In 2007, two New York City firefighters lost their lives in a fire at the former Deutsche Bank building, which had been scheduled for demolition. Fire investigators attributed the loss of life to a lack of timely information available to responding firefighters. If the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) had a system in place for collecting and sharing data in real time, the accident could have been avoided, they concluded. With this harsh reality fresh on their minds, officials with the FDNY partnered with IBM to come up with a new Coordinated Building Inspection and Data Analysis System that will rely heavily on predictive modeling and advanced data analytics to anticipate fire exposure, analyze possible impacts and improve communication processes—such as more thorough information sharing between the FDNY and other city agencies—to help minimize risks.
The FDNY engagement, in many ways, is typical of what has become the new IBM. Over the last few years, the company has been more heavily focused on helping clients pull useful information out of mountains of existing data. In April, the firm announced the formation of a brand new practice area—Business Analytics and Optimization Services—that will employ some 4,000 consultants to help meet the increased demand for enhanced data utilization services in the marketplace.
“The new practice area really coalesces all the capabilities we have in terms of going to market and helping solve these incredibly difficult problems, and now we’re just making it friction-free in terms of how we bring our capabilities together by putting them all in a new service line,” says Jim Bramante, managing partner, North America for IBM Global Business Services. “That being said, we want to make sure we integrate our analytics approach into everything we do.” Bramante says that could be as simple as how IBM measures a specific market on a firm level to how an individual consultant understands how to drive value differently for each client.
“We’re really building on this notion of predictability… we’re moving from the ‘sense and respond’ mode, which is too slow in today’s world, to actually using data to help us predict business outcomes,” he says. “Clients have big issues they’re dealing with, and they have lots of blind spots. The trick is to harness all that data that’s available to help clients make better and more timely decisions.”
IBM, for its part, probably couldn’t have made a better and more timely decision to shift its strategy and focus. Analytics is the next logical step for a firm that has shifted from hardware to software and services more than a decade ago and now is doubling down on services, with analytics being the centerpiece. Enterprise software implementation has given way to higher margin, and often higher profile, consulting engagements that may require specialized software and services.
The result is record revenues of $104 billion for Big Blue in 2008, and Global Business Services was up 9 percent. Analytics and services are also the main forces behind IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative launched in November. And Bramante is right there leading the charge for North America. He came over to IBM with the PricewaterhouseCoopers acquisition in 2002 and originally headed the financial management services practices, then the distribution sector before taking over his current role in 2007.
“In 2007, we were coming off a pretty good year in 2006, but then we started to see some cracks in the economy, and for us it became all about our focus on our strategy,” Bramante says. “We were really focused on knowing where America was going and making sure we were providing real value to our clients in terms of their return on investment, but we were doing it in a way that was kind of a systemic change into the analytical environment. We came out of 2008 with a record year.”
And the biggest secret to the firm’s current and future success, Bramante says, is the keen focus on analytics or “The Holy Grail,” as he calls it. “If you can harness that data and use it to gain unique insight, I think that’s where the play is for a lot of clients,” he says. “If you look at our broad strategy, it’s really about developing great client relationships and driving differentiated solutions when we bring together all the capabilities of IBM.” And that means a bigger reliance on IBM’s massive research arm that will help drive the success of GBS. “One of my jobs is to make sure that we’re tapping into all that IBM has to offer in terms of our globally integrated enterprise to give clients the best value,” Bramante says.
Another key aspect of his job is to help steer Global Business Services and the consulting profession into new, and often unchartered waters, such as the work IBM is doing with the FDNY.
“To step up to these big aspirational issues we’re talking about requires a new level of consulting, a new level of talent, and a new level of analytics,” Bramante says. “I think you will see over the next several years our model evolve into something completely different than anything out there right now in consulting; we’re helping to create a consulting capability and model that will help lead the profession. That’s pretty exciting.”
What’s also exciting, Bramante says, is the recognition the Top 25 award brings to IBM, specifically GBS. “It’s certainly an honor at a personal level, but it makes me really proud of what we’ve accomplished here at IBM,” he says. “I’m proud to be a part of IBM, and proud to be part of this tremendous team we have in Global Business Services in North America.”