Two months ago, IBM dropped the quiet bombshell that it would invest $1 billion over the next three years on research and development in services technology. At the time, this seemed like a drop in the bucket of IBM’s total planned $17 billion R&D spending over three years. But the announcement has generated heightened awareness among other services organizations of the importance of leveraging technology to reduce costs and improve service. And if IBM’s services technology R&D vision plays out, its cost could represent the company's best-ever investment of $1 billion.
Let's face it: Services have become the biggest piece of the enterprise IT pie. Far more dollars are spent on consultants, systems integrators, outsourced managed services, outsourced support, and application development than on all the packaged software that enterprises buy. People provide these services — living, breathing, mistake-making, coffee-break-taking human beings. Services vendors are striving to develop proprietary technologies to leverage those people, to make them more efficient, productive, and empowered.
Big Blue's billion-dollar investment
We recently spoke with Jarir Chaar, program director of services research at IBM’s 3,000-person R&D division. Chaar, who joined IBM 12 years ago right out of college, oversees the contributions of up to 1,300 researchers, many of them with doctorate degrees, working to develop technology that can support IBM’s huge Global Services organization, which now includes the former PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting.
"Services is becoming the key piece of the IBM Corp., so you have to put your key guys and gals on it," he said.
Chaar explained that services technology R&D is about to enter a “hockey stick growth” phase and that the $1 billion would fund research in addition to the company's previous efforts. "Today it's a very labor-heavy organization,” Chaar said, regarding IBM Global Services. “Don’t expect this to disappear overnight … but we're giving our services organization more firepower to distinguish themselves in the marketplace."
That firepower includes a broad range of technologies in various stages of incubation and deployment, including some that are well-understood, such as systems management software, and some that are just percolating in the labs, such as advanced mathematical solutions to logistical problems.
Chaar outlined four broad areas where IBM has focused its services-enabling technology R&D effort: managed infrastructure, application development and management, e-business on demand, and consulting.
Chaar cited technologies within managed infrastructure to help IBM Global Services professionals efficiently configure networks; manage virtual private networks; manage storage services (especially SAN infrastructure security); automate service level management; and automate client software updates, data recovery and security, and systems management.