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“We are at the tipping point of the data economy”

Martina Koederitz believes we are currently in the most exciting phase of digital transformation. In her pre-CEBIT interview, the successful IBM executive and patron of the CEBIT summit on “Women in Digital Business” says she would like to see women taking a more active role in the digitization trend. She names several examples of the transformational power of advanced IT in the form of artificial intelligence, big data and blockchain, and outlines how IBM has transformed itself in recent yea

30 May. 2018
CeBIT, Interview, Martina Koederitz
Martina Koederitz, IBM Global Industry Managing Director

Ms. Koederitz, IBM and CEBIT – that’s a partnership that goes back a long way. What’s your take on the show’s relaunch and new format?

We have been enthusiastic CEBIT exhibitors and supporters for decades, and we are right behind the new format. At IBM, we value CEBIT as a platform that brings together people from many different backgrounds for dialog and discussion on how we can shape our future, both at home and at work, using new technologies like IoT, AI and Watson.

And the aim this year is to make these possibilities even more real for people...

That’s right, in keeping with our motto, “Let’s put smart to work”, visitors will have the opportunity to form their own impressions of these new technologies and, more importantly, to gain an understanding of how these technologies will benefit them in their daily lives.

IBM is traditionally focused more on the B2B segment, rather than business with end consumers. Does the new CEBIT mean this will be changing, too?

At IBM, our focus is naturally on the business-to-business segment. But regardless of whether we’re talking about startups, developers, businesses , or whatever, it’s still ultimately all about people as individuals and the knowledge and expertise that’s in their heads. Our aim is to mobilize individuals and get them to engage with the technological development process, wherever in life they may be – whether at school or university, in business or public-sector organizations or actually at the coal face, programming and developing the new technologies in question.

So how do you intend to get people motivated and engaged?

By teaming up with customers and partners to produce solutions showing how we are re-shaping the world with the Internet of Things, blockchain, the cloud, quantum computing, or whatever each respective technology may be. For example, our Port of Rotterdam project shows how the world’s first fully digitized – and hence smartest – port works. And Ask Mercedes, powered by IBM Watson and the IBM Cloud, shows how people can interact digitally – and thus in a simpler, more intelligent way – with their cars.

How does this relate to your involvement with the “Women in Digital Business ” Summit at CEBIT?

People have been talking for many years about ways of promoting diversity. In Germany, the main approach is generally to foster women in technical professions. I personally believe that right now is an ideal time to renew these efforts, because we are at the tipping point of the data economy.

Tipping point of the data economy? What do you mean by that?

Programming is done differently these days. It’s more integrated and interdisciplinary. Today’s technology has a completely different rhythm and tempo, and that opens up major career opportunities for women. It’s extremely varied and exciting. So for me, now is the perfect time to boost our efforts to reach out to women and draw them into these new technologies

Why is that so important?

Women make up half of the population, so why shouldn’t their input into shaping the future be commensurate with that? Women need to take responsibility now and chart their own course, because the future we get is that one we help shape ourselves. Most of the knowledge on which AI draws for its learning was created in a male-dominated culture. So if women don’t actively move into the professions that shape these technological developments, then our world will continue to be shaped by men.

What professions do women and men need to be in order to shape the future?

There will be huge demand for people with the right skills to embrace and wield the new possibilities and opportunities opened up by everything from robotics to artificial intelligence. We need data scientists, data designers, business designers and all kinds of other professionals who can help us use AI.

At IBM, we believe that AI in the sense of “augmented intelligence” will be used in many professions and job areas as a tool to optimize processes and as a basis for assistance systems. I therefore hope that CEBIT can play a role in getting young people thinking about these things and acting accordingly. And I hope this will include a lot of women.

So your advice to young people – both women and men – would be to choose a tech career?

First and foremost, every young person should listen to what their heart tells them about what their interests are. Because, at the end of the day, work should be stimulating and fun. But at the same time, young people also need to have opportunities to explore and try new things – because you can never really know what you like until you’ve given it a go. Thus, at CEBIT we will also be trying to broaden people’s horizons. For example, we’ll be opening people’s eyes to what coding actually involves and just what is achievable with IoT and blockchain.

Do you think coding should be taught at school?

Many a famous person has remarked that the school curriculum should include coding as well as reading, writing and arithmetic. The thing is, in IT we are in the business of connecting the physical world with the digital world. And that’s pretty hard to do without a little coding. In that sense, I believe our school system is currently not equipping our young people with all the knowledge they need.

There’s a lot of change at the moment – and not just in schools, but in the business sector, as well. What is IBM’s approach to its own transformation?

We’ve been in business for over 100 years, and during that period we have reinvented ourselves many times, thanks to our very diverse team, which currently numbers about 350,000 worldwide. So, driving innovation is in IBM’s DNA. For example, about three years ago we adopted various new work methods, including design thinking. Prior to that, we implemented the principle of agility, plus a new leadership culture. Today, we see managers more as coaches – people who set the direction and give their teams the freedom to try things out.

Just playing devil’s advocate here, but: Really? Does that really work at IBM, a large company that has grown organically over a long period?

Of course! But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the customer is king. We made these changes because that’s what our customers wanted. They told us they wanted to interact with us in a different way, and we have responded.

One final question: What advice would you give someone who’s pondering what the future holds?

Don’t close your eyes to IT, Big Data or AI. Take charge, be prepared to take risks, be curious about new things, and never stop growing and developing. These are my recommendations for anyone who wants to make a difference and advance their career. You have to engage with the opportunities that present themselves today if you want to have a part in shaping the future.

Martina Koederitz will speak at the conference "Women in Digital Business" on Wednesday, 13 June 2018.

Speaker profile IBM at CEBIT

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