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IBM Reinvigorating Its Enterprise Application Services by Developing Watson-Enabled Industry Solutions

Unsurprisingly, given its investment in, and focus on, Watson, IBM declared at a recent Alliances Analyst Day that 2016 is 'the year of cognitive'.

The intent of the meeting was to look broadly at how IBM is working with its key alliance partners, including SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft, and it is clear that IBM’s focus is on incorporating cognitive capabilities and broadening the suite of industry-targeted offerings with each of its alliance partners. Here I take a look at how this is taking shape.


SAP is IBM’s largest and most mature alliance, with ~36k IBM resources focused on SAP. IBM perceived that its SAP offerings, and in particular SAP HANA S/4, were behind the market a year ago and has invested in improving its capabilities. In pursuit of this, IBM is working with SAP to expand and mature its offerings, particularly in digital transformation. Investments include:

  • 40 resources from IBM and SAP collaborating on building out offerings
  • $1m in marketing
  • Two digital transformation centers (Palo Alto and Waldorf).

To demonstrate commitment, the boards of both companies have been receiving regular updates on the progress of these offerings. With a target for CY 2016 set at 50 new S/4 HANA engagements, as of June, the companies had already signed 52 new engagements.

IBM is positioning against its end-to-end capabilities, in particular its capabilities in digital and enterprise application services, and especially large, complex engagements spanning multiple offerings requiring flexibility of financial approach. One of the case studies presented was an engagement in which IBM was brought in to complete an SAP migration that had hit problems.

But its biggest focus area and differentiator is its ability to integrate cognitive capabilities on top of SAP functionality tailored to specific industry requirements. Given IBM’s focus on cognitive solutions and the relative maturity of Watson capabilities, layering cognitive directly on EA solutions can act as a differentiator versus other IT service vendors, focusing their machine learning capabilities internally to improve processes such as application development and incident management. An example is the integration of its MetroPulse product with S/4 HANA Retail, to leverage cognitive capabilities (including data from the Weather Company) that enable retail companies to identify hyper-local demand and adjust inventories appropriately.


IBM’s Oracle practice represents its second largest EA alliance. It has certified ~1500 resources in Oracle Cloud applications, with a target of 2k certified resources by end of the year. Over 5k resources have received training virtually from the Oracle University.

IBM is working with Oracle to develop horizontal Cloud Enablement offerings and has so far developed the following:

  • Budgeting and Planning Cloud
  • CX Sales Cloud
  • CX Service Cloud
  • ERP Financials Cloud
  • HCM Cloud
  • Innovation Management Cloud
  • Procure to Pay Cloud
  • Procurement Cloud
  • Source to Contract Cloud
  • Transportation Management Cloud.

This investment in resource skills and offerings has begun achieving results, with IBM realizing a 275% increase in Oracle cloud services YoY. It has 50+ Oracle Cloud engagements across 30 clients currently active, and cloud engagements represent 20% of its total Oracle EA revenues in H1 2016.

As with its SAP offerings, IBM is focusing on embedding cognitive capabilities and developing industry-specific digital transformation offerings with Oracle. It is building out 30+ offerings across ten industries such as Oracle Banking Digital Experience, Cognitive Electronics, Digital Retail, and Insurance on the Cloud. Additionally, it is looking at integrating Watson and Oracle to create new offerings to be formally launched in the coming weeks, including:

  • Watson Procurement Intelligence
  • Field Tech Services
  • Talent Advisor
  • Financial Smarter Advisor.

IBM is targeting 7% revenue growth across Oracle EA offerings through the end of the year, as well as growing to a total of 45 Oracle cloud clients.


IBM’s newest EA alliance is with Microsoft, a partnership that is ~2 years old. IBM views its Microsoft offerings as providing, unlike Oracle and SAP, a means to target smaller and mid-sized companies. IBM’s Microsoft practice has ~4,400 resources, and 75% have received Microsoft certification.

An example of IBM’s commitment to growing its Microsoft practice is its recently announced acquisition of Optevia, a small U.K.-based consultancy (~40 FTEs) focused on helping public sector clients implement Microsoft capabilities. While Optevia’s footprint is primarily U.K. and Europe today, it is expanding with an engagement in the healthcare space in the Middle East as well as pursuing work in North America, Spain, and Southeast Asia.

IBM’s Microsoft group spans Microsoft offerings across big data and analytics (Power BI), enterprise applications (Dynamics, AX, CRM), mobile enterprise and collaboration (Office 365, Lync Server, Skype for Business) and application development and cloud (SQL Server, .Net, Visual Studio, Azure).

IBM’s Microsoft offerings leverage cognitive capabilities across a number of industry verticals, including:

  • Banking CRM
  • Insurance CRM
  • Constituent Engagement (Local government essentials)
  • Auto Retailer
  • Next Generation Field Services.

One particular area of focus beyond the expanded integration of cognitive capabilities is Surface Business Transformation, an initiative to leverage Surfaces and develop enterprise applications for them based on Windows 10. An example of this is what IBM refers to as a ‘Meet and Greet’ app. For example, rather than a bank waiting to interact with customers once they reach the teller window of a bank, an associate armed with an enabled Surface can meet them at the door, pull up their information (as the Surface connects to a CRM server in the back) and provide immediate guidance and support. IBM is the exclusive Microsoft partner for the banking, retail, and consumer packaged goods industries.

IBM is also looking at building out its cloud and application management capabilities in support of these offerings.


With cloud hosting and management a strategic priority for IBM in addition to cognitive, IBM is looking to integrate its cloud services with its alliance partners. One facet of this is IBM’s introduction of Cloud Management Services for SAP and Cloud Management Services for Oracle. These services integrate IBM’s cloud managed services, including support and uptime service levels, with SAP and Oracle software.

IBM is trying to move cloud discussions beyond the IT department. It is slowly seeing business executives engage on cloud projects and it sees the presence of a change agent as a key driver for realizing the value of cloud investments. Case studies discussed included new senior leadership coming in and divestitures as examples of drivers that resulted in the transfer of workloads to cloud environments.

Application Management

While IBM’s traditional application management business may not be trumpeted as frequently as its strategic imperatives, application management still accounted for ~19% of revenues in Q2 2016 and those services are evolving to take advantage of the new capabilities offered by cognitive.

IBM introduced its Agent Assist around a year ago to its support teams or us in to diagnosing and resolving incidents. EA is a key target area for Agent Assist, and IBM has built a standard knowledge base across SAP that can be implemented at the onset of an engagement and then expanded over time with client-specific information. Agent Assist is being deployed across 500 application management services accounts with over 5k resources are being trained on it. The next step will be a fully cognitive automation platform that not only identifies the resolution to an incident but is also capable of resolving incidents without human intervention.

For application development work, IBM is introducing Coding Assist, to facilitate developing common code blocks for ABAP, BI, and HANA.

These technologies are not intended for IBM consumption alone, though; as their maturity increases, IBM is looking to turn these into client-facing as a service products.

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