IBM’s gigantic Think 2018 conference came on the back of the company’s first quarterly revenue rise since Q1 2012. Good news then, and it undoubtedly lent an extra spring to the proceedings at the Mandalay Bay convention centre in Las Vegas.

CEO Ginni Rometty kicked off the conference in suitably upbeat mode addressing nearly all of the 42,000 delegates (not all of them IBMers by the way!).

The video presentation preceding the keynote left delegates in no doubt about IBM's commitment to AI, IoT, data and analytics. SMART was the buzzword - and it was everywhere.

Significantly, supply chain and logistics were also prominent in the messaging across the keynotes and show floor. Rometty said that business and technology architectures tend to change simultaneously, and approximately every 25 years. Right now we are going through the third great shift after the introduction of the PC, the world wide web and now, the AI and data era.

By coincidence it's also about the same length of time between corporate reinventions of the mighty IBM - we are now witnessing the shift to an AI-led (Watson) services business. And the beginning of a variation in Metcalfe's law, if you believe Rometty. She explained: one piece of AI data is of some use, but when you connect it with others, you get an exponential benefit - she called this “Watson’s Law”.

“Platforms are the future of business, you will use other people's and your own” she said. Rometty also talked about the sanctity of data, trust and responsibility. “We are data stewards, carrying forward IBM’s data principles into the era of AI.”

IBM believe that global CXOs are looking to build digital platforms that will be cognitive. In other words, active computing platforms that learn from experience. According to IBM’s own research 46% of CxOs are considering or already have active platforms –the remaining 54% will need to leverage other platforms.

Blockchain, AI, Watson will be a significant part of IBM Services with a unique off- the shelf product, putting the power of blockchain into the hands of smaller businesses. There are now also pre-trained Watson systems ready to go for verticals such as automotive, hospitality, banking and insurance.

Such a vast conference meant there were hidden treasures on the showroom floor. One such was IBM QueryPlex, a technology not yet commercially available but one that could make a difference to companies searching databases across locations and borders - GDPR comes to mind.

QueryPlex makes it easy to query 'fast data' across many data sources as though they are a single repository (including relational databases, JSON, and flat files). Through unique patent-pending technology it enables the data sources to collaborate in producing analytic results, multiplying the available processing power from the data itself.

See more about QueryPlex here in this video.

As mentioned, supply chain was a key message here. Data, blockchain and analytics will combine to shave delivery times as well as reduce waste and chargebacks. IBM believes that one of the best ways to exploit Blockchain for supply chain is to leverage already existing data flows (EDI, XML, B2B or API based B2B) and enriching them with IoT and other relevant data.

To this end, IBM is investing in adding a Blockchain platform to its IBM Supply Chain Business Network. Rather than starting a Blockchain network “from scratch”, this large global network of nearly 7000 organisations that already exchange B2B documents can start to take advantage of Blockchain through co-operation. The blockchain gives “a shared vision of the truth” to avoid supply chain disputes and help analyse problems immediately.

IBM says that all verticals are demanding On Time in Full delivery (OTIF). It believes that Blockchain and AI can give early warning of problems and issue immediate reships to avoid chargeback which costs industry billions every year. More here:

The company believes that $3.1tn of value will be generated by blockchain by 2030. IBM has now 1500 blockchain consultants ready to assist its clients. The effect of AI and blockchain is real. Two big IBM clients, Maersk and Walmart, spoke about some of the impact. Maersk has already seen cost savings and a reduction in wastage through its global shipping routes.

Walmart had undertaken two blockchain proof of concepts to trace the supply chain of Mangoes from farm to table. The current traceback of such perishable goods was 6 days. With blockchain it was 2.243 seconds. Quite remarkable. So remarkable that Walmart are putting the blockchain into its supply chain.

IBM is a great survivor. Its tradition of advanced R&D has kept the 100+ year old company relevant in the age of Apple, Google and Amazon. So many of its contemporaries have gone, but at Think 2018 IBM exuded confidence that it will be still be around in another 100 years in one shape or another.