IBM: Watson, What Is Happening?

May 22, 2020

I like to think about the wisdom of IBM Watson. A large company developed smart software able to beat mere humans in a TV game show. Amazing, but I asked myself after Watson “won” jeopardy, “What about that post production process?”

Now IBM’s actual production process is visible. A new Big Blue dog Arvind Krishna is controlling the pack of huskies. Such is the success of the racing sled in a time of Covid that IBM will not cut its five percent dividend, according to the “real news” service Fox Business.

IBM hedged by declining to make a forecast for 2020. IBM’s future is bright, but apparently it is not that bright.

IBM to Cut Thousands of Jobs As Coronavirus Plays Out” reveals that some surplus employees will be reduced in force. Fox reported:

“IBM’s work in a highly competitive marketplace requires flexibility to constantly remix to high-value skills, and our workforce decisions are made in the long-term interests of our business.  Recognizing the unique current conditions, IBM is offering subsidized medical coverage to all affected U.S. employees through June 2021” a company spokesman said in a statement.

If one is not terminated, what’s the people process at IBM look like? Think bare knuckles boxing maybe? “IBM Says It’s Giving Employees the Opportunity to Compete for Positions” explains:

“As part of IBM’s regular assessment of how we work, we are simplifying how we operate to position our business for high value growth opportunities and better meet client demand,” a spokesperson said. “Employees will have the opportunity to re-skill and compete for positions where roles are available.”

Unlike some Silicon Valley outfits, having employees work from home is the first step (a generally gentle one) in eliminating surplus. The office space will go and then the less productive work from homers will be invited to a Zoom meeting for a “Find Your Future” elsewhere session.

Big Blue is more direct, more gladiatorial: Get terminated or get into the octagon. Fight Ralph, the slightly overweight and near sighted OmniFind expert for a paycheck.

Wouldn’t it be more interesting to have Watson battle Facebook, Google, and Microsoft in a smart software battle to prove which company is Number One?

Watson, what do you think of my suggestion? IBM’s approach to returning to glory is interesting, but it seems old fashioned: Layoffs and internal competition. Very Darwin.

Watson, you know about Darwin, right?

Stephen E Arnold, May 22, 2020

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