Big Blue and "white-blue"
For those who didn't know: "White-blue" is a synonym for Bavaria, Germany. This is how political leaders in Bavaria welcomed IBM's decision to establish its global headquarters for the newly founded division Watson and IoT (Internet of things) in Munich. The center was officially opened on December 15, 2015, with offices overlooking the Alps. This is a remarkable commitment by IBM to the European marketplace and the long-term plans IBM has for Europe.
The decision to open the Watson and IoT center comes at the right time, in the middle of IBM's transformation to position the company for the era of cognitive computing. The Munich headquarters will be the central hub for seven additional Watson centers to be opened around the world over the next couple of years. About 1,000 IBM developers, consultants, researchers and designers are to work in the new Munich Watson center. This is a clear commitment to Europe's innovative strength when it comes to integrated innovations covering different technological fields in different industry sectors. Although Germany’s manufacturing industry is sometimes seen as a little bit reluctant about going full steam ahead with Industry 4.0 technologies, there are remarkable success stories in many different industries (see also CXP/PAC Innovation Register).
IBM opened the center with support from a series of high-profile European players already using the Watson technology (e.g., car manufacturer PSA, insurance company Allianz, Airbus, Siemens Building Technologies, The Weather Channel/now owned by IBM). These companies have been working with the Watson technology, demonstrating success that goes beyond traditional procedural computing. IBM's engagement in cognitive computing should not be seen as a single focused activity, but as a bunch of activities in more or less all aspects of information technology. On the one hand, there is IBM's engagement in the human brain project and at the other end of the spectrum is the focus of IBM scientists on building the first logical quantum bit computer (announced December 8, 2015). In between, there is a whole range of far-reaching technologies such as three-dimensional chips, delivering power to chips using electrolytes, which will also be used for cooling the chips, the first commercially available PCM-only (first phase change memory) memory system to be expected in 2016, as well as a large number of new partnerships. Actually, the new Watson center will also host a number of partners for jointly developing new technologies based on open standards and interchange formats. In total, about 2,000 cognitive computing consultants will develop cognitive computing solutions together with partners and customers worldwide. This is an unmatched capacity and engagement for a new era of computing. I am a little bit reluctant to compare IBM's bold move to the efforts to introduce the /360 computer architecture. However, it can certainly be compared to the introduction of the IBM power processor systems a little bit more than 20 years ago. We should not forget that these chips are the basis – besides a different approach to software and machine learning – for the Watson technology. It may also be noted that currently no competitor has similar cognitive computing capacities commercially available. And I doubt whether pure cloud players will be able to reach a comparable market force without having consulting capacities to develop the knowledge for the different application areas of cognitive computing.
Bottom line: Clearly, IBM has made a big-splash announcement, demonstrating its commitment to the European marketplace and innovative strength, combined with the ability to introduce fundamentally new computing models across all industries. This is not "just another announcement" – this will change IBM's standing in the marketplace as well as Munich's standing in Europe.