Learning More About IBM’s Content Services–Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series

In this special episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast The Interview Series, Daniel Newman welcomes Bill Lobig, Vice President of IBM’s Content Services, to discuss how the way we manage content has evolved. After all, content is the cornerstone of the internet, and the way we treat it is changing—thanks to developing technology.

More specifically, in this podcast, Bill noted that there are two types of content: structured data and unstructured data—and we treat them differently. The unstructured data in particular has been more difficult to deal with, as it’s made up of documents, text, and videos. It takes a lot of time to read or view, so it’s hard to get information out of it. But that’s been slowly changing due to the digital transformation, which happens to be the backdrop for everything that’s going on right now.

So, what does the digital transformation mean in terms of how businesses build out their apps and use content services? According to Bill, content services has been traditionally regarded as monolithic repository systems that are mostly back office. That used to be true, but now, with innovation in this space, it’s moved along quickly. Digital transformation is about applying technology to change the way people work. And unstructured content—such as videos and documents—is part of everyone’s daily job in any industry. People are always searching for information, reading, etc., and then drawing conclusions to act on that information they’ve found.

That’s where offering content services comes in. It’s no longer about monolithic storage, but now it’s about granular, easy-to-consume services that work with all types of content—not just documents—and let you assemble those in a way that powers business apps. Basically, use what you need, not what you don’t.

Daniel mentioned that content is a unifier, both in business and in personal life, and people have become increasingly connected to content online, so it can drive greater customer experiences. He then asked Bill what he looks for that will make an app more transformative, and not just a small improvement to how business is done. According to Bill, the answer starts with referencing AI, which is not magic. In fact, he defined it as “people applying math to data.”

Bill went on to explain that if we can apply AI to data, the promise is to make life easier and better. Reading documents and watching videos can take time, so what IBM is trying to do is use machine learning and other techniques to get additional insight out of content—including unstructured content—to automate the way people work. For example, RPA can automate processes, but it doesn’t make a bad process better. It just automates it.

By contrast, digital transformation is about stepping back and rethinking how people work so they can be faster and more productive. IBM’s goal is to transform business processes, not just automate them! The point is to make it as easy as possible to consume content in any way you want—whether you need to retrieve and share documents or get highly bespoke custom applications for your enterprise.

When asked about high-impact use cases where we can see this concept applied, Bill answered that accounts payable use cases are a good example. Other use cases include digital vaults for banking, explanation of benefits for healthcare, medical imaging in life sciences, and commercial lending contracts. Essentially, with all these use cases, you can see that the focus has shifted from how to reduce costs to how to increase the topline and get more clients. And IBM Content Services is working toward that to help transform the customer experience!

Transcript:  

Daniel Newman: Welcome to this edition of the Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series. I’m Daniel Newman, Principal Analyst at Futurum Research and your host for this edition of the Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series. We are excited to be partnering up on this episode with IBM Automation where we have guest Bill Lobig, who’s a Vice President of IBM’s Content Services, who will be joining me in just a moment. And we’re going to have a discussion about app dev, automation, content and how it’s driving really the future of work. And before I have Bill join me on this episode, I do need to really quickly do the formal disclosure and say this show is for information and entertainment purposes only. So while we are talking with and to and about publicly traded companies, we are not advising the purchase or investment in any securities.

All right, so on the show today, as I mentioned, Bill Lobig, and we’re going to have him join right now. Bill, welcome to the Futurum Tech Podcast.

Bill Lobig: Hey Daniel. Thank you. I appreciate you having me here today.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, sorry about all that extra stuff, but hey, we want everyone to know that this is for learning purposes and we are going to have a great discussion, because between you and I and everyone out there listening to the show, content is really the cornerstone of the internet. It is the cornerstone of most of the applications that we use for work and whether it’s structured data that lives within our CRMs and ERPs and HCM systems or it’s unstructured content that lives across our business productivity applications or on the web, it is all that data that comes together to help applications power the way we work. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today. But before we dive into the topic, Bill, can I have you just do a quick introduction? I know I gave your job and your title to everybody out there, but tell everyone a little bit about what you do at IBM, because it sounds like you have a really interesting role there.

Bill Lobig: Yeah, sure. Absolutely. I know it’s funny, sometimes my friends and my wife ask me what I do at IBM and is it Watson? Because that’s the brand, right? Well we’ve got a lot of businesses in IBM and I’m fortunate enough to lead the content services business. So this is what some analysts might have traditionally called ECM, we now refer to as content services and I’m responsible for basically all things contained therein, from strategy offering, products, engineering support, our cloud properties and working with our partners in our channels.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, it sounds like a lot of fun. And so you probably second my remarks about content, right? I mean in that role you’re in, you really are powering and propelling this conversation about where content lives in the app dev and automation story.

Bill Lobig: Yeah, absolutely. I feel that content and the way we look at it, exactly as you said, there’s structured data and there’s unstructured data and inside of IBM. And as I think most of the industry, we treat these slightly differently because one is self-describing and easier to understand, that being the data side of it. The unstructured is traditionally been more difficult because it’s documents, it’s texts, it’s videos, it takes a lot of time of reading, viewing.

It’s arduous to get insight and information out of there. And while this business and this industry has been around for quite a long time, with origins back to digital imaging and in the ’80s if you will, the introduction of artificial intelligence and machine learning to derive insight and frankly help humans be more effective at their roles and reading and understanding documents is really giving us a really powerful opportunity to get additional value out of these systems and grow this business.

Daniel Newman: Oh yeah, absolutely. And by the way, hopefully this is an easy to consume piece of unstructured data for everybody out there. But Bill, I’ve got a few questions lined up for you. And in the spirit of respecting the time and the volume of data out there, I try to keep our conversation to about 15 minutes or so. I have lined up some questions. You ready to jump in the hot seat?

Bill Lobig: Let’s do it.

Daniel Newman: So let’s start off talking digital transformation; popular term, grown exponentially in visibility, and that’s sort of the backdrop for everything that’s going on right now, right? How is your business digitally transforming? And it’s driving so many of the priorities for enterprises, but what does that mean in terms of how businesses are building out their apps and utilizing content services that we’ve been speaking about?

Bill Lobig: Let me start by defining content services. Traditionally, this technology space has been regarded as monolithic repository systems that are back-office governance and compliance oriented. And that was true in yesteryear if you will, but the innovation in the industry has moved along quite rapidly. Digital transformation in its most simplest form, it’s about applying technology to change the way people work. And unstructured content, videos, documents, they’re part of everyone’s daily job no matter what you do. If you step back and you look at how people work, they spend time sourcing information, searching for things, reading things, and then making determinations, conclusions and decisions and acting on those things and those insights they derive.

So how can content help? In a modern content services platform, it’s no longer about monolithic storage, it’s about granular, easy to consume services that work with all types of content, not just documents, and allow you to assemble those in a way that powers business applications in a use what you want, not what you don’t type of fashion. And really being more agile and nimble in their exposure to apps, business apps.

Daniel Newman: I can definitely see that and it’s interesting you say that. When I’m trying to simplify digital transformation, I’ve written several books about it. I always come back to, it’s really almost split into two things, right? You have digital being the technology and transformation really being human. Technology transforms the way humans work and the way humans consume. But you have to split this up because all the technology on the on the planet won’t make humans work more effectively if they don’t apply it, utilize it, adapt it, adopt it, culturally embrace it.

So, there are so many interesting opportunities around digital transformation. But content is definitely a unifier, I think in business and in personal people have become increasingly connected to the digital world and the content it creates. Sure, with all the news in our world today and at this moment, people’s eyes are pasted to the content of the interwebs right now. But it’s also, like you said, it’s the content that lives within our databases and within our workforce that is really helping us transform to drive greater customer experiences, increased revenues, to keep employees happier, to reduce attrition. There’s so many outcomes that are being driven and it really is that combination of digital tools, of content and of culture that need to come together to make things possible.

So, let me jump to the next question for you. When it comes to your way of looking at application transformation, what do you look for that’s going to make an app, say, more transformative versus just a iterative improvement to the way business is done?

Bill Lobig: I’ll start with referencing AI. I’m a technologist by trade, I grew up in the engineering side of things. So, first thing I need to do, otherwise sometimes I feel like I lack credibility if I don’t define, what do I mean by AI?

Because there’s so much hype around this word. It’s not magic. AI is people applying math to data. And so when we look at it in that context, content is data. It’s the world’s most prolific source of data, particularly on the unstructured side: documents, texts, these things, videos. And so if we can apply AI to data in the way I described, the real promise of it is to make people’s lives easier and ultimately society’s life easier and better. And it just so happens that reading documents and watching videos is an arduous task. It takes a lot of time. So, what we’re looking to do is use machine learning and these other techniques to get additional insight out of content, including unstructured content and videos and all of these things, to assist and automate the way people work.

RPA for example, let’s talk about RPA for a minute. RPA is really good at automating processes, but it doesn’t make a bad process better, it just automates that thing. Digital transformation is about stepping back and rethinking how people work, and how this content and the application of AI to it to get insights out of the critical business documents, how can that help people work better and faster and be more productive and get greater throughput in whatever it is they do. So that’s how we’re thinking about content and AI and these things coming together to really transform business processes, not just, rejig or automate poor processes.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, that’s a great point. I advise a number of the traditional RPA companies and that’s been one of the key points that I’ve been making all year is that the old way of automation is really just that, it’s archaic, it doesn’t really do what automation needs to be doing today. It needs to incorporate new architectures, intelligent cloud capability and augmentation with intelligence, otherwise you’re just really talking about layering in some type of process automation that’s probably just following a scripted workflow or using CSS screen scraping to do something in an old monolithic software stack that’s probably running on a mainframe somewhere. And by the way, IBM has a heck of a mainframe business, so I’m not knocking it. I just mean that there are a lot of applications that that’s not the environment anymore. It is more of an agile cloud, multi-cloud, very much a real-time changes being made where old RPA methods just don’t work. So I think you’re absolutely spot on. AI, for instance, in the utilization of machine learning and also just modernized architecture for RPA is so important.

But let’s talk a little bit more about the content side and its utilization in applications. Let’s get a little practical here. So when an application developer is building software, give me the IBM view on where, when and how that developer is going to integrate content services into the application.

Bill Lobig: Yeah, absolutely. So, content is an essential component of the fabric of every business application, in my opinion. It’s very infrequently you find a business process that doesn’t involve content in some way. So, the way we’re approaching this and IBM is to make it as easy as possible to consume content and the insights from that content in any way you want. For example, you might need an out-of-the-box experience, it’s a way to store and retrieve documents and view them, share them with your constituents, either internally or externally to your organization.

And it’s a lightweight, good enough, allows you to interact highly collaboratively. We’ve got that, we’re very focused on that. Or you might go all the way to needing highly bespoke custom applications, which many of our clients do because they operate in sophisticated regulated industries with many business lines. And modern APIs, for example, we’re investing heavily, not just in IBM in content, but in IBM in general, in a an API called GraphQL, which is an open-source API that originally was invented by Facebook. And it’s really transforming the way you can interact with content systems because it’s very optimized for such applications.

Because those are the two ends of the spectrum. But we’re also, I would say, more than anything I find that content systems have, especially the kinds that we deliver and cater to our clients, an extraordinarily high degree of functionality. But most of our clients are on the tip of the iceberg in consuming it. And what is the reason for that? They either don’t know what power is available to them or they can’t get at it as a business, as a line of business user who’s looking to solve a problem. So low-code and no-code tooling to express content and applications in a way that frankly wasn’t possible before without complex IT projects is something that we’re extraordinarily focused on and investing heavily in to help unlock the insight from these critical business records to applications.

Daniel Newman: I’m such a bull on this low-code/no-code because the people that often understand the business aren’t the developers themselves. But when the developer and the business line leader or the person responsible for the application can really communicate through that low-code/no-code environment, I’m seeing it with just tremendous success across different businesses. IBM is obviously one of the pioneers, along with a few other companies, and I’ve been very happy with what I’ve seen in that space and I think you’ve got a movement going there.

Bill Lobig: Yeah, it’s a big area, a big area of focus. And I want to say, as I mentioned earlier, I’m a technologist by trade and some of the listeners out there, particularly those that might come from more of the development or IT side, might be thinking, “Well, you can’t do anything in enterprise with low-code.” Maybe, maybe not. But we agree in that we have also a sophisticated set of developer tools and we have round tripping and we support all facets that you need, frankly, to help you build applications that digitize labor across the entire spectrum of work, from knowledge to clerical and all things in between. That’s really our strategy.

Daniel Newman: For all the developers out there, I still think there’s a huge role for developers. Like any augmented intelligence, having certain parts, say for instance, being able to build a knowledge base in low-code where you can access content to create an FAQ using some machine learning, right? You could look at that as a, “Oh, you’re harming the developer.” But my look is with all these transformative shifts, it’s really about upskilling and upleveling. The developers can do bigger and more important projects that still require those skills, while concurrently enabling, like I said, the front end of the business to build some of the simplistic automations that need to be built. They need to be very agile and done on a quick basis. I think it’s a win for all parties. Most developers, and I think you mentioned you’re a technologist a few times, will tell you that they would much rather spend their time breaking and creating and working on complex things than just plugging away building things that a simple low-code/no-code platform can handle.

Bill Lobig: Exactly. There’s always more work for everyone. There’s lots to get done. And low-code can empower the business, make them self-efficient and developers are still doing what they need to do.

Daniel Newman: So talk to me about a few high-impact use cases. I always like to have my listeners understand. So where are you seeing this being applied? And any examples you can share?

Bill Lobig: There’s a vast set. I could talk about many. I’ll give the ones that come to the top of my head. Account payable use cases is a very prolific one. I think the rise of RPA is somewhat lending itself to that because accounts payable requires a lot of comparing, bill the materials, to invoices and entering data into different systems. And invoices are interesting in the content space. They are content, they are documents and there’s no standard for invoices. Every vendor and supplier has a different format and look and feel and every company in the world, I’d assert, who buys something from a supplier has some kind of accounts payable or vendor invoicing process. So that’s an area we see a lot of focus right now around intelligent document processing and content services. That continues, digital vaults for banking and exchanging documents securely with customers, explanation of benefits, healthcare, medical imaging and life sciences, engineering requirements, documents, commercial lending, contracts.

Look, the focus in the industry in general, I would say, and this is a broad stroke statement, not a content or automation statement, is it’s shifted from how do I reduce my costs over the last few years? Yeah, everyone wants to do that, that’s still important. But it’s really about how do I increase my top line and net more clients? And how do I do that? I have better client experiences and I differentiate on customer service. So, the better you can engage and interact with your customers and any use cases therein that involve documents and content and video exchange. Video, upload, self-service auto insurance claims, we have clients doing that with our systems. Anything that you can more seamlessly build applications or interfaces that allow your clients to contribute and collaborate on content with you, that’s a win, and there’s a lot of focus. And with the help of machine-learning it, there’s tons of opportunity to transform your business and your client experiences.

Daniel Newman: Absolutely. And I love how, on the other hand, this is something on your Watson comment from the beginning, but AI, and with the rapid revolution that’s going on with natural language processing, contextual and conversational, in the near future, we’re really going to be talking to our applications. And we’ve seen early pioneering of this. People are doing it every day on their phones and with some of their home smart bots, smart chat, smart speakers. But this is going to become a business application thing too, especially now that we’ve gotten latency down to near zero. We’ve got STKs that can enable less than 300 milliseconds for inference. It’s crazy how far we’ve come.

Meanwhile, as far as we’ve come though, the enterprises can still be laggards. I actually just published a piece on Forbes that talked about the digital transformation roadmap for laggards and while there are companies that are ahead of the curve, many are still behind, many are still doing traditional RPA, if any at all, or are still manually handling seven, eight, nine screens in ERP to order a couple of staplers. And as ridiculous as it sounds, go into those monolithic softwares and have a look for yourself, it can be extremely painful. So you guys probably are fighting up that hill. Sometimes you work with innovative companies, sometimes you’re working with companies that are those monoliths and laggards. So how are we getting companies to overcome them and really start embracing enterprise content management systems as part of their app build to help maximize data of all types in their applications being run in the business?

Bill Lobig: I think it’s a great question. I think there’s two pieces to it. There’s an infrastructure statement. So what do I mean by that? And then there’s a sort of a getting your arms around what you have to deal with in terms of content, there’s that. So, on the infrastructure piece, content is prolific, as I described. And as such, it has tentacles into many different systems and business applications. So, these things grow over time, they evolve, IT adapts them and they’re complicated and hard to upgrade and take time.

So we see the biggest bang for the buck there in what we’re calling our enterprise out cloud-native strategy, where we are helping clients move to the more modern containerized and Coobernetti’s-built cloud native versions of our technologies that can dramatically lower cost of ownership by reducing upgrade times, reducing regression testing cycles with A/B and Canary-style deployments, these kinds of things. So that’s one because that frees their time to focus on new initiatives, so they’re not just in what they feel is a perpetual upgrade type of scenario.

So that’s one. And then the other is getting your arms around all the content silos and federation. And it doesn’t necessarily mean moving content, that can be a big IT task and content is sticky and the DNA of these systems is different. Reconcile on that’s not easy. Metadata federation, lightweight connectivity, good enough to get these things reconciled, you get a single source of truth, you lower your TCO, you have lots of time to go use these low-code tools and start to build next-gen applications that extend your existing investments.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I think you bring a lot of great points and I really appreciate the time and I think I could talk about this forever. Digital transformation is a passion of min. I just came out this year with a new book called Human Machine, where now we’re talking about basically the future of partnerships between humans and machines, which I think is the next wave of digital transformation. But this topic isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and at the core of it all this content is really what enables understanding, it’s what enables compute to compute. And CPUs, GPUs, FPGAs, ASICs and VPUs and all the other DSPs and everything that’s used right now for AI, it really comes down, Bill, to having content to process. And that content becomes the context and information and tool for engagement. So, very interesting to have this opportunity to talk to you, Bill. Sounds like IBM is doing some really interesting things in the content space and using content to help develop world-class business applications. So, I want to say thank you very much for taking a few minutes to join me here today on the Futurum Tech Podcast.

Bill Lobig: It was a pleasure. I appreciate the opportunity. Have a great a great day, Daniel. I appreciate it. Thank you.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, absolutely. And if everybody out there definitely hit that subscribe button and share this episode if you enjoyed listening into what Bill had to say. And if you’re a regular listener to our weekly Futurum Tech Podcast where we cover all the big news in tech, along with some of the lesser-known news in tech, please keep coming back and join, subscribe, share and stay along with us for the ride. But for now, for this edition of the Futurum Tech Podcast Interview Series, I’m Daniel Newman, thank you for IBM for helping us and partnering with us on this episode and we will see everybody very soon.

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Image Credit: IBM