The measure of a man: Performance reviews: not dead yet

17. February 2016

Date: 17-02-2016
Source: The Economist

Employers are modifying, not abolishing them

IN RECENT months the business press has reverberated with cheers for the end of performance reviews. “Performance reviews are getting sacked,” crows the BBC. They “will soon be over for all of us”, rejoices the Financial Times. Such celebration is hardly surprising. Kevin Murphy, a performance-review guru at Colorado State University, sums up the general feeling about them: an “expensive and complex way of making people unhappy”. The problem is, they are not in fact being scrapped.

A survey in 2013 by Mercer, a consulting firm, of 1,000 employers in more than 50 countries reported that 94% of them undertook formal reviews of workers’ performance each year and 95% set individual goals for employees; 89% calculated an overall score for each worker and linked pay to these ratings. It is true that a number of big companies have announced that they are abandoning annual performance reviews; this month IBM did so, joining Accenture, Adobe, Deloitte, GE, Microsoft and Netflix. In reality, though, they are no more getting rid of performance reviews than a person who shifts from drinking whisky to wine is becoming teetotal. Employee reviews are being modified, not abolished, and not necessarily for the better. Read the rest of this entry »


IBM CEO Says Automation Won’t Decimate Job Market

7. October 2015

Date: 07-10-2015
Source: The Wall Street Journal

IBM has formed a new business unit to advise companies on using its Watson artificial-intelligence software

Rometty CCIBM CEO Virginia Rometty

ORLANDO, Fla.—The rise of cognitive technology, or machines that can approximate the way people think, will lead to big changes in how people work and in the economy itself, International Business Machines Corp. CEO Virginia Rometty said Tuesday.

“This is not about replacing people. It is about augmenting what man does…this helps us do things we couldn’t do,” Ms. Rometty said Tuesday at the Gartner Symposium, a gathering of CIOs and business technology professionals.

IBM made news today with the announcement of a new 2,000-person consulting unit, the Cognitive Business Solutions Group, that will help businesses make use of Watson , a decision-support platform the company hopes to apply to a range of industries such as health care. The thesis is that there’s too much information for even a well-educated professional in health or law or just about any area to master, and the artificial intelligence and other algorithms at the heart of Watson can provide answers far more quickly than can the human mind. Read the rest of this entry »


Apple Won’t Always Rule. Just Look at IBM.

26. April 2015

Date: 26-04-2015
Source: The New York Times

Apple can’t grow like this forever. No company can.

In a few short years, Apple has become the biggest company on the planet by market value — so big that it dwarfs every other one on the stock market. It dominates the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index as no other company has in 30 years.

Apple’s market capitalization — the value of all of the shares of its stock — is more than $758 billion, greater than any other company’s. Yet the Wall Street consensus is that Apple is still having a growth spurt. In fact, if Apple’s watches, phones, laptops and other gadgets and services keep generating favorable publicity — and if its quarterly earnings report on Monday is as strong as the market expects it to be — there’s a reasonable chance that Apple’s value will keep swelling. Not far down the road, it might even reach the $1 trillion level that some hedge funds predict. Read the rest of this entry »


Information technology: Computing, fast and slow

16. January 2015

Date: 15-01-2015
Source: The Economist

IBM is not about to go down, but life in the cloud will be tough

Rometty CCIBM’s Rometty dives into the cloud

SOME ingredients are missing: the ping-pong table, cheap furniture, and inappropriate T-shirts. But otherwise this could be a shared workspace for internet startups: people sit around long tables and in front of large screens; others lounge on bright orange couches; the walls are full of sticky notes saying things like “I’m happy” or “be yourself”—the products of a brainstorming session.

However, this office in a building in central London belongs to IBM, an information-technology giant long known for its buttoned-down culture and blue business suits. The new “interactive experience lab” is one of four, soon to be ten, such places where teams of employees from IBM and its customers jointly think up new online services and apps. Such projects, the firm hopes, will help it grow again.

IBM’s revenue has declined, year-on-year, for ten straight quarters. Its recent third-quarter figures were particularly disappointing: sales were $22.4 billion and earnings per share $3.68, both well below analysts’ expectations. One reason was that IBM had decided to pile on the bad news: it also scrapped its long-held goal of reaching earnings per share of $20 for 2015. When the firm reports fourth-quarter earnings on January 20th, analysts expect the numbers to look better, since global demand for IT appears to have strengthened. Read the rest of this entry »


The Future of Analytics

21. May 2011

Date: 20-05-2011

 Source: Technology Review

IBM researchers are working on systems that can analyze data to tell businesses
exactly what action to take.

As digital data piles up at ever faster rates, the potential is growing for smart algorithms to dig out insights the human brain never could. IBM’s head of analytics research, Chid Apte, directs a team intent on realizing that potential. His group is developing algorithms and other techniques that can extract meaning from data, and it is trying to find ways to use these methods to solve business challenges. Apte talked about his group’s priorities with Tom Simonite, the IT editor for hardware and software at  echnology Review.

TR: IBM has been creating and selling analytics products for decades. What’s new?

Apte: Historically, analytics has been about using well-organized past data from inside an enterprise. Now we have two new and different sources of data. One is unstructured data from customer interactions, such as e-mails to support, or call transcripts. The other is social information that we get by tapping into the Web—the world of Twitter and feeds.
My group is working directly with clients to get a better handle on how these sources can be used on the problems businesses are seeing in the trenches.

Can you give an example of such a project and how it can help a business?

We worked with a [consumer packaged-goods] company that makes sports beverages. They were interested in the  sentiment—feeling—in the marketplace about their drink. We developed technology to find the exact blogs talking about  their product and started extracting the conversations about their sports drink for analysis. We made it possible to judge the sentiment being expressed and also to identify who the influencers are. We want to find the people an enterprise
should target with new messages so the social network will take care of the rest and [the messages] will spread widely.
This technology will form the basis of a new product we will in the future be able to offer all of IBM’s big customers.

Will your analytics technologies interpret more than just numbers?

We have already developed technology that can actually tell you what plan you should execute. It uses techniques called reinforcement learning and Markov decision processes, and we developed a system that uses it with the New York
Department of Tax and Finance. The system automatically generates a plan for dealing with individual tax delinquents. It tells you what to do to maximize the chance of recovery and minimize your costs.
When you train the system, it doesn’t look at the data as a big table; it maps out a directional graph of sequential decisions. From that it can derive the most optimal plan of action.

What about technology like what Watson used on Jeopardy!—technology that would let you pose a question as you would to a colleague?

We see a lot of opportunities for what we call deep QA for business solving. Watson was built primarily by IBM’s natural-language understanding team, but they collaborated with my colleagues very closely for the machine learning involved. We continue to work closely with them.
The basic technology relies on a huge unstructured corpus, like what Watson used. For business, some of the more traditional analytics solutions need bringing together with the deep QA approach, and we are working on that.

What is the biggest challenge to analytics in the near future?

We need a better way to handle large-scale data. Historically it’s the Internet companies that have been out there with petabytes of data, but now it’s moving out into the enterprise in general: telecoms with call detail records, government getting into analyzing large volumes of data, health-care companies pulling together patient records. Instead of analyzing a few dozen factors, we are getting into spaces with hundreds of factors that you need to analyze at the same time.
We’re developing a whole new kind of infrastructure for this world. That includes things like architectures for distributed and parallel machine learning that exploit new hardware. We need to scale up analytics.


The answering machine

19. February 2011

Date: 19-02-2011
 Source: The Economist – The Difference Engine

IT WAS not quite a foregone conclusion, but all the smart money was on the machine.

Since the first rehearsal over a year ago, it had become apparent that Watson—a supercomputer built by IBM to decode tricky questions posed in English and answer them correctly within seconds—would trounce the smartest of human challengers. And so it did earlier this week, following a three-day contest against the two most successful human champions of all time on “Jeopardy!”, a popular quiz game aired on American television. By the end of the contest, Watson had accumulated over $77,000 in winnings, compared with $24,000 and $21,600 for the two human champions. IBM donated the $1m in special prize money to charity, while the two human contestants gave half their runner-up awards away. Read the rest of this entry »