IBM CIO: ‘Quantum computing will be important in the IT landscape’

24 Sep 2021

Kathryn Guarini. Image: John O’Boyle

The CIO of Big Blue discusses the importance of AI and hybrid cloud, along with emerging tech such as quantum computing and cryptography.

Kathryn Guarini is the CIO of multinational tech giant IBM. Big Blue has been switching its focus to AI and cloud services in recent months, following the news that it is set to undergo a major restructuring.

Guarini and her team are responsible for developing, deploying and transforming the company’s internal IT including hardware, software and services across more than 170 countries.

Her tenure at IBM spans more than two decades. Prior to being named CIO earlier this year, she was COO of IBM Research and vice-president for Impact Science, a research team within IBM that sought to apply deep technical expertise to the most pressing global challenges facing society while advancing the underlying science.

Guarini told that her CIO team supports every part of the business including digital workplace services, as well as thousands of business applications used by professionals in HR, sales, marketing, finance and more.

‘The recent rise in sophisticated cyberattacks requires us to take innovative approaches to secure the enterprise’

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about?

There are many major IT initiatives that we are focused on at IBM. Let me highlight three here.

First, Kyndryl. My team is playing a key role in supporting the separation of IBM’s managed infrastructure business into an independent market-leading company called Kyndryl. IT plays a critical role in ensuring Kyndryl is set up for success with robust and secure infrastructure and applications, segmented to protect data and configured to run each business.

Second, hybrid cloud. We are adopting hybrid cloud at scale in IBM. That means we are moving IBM’s internal IT workload from legacy data centres into public and private cloud environments to get the benefits of hybrid cloud – from faster deployments to better availability to improved sustainability. Hybrid cloud offers a unified experience with end-to-end security and observability, harnessing the power of the open community.

Third, AI. AI is critical for business agility, resilience and growth. We are applying AI to automate business processes, modernise applications, predict outcomes and secure everything. As one example, we have applied AI to personalise and automate the IT support experience for IBMers, with AI-powered voice response, chat and search that improve the user experience.

How big is your team?

Our CIO team is made up of more than 10,000 IBMers with a wide range of technical skills and expertise required to architect, develop, modernise and run IBM’s internal IT systems. Our global team is organised into empowered agile squads doing iterative development in support of specific business solutions.

We partner with IBM’s businesses, who simultaneously serve as stakeholders for our IT delivery and providers of differentiating technology and services that we adopt on behalf of IBM.

We recognise that building, fostering and advancing a pipeline of diverse talent is key to our long-term success. We’ve made focused investments in critical skills that enable transformation, including software development, design, AI, automation, cloud computing, cybersecurity and software-defined networking.

We also have domain expertise in areas like human resources, sales, marketing and finance to help us better serve the IBM company and improve the employee experience.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation?

Like most enterprises, IBM is on its own digital transformation journey, leveraging technologies like hybrid cloud and AI to unlock new business value and accelerate innovation. Hybrid cloud is the foundation of our cognitive enterprise. AI helps make better decisions, automate tasks, streamline processes and enable self-service across the enterprise.

Our CIO team is responsible for modernising our infrastructure and application environment and redesigning our business architecture into end-to-end intelligent workflows.

For example, we have transformed IBM’s sales processes, launching a new solution that offers simplification and insight. The solution involved consolidating more than 160 different sales tools into one scalable, global platform to optimise IBM’s relationship with our customers.

In another example, we transformed IBM’s global client support process, providing improved experience, operational efficiency and AI-driven insights.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

I’ve already talked about how hybrid cloud and AI are hugely important technologies today to drive business transformation. We’re using both to enable intelligent operations, modernise applications and automate insights.

What’s next? Quantum computing will become an important part of the IT landscape, offering competitive advantage to those who can capitalise on the unique capabilities of this new computing paradigm.

Quantum is maturing quickly, with rapid advances in the technology, software ecosystem and use cases across industries. Along with quantum computing comes advanced quantum-safe cryptography solutions that enable encryption that even large-scale fault tolerant quantum computers can’t crack.

There’s a tremendous amount of technology innovation happening here that promises to have outsized impact on our industry and the world.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?

Cybersecurity is a business imperative and the recent rise in sophisticated cyberattacks requires us to take innovative approaches to secure the enterprise.

We have adopted a zero-trust framework, which includes advanced identity protection, vulnerability management and threat detection.

We are adopting security-by-design approaches in the development of our IT solutions to ensure they are foundationally secure against growing threats. And we are adopting IBM’s confidential computing technologies to protect sensitive data at all times.

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