-based research, analysis and thought leadership on supply chain, sourcing, product lifecycle management, sustainability, workforce…


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Leslie Hand
September 28, 2012

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