4 JANUARY 2017 Consulting®
ShortTakes Trends, Views and Analysis
IBM’s Ismail Amla on the firm’s power to effect change in a changing world
Ismail Amla is Managing Partner,
IBM Global Services, North America,
IBM’s professional services division
and the world’s largest consulting
organization. In this capacity, Amla
sets the strategic direction of the GBS
team—the first cognitive consulting
practice—as it engages with corporations, government agencies and educational institutions. He joined IBM
because it was a place where he’d have
an opportunity to make a meaningful impact on the world. Eight months
in, he’s well on his way. Consulting
recently caught up with Amla.
Consulting: Can you talk a bit about the
transition to IBM and what you’ve been up
to since arriving eight months ago?
Amla: After leaving my former firm, I had
planned to take a full year off. Well, to make
a long story short, that year only lasted about
seven months and then IBM called. Three
weeks later, I began at IBM I am a big believer that technology is going to proportionally affect the world and I think IBM will
play a disproportionate part of that transition.
It was a good time for me to join because
IBM is going through its own transition journey where we’re positioning ourselves as the
service provider for the new cognitive world,
which was a perfect fit for what I wanted to
do. Here, I thought there was an opportunity
to do something that had a real meaningful
impact on the world. The capabilities within IBM—the research lab, Watson, data, the
cognitive, the acquisitions we’ve made—
have been so much more than I anticipated.
There’s been a $30 billion investment in the
new world and I’ve had the chance to see it
up close and personal. It’s very impressive.
Consulting: How have you spent your time
at IBM thus far?
Amla: I’ve been focusing across the business
trying to understand the huge client
imperative across each industry to ensure
that we can put a transformational journey
in place to align where industries and clients
are going and where we think technology
will intersect with that. I’ve spent a lot of
that time meeting clients and understanding
what their business imperatives are and the
message has been clear—they expect IBM
to do some of the most complex, mission
critical work because that’s what IBM’s
done for 100 years. I’ve also spent a lot of
time getting to know our staff across North
America just to try to get an understanding of
where we are in terms of culture, capability
and what we should be fine-tuning based on
where we think the markets are going.
Consulting: Where are they going?
Amla: Well, we think whoever can digitize
and then use machines to augment the
understanding of the data—people call it
artificial intelligence, machine learning
etc.—then provide customized services
to a very specific customer, whether it’s a
consumer, a retail client or a banking client,
will be the firm that wins competitively.
Customers are asking us how they can take
advantage of their data and, more importantly,
how they can learn from that data to make
better decisions. That’s the world we’re
preparing for, the cognitive world. How do
you get competitive advantage from data?