By @SimonCocking

Interview with Simon Porter @simonlporter IBM Vice President for  SMB’s in Europe. Insights into how IBM Partners bring value.

Almost 30 years with IBM! Impressive in these changing times, at the same time you’ve had a variety of roles – has this helped keep it interesting and challenging for you?

Yes, I have done 10 totally different roles over the 29 years in IBM – examples include; leading our European PC business, helping Governments in Eastern Europe bring Innovation thinking to business with our Consulting team, helping leading retail banks in UK and France re-invent customer service.

What aspects of the working for IBM have you enjoyed over your career?

The key thing that has remained through each role is integrity, trust and openness to new ideas and approaches.  The ability to bring new ideas and change to a client’s business and make a significant difference to their strategy makes it truly rewarding.  The opportunity to work with clients across Europe, Middle East & Africa has enabled me to respect cultures and be more flexible as more business is done internationally with the advent of technologies such as cloud.

IBM has weathered a lot of changes within the markets they operated in over this time. Was there a conscious attempt to handle future changes that you were aware of?

IBM has reinvented and transformed itself many times over its 103 year history – an accelerating level of change is the common theme in the technology industry.  Only those companies & individuals that embrace change, look for and build in wild duck ideas and continue to transform can prosper in today’s world.  Over communication and showcasing positive examples of the change, and of individuals that played a part in that change, help bring the team along the journey faster.

If you had a magic wand, is there anything you would go back and do differently?

Spending more time in emerging and different markets, in particular India & China.  Culturally, historically and geographically these two countries are incredibly varied.  As these economies mature and prosperity grows there is a big market opportunity for businesses (large and small).

Your current position is very much embracing the move to cloud based platforms. What opportunities do you see here?

Cloud enables even small businesses to disrupt mature industries, and serve new markets in a way historically that would have required substantial unrealistic upfront capital investment. Also, mobile technology such as smartphones means businesses can market and sell to people in a different and more flexible manner in a way and a time the consumer wants. Small & Medium Businesses are often not weighed down with big investments in heritage IT systems, so can move fast to take advantage of new approaches. As SMBs typically do not have IT skills themselves, they turn to local trusted Service Providers to be their ‘IT department’ and in this way are more open to change as a result.  In Europe we are working with businesses doing this in nearly every industry. For example, WorldTicket is aiming to disrupt airline reservations using IBM Cloud.

How is IBM faring at competing in this sector relative to new companies looking to quickly scale up to take advantage of rapid technology shifts and new opportunities?

Clients and partners cite a number of reasons why they turn to IBM for a trusted partnership.  Many relish our leading Global Entrepreneur Program which provides mentoring support as well as free access to our solutions for those eligible applicants.

Clients also choose IBM because we have a global network of 42 Cloud Data Centres which provides a secure and global network.  Cloud is, however, just the enabler of business innovation not an end in itself, so it is also the 100 plus software applications running on the IBM cloud, as well as an ecosystem of software partners solutions in our Cloud Marketplace {link}, that brings true value and innovation to our clients.

When you add to that our extensive network of business partners and also our commitment to open standards and open systems our clients know there is no lock-in from a commercial or technical perspective in dealing with IBM.

IoT, what aspects of it are you excited about / do you see potential opportunities?

There is an enormous and exciting opportunity for businesses to transform and deliver differentiated services in a variety of industries by making use of the hidden IoT data that is all around us but may not yet be connected.  In many industries, by using IoT data there is the opportunity to change the dynamic of the business and provide a service rather than a just a product.  This in turn will bring new revenue & profit streams.

For example, take a specialised vehicle axle manufacturer.  By placing sensors in axles that collect temperature, stress and usage data, the manufacturer can now collect that data and apply predictive analytics. From there it is possible to undertake predictive maintenance during a normal service cycle which is less costly than trying to fix the axle once it is broken and typically when it is in the field.  Using IoT data, this SMB now has the opportunity to provide ‘axles as a service’, taking responsibility for the service process and lifecycle of the axle and expanding the business opportunity. This approach can be applied to a whole variety of products and industries and all businesses should develop an IoT strategy.

How do you find the contrast being based in Madrid now after Zurich & Paris?
IBM is committed to flexible mobile working, so a ‘home location’ is a subjective matter. There’s something to like about each city, but whilst my office location has moved, I spend as much time as possible with clients and partners.  This allows me to share experiences of innovation first hand and bring most value where it counts with our clients.

What are you strategies for achieving a healthy life / work balance?

It’s difficult in the always-on world and an international role spanning multiple time zones.  The best strategy is to always take annual vacation with no work interference.  Running is also something that is possible in any city and good for keeping healthy.  Later this year, along with 100 other IBMers I will be taking part in the charity 10 mile DamtoDam race in Amsterdam.

Have you been to Ireland? Your impressions from afar in terms of its attempt to establish a tech / startup economy?

I am regularly in Ireland.  It’s currently a hot bed of innovative startups which is also attracting a lot of multilingual expertise.  That expertise is one of the reasons why IBM’s largest multi language client engagement centre worldwide is located in Dublin.   The European Digital Sales Centre opened in September 2014 and the $26 million investment enables a new digital based system of engagement and transforms the way in which IBM engages with clients and business partners.   We’ve transformed so that our clients will now experience increased personalisation, innovation and efficient collaboration through digital and social platforms – that’s much the way the startups are talking to their clients too, and how I also aim to operate.

You are very active on twitter – is this a key part of how you do business now?

Yes this is where we first connected.  Twitter is one of the social media tools I use. Buying patterns are changing dramatically in this highly connected world especially amongst Small & Medium Businesses. In a recent study 69% of B2B buyers are using social networks for business and 89% of CXOs are using digital to interact with their customers – a doubling in a short period. I have become a leading influencer in a number of IT topics as a result of this which has generated a large number of valuable relationships and subsequent business that I would never have achieved through traditional sales techniques.

How do you manage the life / work balance with the challenges of being connected 24/7?

It is a challenge as it’s important to interact not just broadcast information. I use ‘dead’ time during the day such as travel  or snatched minutes in between meetings to keep on top of it, as well as first thing in the morning  over a coffee before the day starts . Its also important to know when to use the off button on the smartphone  in order to guarantee quality time with family and friends.

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