One of the promoted highlights of this afternoon’s conference agenda was a session on Smarter Commerce with the theme of the new intelligent customer as king. If there were ever an indication of which topics were most top-of-mind among attendees, it had to be this one.  My very unofficial visual estimate noted in excess of 500 attendees for this particular session with many standees in the back of the room. Multi-channel commerce and operational capabilities apparently are on the mind of IBM’s customers.

Craig Hayman, General Manager of IBM Software Industry Solutions kicked off this session by setting the stage for the new empowered and connected customer who is driving new paradigms at every phase of the commerce cycle. Mike Rodin, Senior Vice President of IBM Software Solution Group noted the billions of dollars of recent acquisitions targeted to enhance the company’s smarter commerce portfolio of technology and services.  That portfolio now includes:

On the Buy side: ILOG, Sterling Commerce

In Market support: Utica, Core Metrics, WebSphere Commerce

On the Sell side: Sterling Commerce, ILOG, WebSphere Commerce

On the Service side: Sterling Commerce, Utica

Predictive analytics: SPSS, Cognos

Data Warehousing: Natezza

Three customer panelists each noted how rapid changes in customer fulfillment and supply chain business models have driven changed requirements and an outside-in focus on the customer as the epicenter of commerce.  These requirements include accelerating use of mobile technologies.

Frank Kern, Senior Vice President of IBM Global Business Services provided an insightful observation regarding today’s unprecedented level of supply chain complexity and business change.  Businesses cannot manage their way out of this complexity, as had been the case in the past.  The new skill and process requirement is creative leadership which translates to how quickly a business knows about a situation, and how quickly and timely that business responds.  A further message should resonate specifically with supply chain management and supporting IT professionals. In this era of the ‘new normal’ of business, creative leadership translates to assessing what are the best possibilities vs. what is our biggest problem.  As the after-effects of the devastating earthquake that occurred in Japan continue to permeate through global supply chains, this tenet of creative leadership is already beginning to show among certain impacted industries.

After this afternoon’s session on smarter commerce, this author came away with an analogy of a puzzle of different shapes and contours.  In solving a puzzle, one assembles all of the required pieces and then begins to fit the pieces in-place.  In the view of Supply Chain Matters, IBM is assembling the pieces of smarter commerce, supply chain and predictive analytics capabilities.  In the messages of this conference, IBM is now transitioning into packaged technology and service offerings that it believes will assist customers in transitioning to smarter commerce in a cost effective and timely manner. The seriousness of the commitment and focus is reflected in the executive presence at this conference.

During the remainder of the conference, we hope to focus on the customer view of these Smarter Commerce capabilities.

Bob Ferrari