Last week, after IBM’s report of positive quarterly earnings, CEO Arvind Krishna and CNBC’s Jim Cramer shared their frustration that IBM’s stock “got clobbered.” IBM’s stock price immediately fell by10%, while the S&P500 remained steady (Figure 1)
While a five-day stock price fluctuation is by itself meaningless, questions remain about the IBM’s longer-term picture. “These are great numbers,” declared Krishna.
“You gave solid revenue growth and solid earnings,” Cramer sympathized. “You far exceeded expectations. Maybe someone is changing the goal posts here?”
It is also possible that Krishna and Cramer missed where today’s goal posts are located. Strong quarterly numbers do not a digital winner make. They may induce the stock market to regard a firm as a valuable cash cow, like other remnants of the industrial era. But to become a digital winner, a firm must take the kind of steps that Satya Nadella took at Microsoft to become a digital winner: kill its dogs, commit to a mission of customer primacy, identify real growth opportunities, transform its culture, make empathy central, and unleash its agilists. (Figure 2)
Since becoming CEO, Nadella has been brilliantly successful at Microsoft, growing market capitalization by more than a trillion dollars.
Krishna has been IBM CEO since April 2020. He began his career at IBM in 1990, and had been managing IBM’s cloud and research divisions since 2015. He was a principal architect of the Red Hat acquisition.
They are remarkable parallels between the careers of Krishna and Nadella.
· Both are Indian-American engineers, who were born in India.
· Both worked at the firm for several decades before they became CEOs.
· Prior to becoming CEOs, both were in charge of cloud computing.
Both inherited companies in trouble. Microsoft was stagnating after CEO Steve Ballmer, while IBM was also in rapid decline, after CEO Ginny Rometty: the once famous “Big Blue” had become known as a “Big Bruise.”
Although it is still early days in Krishna’s CEO tenure, IBM is under-performing the S&P500 since he took over (Figure 3).
More worrying is the fact that Krishna has not yet completed the steps that Nadella took in his first 27 months. (Figure 1).
Nadella wrote off the Nokia phone and declared that IBM would no longer sell its flagship Windows as a business. This freed up energy and resources to focus on creating winning businesses.
By contrast, Krishna has yet to jettison, IBM’s most distracting baggage:
· Commitment to maximizing shareholder value (MSV): For the two prior decades, IBM was the public champion of MSV, first under CEO Palmisano 2001-2011, and again under Rometty 2012-2020—a key reason behind IBM’s calamitous decline (Figure 2) Krishna has yet to explicitly renounce IBM’s MSV heritage.
· Top-down bureaucracy: The necessary accompaniment of MSV is top-down bureaucracy, which flourished under CEOs Palmisano and Rometty. Here too, bureaucratic processes must be explicitly eradicated, otherwise they become permanent weeds.
· The ‘Watson problem’: IBM’s famous computer, Watson, may have won ‘Jeopardy!’ but it continues to have problems in the business marketplace. In January 2022, IBM reported that it had sold Watson Health assets to an investment firm for around $1 billion, after acquisitions that had cost some $4 billion. Efforts to monetize Watson continue.
· Infrastructure Services: By spinning off its Cloud computing business as a publicly listed company (Kyndryl), IBM created nominal separation, but Kyndryl immediately lost 57% of its share value.
· Quantum Computing: IBM pours resources into research on quantum computing and touts its potential to revolutionize computing. However unsolved technical problems of “decoherence” and “entanglement” mean that any meaningful benefits are still some years away.
· Self-importance: Perhaps the heaviest baggage that IBM has yet to jettison is the over-confidence reflected in sales slogans like “no one ever got fired for hiring IBM”. The subtext is that firms “can leave IT to IBM” and that the safe choice for any CIO is to stick with IBM. It’s a status quo mindset—the opposite of the clients that IBM needs to attract.
At the outset of his tenure as CEO of Microsoft, Nadella spent the first nine months getting consensus on a simple customer-driven mission statement.
Krishna did write at the end of the letter to staff on day one as CEO, and he added at the end:“Third, we all must be obsessed with continually delighting our clients. At every interaction, we must strive to offer them the best experience and value. The only way to lead in today’s ever-changing marketplace is to constantly innovate according to what our clients want and need.” This would have been more persuasive if it had come at the beginning of the letter, and if there had been stronger follow-up.
What is IBM’s mission? No clear answer appears from IBM’s own website. The best one gets from About IBM is the fuzzy do-gooder declaration: “IBMers believe in progress — that the application of intelligence, reason and science can Boost business, society and the human condition.” Customer primacy is not explicit, thereby running the risk that IBM’s 280,000 employees will assume that the noxious MSV goal is still in play.
At Microsoft, Nadella dismissed competing with Apple on phones or with Google on Search. He defined the two main areas of opportunity—mobility and the cloud.
Krishna has identified the Hybrid Cloud and AI as IBM’s main opportunities. Thus, Krishna wrote in his newsletter to staff on day one as CEO: “Hybrid cloud and AI are two dominant forces driving change for our clients and must have the maniacal focus of the entire company.”
However, both fields are now very crowded. IBM is now a tiny player in Cloud in comparison to Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. In conversations, Krishna portrays IBM as forging working partnerships with the big Cloud players, and “integrating their offerings in IBM’s hybrid Cloud.” One risk here is whether the big Cloud players will facilitate this. The other risk is that IBM will attract only lower-performing firms that use IBM as a crutch so that they can cling to familiar legacy programs.
At Microsoft, Nadella addressed culture upfront, rejecting Microsoft’s notoriously confrontational culture, and set about instilling a collaborative customer-driven culture throughout the firm.
Although Krishna talks openly to the press, he has not, to my knowledge, frontally addressed the “top-down” “we know best” culture that prevailed in IBM under his predecessor CEOs. He has, to his credit, pledged “neutrality” with respect to the innovative, customer-centric Red Hat, rather than applying the “Blue washing” that the old IBM systematically applied to its acquisitions to bring them into line with IBM’s top-down culture, and is said to have honored its pledge—so far. But there is little indication that IBM is ready to adopt Red Hat’s innovative culture for itself. It is hard to see these two opposed cultures remain “neutral” forever. Given the size differential between IBM and Red Hat, the likely winner is easy to predict, unless Krishna makes a more determined effort to transform IBM’s culture.
As in any large tech firm, when Nadella and Krishna took over their respective firms, there were large hidden armies of agilists waiting in the shadows but hamstrung by top-down bureaucracies. At Microsoft, Nadella’s commitment to “agile, agile, agile” combined with a growth mindset, enabled a fast start.. At IBM, if Krishna has any passion for Agile, it has not yet shared it widely.
Although IBM has made progress under Krishna, it is not yet on a path to become a clear digital winner.
And read also:
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Why Companies Must Learn To Discuss The Undiscussable
IBM and Massachusetts Institute of Technology data scientists teamed up to create an artificial intelligence tool that generates questions to help healthcare professionals use EHRs more effectively and efficiently, according to their paper published June 6.
Working with 10 medical experts and using more than 100 patient discharge summaries, researchers at IBM and MIT compiled more than 2,000 questions and 1,000 triggers of questions that physicians may ask when looking at a patient's EHR. They categorized each question or trigger written by the medical experts into groups such as symptom/sign, demographics and test results, making it easier for physicians to navigate through the questions.
The team then trained a data model to do this organically. For instance, if an EHR notes that a patient had a mass in their neck, one question generated may be about its size or color, in the category of symptoms.
They found that their model produced a high-quality question 62.5 percent of the time in response to a prompt, but only if given more context. Without the context, the question generation quality declined.
"Our results demonstrate that existing machine learning systems, including large-scale neural networks, struggle with the tasks we propose. We encourage the community to Boost on our baseline models," the researchers wrote. They also opened their machine learning tool to the public for continued work.
As we exited the isolation economy last year, we introduced supercloud as a term to describe something new that was happening in the world of cloud computing.
In this Breaking Analysis, we address the ten most frequently asked questions we get on supercloud. Today we’ll address the following frequently asked questions:
1. In an industry full of hype and buzzwords, why does anyone need a new term?
2. Aren’t hyperscalers building out superclouds? We’ll try to answer why the term supercloud connotes something different from a hyperscale cloud.
3. We’ll talk about the problems superclouds solve.
4. We’ll further define the critical aspects of a supercloud architecture.
5. We often get asked: Isn’t this just multicloud? Well, we don’t think so and we’ll explain why.
6. In an earlier episode we introduced the notion of superPaaS – well, isn’t a plain vanilla PaaS already a superPaaS? Again – we don’t think so and we’ll explain why.
7. Who will actually build (and who are the players currently building) superclouds?
8. What workloads and services will run on superclouds?
9. What are some examples of supercloud?
10. Finally, we’ll answer what you can expect next on supercloud from SiliconANGLE and theCUBE.
Late last year, ahead of Amazon Web Services Inc.’s re:Invent conference, we were inspired by a post from Jerry Chen called Castles in the Cloud. In that blog he introduced the idea that there were submarkets emerging in cloud that presented opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs, that the big cloud vendors weren’t going to suck all the value out of the industry. And so we introduced this notion of supercloud to describe what we saw as a value layer emerging above the hyperscalers’ “capex gift.”
It turns out that we weren’t the only ones using the term, as both Cornell and MIT have used the phrase in somewhat similar but different contexts.
The point is something new was happening in the AWS and other ecosystems. It was more than infrastructure as a service and platform as a service and wasn’t just software as a service running in the cloud.
It was a new architecture that integrates infrastructure, unique platform attributes and software to solve new problems that the cloud vendors in our view weren’t addressing by themselves. It seemed to us that the ecosystem was pursuing opportunities across clouds that went beyond conventional implementations of multi-cloud.
In addition, we felt this trend pointed to structural change going on at the industry level that supercloud metaphorically was highlighting.
So that’s the background on why we felt a new catchphrase was warranted. Love it or hate it… it’s memorable.
To that last point about structural industry transformation: Andy Rappaport is sometimes credited with identifying the shift from the vertically integrated mainframe era to the horizontally fragmented personal computer- and microprocessor-based era in his Harvard Business Review article from 1991.
In fact, it was actually David Moschella, an International Data Corp. senior vice president at the time, who introduced the concept in 1987, a full four years before Rappaport’s article was published. Moschella, along with IDC’s head of research Will Zachmann, saw that it was clear Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp., Seagate Technology and other would replace the system vendors’ dominance.
In fact, Zachmann accurately predicted in the late 1980s the demise of IBM, well ahead of its epic downfall when the company lost approximately 75% of its value. At an IDC Briefing Session (now called Directions), Moschella put forth a graphic that looked similar to the first two concepts on the chart below.
We don’t have to review the shift from IBM as the epicenter of the industry to Wintel – that’s well-understood.
What isn’t as widely discussed is a structural concept Moschella put out in 2018 in his book “Seeing Digital,” which introduced the idea of the Matrix shown on the righthand side of this chart. Moschella posited that a new digital platform of services was emerging built on top of the internet, hyperscale clouds and other intelligent technologies that would define the next era of computing.
He used the term matrix because the conceptual depiction included horizontal technology rows, like the cloud… but for the first time included connected industry columns. Moschella pointed out that historically, industry verticals had a closed value chain or stack of research and development, production, distribution, etc., and that expertise in that specific vertical was critical to success. But now, because of digital and data, for the first time, companies were able to jump industries and compete using data. Amazon in content, payments and groceries… Apple in payments and content… and so forth. Data was now the unifying enabler and this marked a changing structure of the technology landscape.
Listen to David Moschella explain the Matrix and its implications on a new generation of leadership in tech.
So the term supercloud is meant to imply more than running in hyperscale clouds. Rather, it’s a new type of digital platform comprising a combination of multiple technologies – enabled by cloud scale – with new industry participants from financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, energy, media and virtually all industries. Think of it as kind of an extension of “every company is a software company.”
Basically, thanks to the cloud, every company in every industry now has the opportunity to build their own supercloud. We’ll come back to that.
Let’s address what’s different about superclouds relative to hyperscale clouds.
This one’s pretty straightforward and obvious. Hyperscale clouds are walled gardens where they want your data in their cloud and they want to keep you there. Sure, every cloud player realizes that not all data will go to their cloud, so they’re meeting customers where their data lives with initiatives such Amazon Outposts and Azure Arc and Google Anthos. But at the end of the day, the more homogeneous they can make their environments, the better control, security, costs and performance they can deliver. The more complex the environment, the more difficult to deliver on their promises and the less margin left for them to capture.
Will the hyperscalers get more serious about cross cloud services? Maybe, but they have plenty of work to do within their own clouds. And today at least they appear to be providing the tools that will enable others to build superclouds on top of their platforms. That said, we never say never when it comes to companies such as AWS. And for sure we see AWS delivering more integrated digital services such as Amazon Connect to solve problems in a specific domain, call centers in this case.
We’ve all seen the stats from IDC or Gartner or whomever that customers on average use more than one cloud. And we know these clouds operate in disconnected silos for the most part. That’s a problem because each cloud requires different skills. The development environment is different, as is the operating environment, with different APIs and primitives and management tools that are optimized for each respective hyperscale cloud. Their functions and value props don’t extend to their competitors’ clouds. Why would they?
As a result, there’s friction when moving between different clouds. It’s hard to share data, move work, secure and govern data, and enforce organizational policies and edicts across clouds.
Supercloud is an architecture designed to create a single environment that enables management of workloads and data across clouds in an effort to take out complexity, accelerate application development, streamline operations and share data safely irrespective of location.
Pretty straightforward, but nontrivial, which is why we often ask company chief executives and execs if stock buybacks and dividends will yield as much return as building out superclouds that solve really specific problems and create differentiable value for their firms.
Let’s dig in a bit more to the architectural aspects of supercloud. In other words… what are the salient attributes that define supercloud?
First, a supercloud runs a set of specific services, designed to solve a unique problem. Superclouds offer seamless, consumption-based services across multiple distributed clouds.
Supercloud leverages the underlying cloud-native tooling of a hyperscale cloud but it’s optimized for a specific objective that aligns with the problem it’s solving. For example, it may be optimized for cost or low latency or sharing data or governance or security or higher performance networking. But the point is, the collection of services delivered is focused on unique value that isn’t being delivered by the hyperscalers across clouds.
A supercloud abstracts the underlying and siloed primitives of the native PaaS layer from the hyperscale cloud and using its own specific platform-as-a-service tooling, creates a common experience across clouds for developers and users. In other words, the superPaaS ensures that the developer and user experience is identical, irrespective of which cloud or location is running the workload.
And it does so in an efficient manner, meaning it has the metadata knowledge and management that can optimize for latency, bandwidth, recovery, data sovereignty or whatever unique value the supercloud is delivering for the specific use cases in the domain.
A supercloud comprises a superPaaS capability that allows ecosystem partners to add incremental value on top of the supercloud platform to fill gaps, accelerate features and innovate. A superPaaS can use open tooling but applies those development tools to create a unique and specific experience supporting the design objectives of the supercloud.
Supercloud services can be infrastructure-related, application services, data services, security services, users services, etc., designed and packaged to bring unique value to customers… again that the hyperscalers are not delivering across clouds or on-premises.
Finally, these attributes are highly automated where possible. Superclouds take a page from hyperscalers in terms of minimizing human intervention wherever possible, applying automation to the specific problem they’re solving.
What we’d say to that is: Perhaps, but not really. Call it multicloud 2.0 if you want to invoke a commonly used format. But as Dell’s Chuck Whitten proclaimed, multicloud by design is different than multicloud by default.
What he means is that, to date, multicloud has largely been a symptom of multivendor… or of M&A. And when you look at most so-called multicloud implementations, you see things like an on-prem stack wrapped in a container and hosted on a specific cloud.
Or increasingly a technology vendor has done the work of building a cloud-native version of its stack and running it on a specific cloud… but historically it has been a unique experience within each cloud with no connection between the cloud silos. And certainly not a common developer experience with metadata management across clouds.
Supercloud sets out to build incremental value across clouds and above hyperscale capex that goes beyond cloud compatibility within each cloud. So if you want to call it multicloud 2.0, that’s fine.
We choose to call it supercloud.
Well, we’d say no. That supercloud and its corresponding superPaaS layer gives the freedom to store, process, manage, secure and connect islands of data across a continuum with a common developer experience across clouds.
Importantly, the sets of services are designed to support the supercloud’s objectives – e.g., data sharing or data protection or storage and retrieval or cost optimization or ultra-low latency, etc. In other words, the services offered are specific to that supercloud and will vary by each offering. OpenShift, for example, can be used to construct a superPaaS but in and of itself isn’t a superPaaS. It’s generic.
The point is that a supercloud and its inherent superPaaS will be optimized to solve specific problems such as low latency for distributed databases or fast backup and recovery and ransomware protection — highly specific use cases that the supercloud is designed to solve for.
SaaS as well is a subset of supercloud. Most SaaS platforms either run in their own cloud or have bits and pieces running in public clouds (e.g. analytics). But the cross-cloud services are few and far between or often nonexistent. We believe SaaS vendors must evolve and adopt supercloud to offer distributed solutions across cloud platforms and stretching out to the near and far edge.
Another question we often get is: Who has a supercloud and who is building a supercloud? Who are the contenders?
Well, most companies that consider themselves cloud players will, we believe, be building superclouds. Above is a common Enterprise Technology Research graphic we like to show with Net Score or spending momentum on the Y axis and Overlap or pervasiveness in the ETR surveys on the X axis. This is from the April survey of well over 1,000 chief executive officers and information technology buyers. And we’ve randomly chosen a number of players we think are in the supercloud mix and we’ve included the hyperscalers because they are the enablers.
We’ve added some of those nontraditional industry players we see building superclouds such as Capital One, Goldman Sachs and Walmart, in deference to Moschella’s observation about verticals. This goes back to every company being a software company. And rather than pattern-matching an outdated SaaS model we see a new industry structure emerging where software and data and tools specific to an industry will lead the next wave of innovation via the buildout of intelligent digital platforms.
We’ve talked a lot about Snowflake Inc.’s Data Cloud as an example of supercloud, as well as the momentum of Databricks Inc. (not shown above). VMware Inc. is clearly going after cross-cloud services. Basically every large company we see is either pursuing supercloud initiatives or thinking about it. Dell Technologies Inc., for example, showed Project Alpine at Dell Technologies World – that’s a supercloud in development. Snowflake introducing a new app dev capability based on its SuperPaaS (our term, of course, it doesn’t use the phrase), MongoDB Inc., Couchbase Inc., Nutanix Inc., Veeam Software, CrowdStrike Holdings Inc., Okta Inc. and Zscaler Inc. Even the likes of Cisco Systems Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., in our view, will be building superclouds.
Although ironically, as an aside, Fidelma Russo, HPE’s chief technology officer, said on theCUBE she wasn’t a fan of cloaking mechanisms. But when we spoke to HPE’s head of storage services, Omer Asad, we felt his team is clearly headed in a direction that we would consider supercloud. It could be semantics or it could be that parts of HPE are in a better position to execute on supercloud. Storage is an obvious starting point. The same can be said of Dell.
Listen to Fidelma Russo explain her aversion to building a manager of managers.
And we’re seeing emerging companies like Aviatrix Systems Inc. (network performance), Starburst Data Inc. (self-service analytics for distributed data), Clumio Inc. (data protection – not supercloud today but working on it) and others building versions of superclouds that solve a specific problem for their customers. And we’ve spoken to independent software vendors such as Adobe Systems Inc., Automatic Data Processing LLC and UiPath Inc., which are all looking at new ways to go beyond the SaaS model and add value within cloud ecosystems, in particular building data services that are unique to their value proposition and will run across clouds.
So yeah – pretty much every tech vendor with any size or momentum and new industry players are coming out of hiding and competing… building superclouds. Many that look a lot like Moschella’s matrix with machine intelligence and artificial intelligence and blockchains and virtual reality and gaming… all enabled by the internet and hyperscale clouds.
It’s moving fast and it’s the future, in our opinion, so don’t get too caught up in the past or you’ll be left behind.
We’ve given many in the past, but let’s try to be a bit more specific. Below we cite a few and we’ll answer two questions in one section here: What workloads and services will run in superclouds and what are some examples?
Analytics. Snowflake is the furthest along with its data cloud in our view. It’s a supercloud optimized for data sharing, governance, query performance, security, ecosystem enablement and ultimately monetization. Snowflake is now bringing in new data types and open-source tooling and it ticks the attribute boxes on supercloud we laid out earlier.
Converged databases. Running transaction and analytics workloads. Take a look at what Couchbase is doing with Capella and how it’s enabling stretching the cloud to the edge with Arm-based platforms and optimizing for low latency across clouds and out to the edge.
Document database workloads. Look at MongoDB – a developer-friendly platform that with Atlas is moving to a supercloud model running document databases very efficiently. Accommodating analytic workloads and creating a common developer experience across clouds.
Data science workloads. For example, Databricks is bringing a common experience for data scientists and data engineers driving machine intelligence into applications and fixing the broken data lake with the emergence of the lakehouse.
General-purpose workloads. For example, VMware’s domain. Very clearly there’s a need to create a common operating environment across clouds and on-prem and out to the edge and VMware is hard at work on that — managing and moving workloads, balancing workloads and being able to recover very quickly across clouds.
Network routing. This is the primary focus of Aviatrix, building what we consider a supercloud and optimizing network performance and automating security across clouds.
Industry-specific workloads. For example, Capital One announcing its cost optimization platform for Snowflake – piggybacking on Snowflake’s supercloud. We believe it’s going to test that concept outside its own organization and expand across other clouds as Snowflake grows its business beyond AWS. Walmart Inc. is working with Microsoft to create an on-prem to Azure experience – yes, that counts. We’ve written about what Goldman is doing and you can bet dollars to donuts that Oracle Corp. will be building a supercloud in healthcare with its Cerner acquisition.
Supercloud is everywhere you look. Sorry, naysayers. It’s happening.
With all the industry buzz and debate about the future, John Furrier and the team at SiliconANGLE have decided to host an event on supercloud. We’re motivated and inspired to further the conversation. TheCUBE on Supercloud is coming.
On Aug. 9 out of our Palo Alto studios we’ll be running a live program on the topic. We’ve reached out to a number of industry participants — VMware, Snowflake, Confluent, Sky High Security, Hashicorp, Cloudflare and Red Hat — to get the perspective of technologists building superclouds.
And we’ve invited a number of vertical industry participants in financial services, healthcare and retail that we’re excited to have on along with analysts, thought leaders and investors.
We’ll have more details in the coming weeks, but for now if you’re interested please reach out to us with how you think you can advance the discussion and we’ll see if we can fit you in.
So mark your calendars and stay tuned for more information.
Thanks to Alex Myerson, who does the production, podcasts and media workflows for Breaking Analysis. Special thanks to Kristen Martin and Cheryl Knight, who help us keep our community informed and get the word out, and to Rob Hof, our editor in chief at SiliconANGLE.
Remember we publish each week on Wikibon and SiliconANGLE. These episodes are all available as podcasts wherever you listen.
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IBM Corp. beat second-quarter earnings estimates today, but shareholders were unimpressed, sending the computing giant’s shares down more than 4% in early after-hours trading.
Revenue rose 16%, to $15.54 billion in constant currency terms, and rose 9% from the $14.22 billion IBM reported in the same quarter a year ago after adjusting for the spinoff of managed infrastructure-service business Kyndryl Holdings Inc. Net income jumped 45% year-over-year, to $2.5 billion, and diluted earnings per share of $2.31 a share were up 43% from a year ago.
Analysts had expected adjusted earnings of $2.26 a share on revenue of $15.08 billion.
The strong numbers weren’t a surprise given that IBM had guided expectations toward high single-digit growth. The stock decline was attributed to a lower free cash flow forecast of $10 billion for 2022, which was below the $10 billion-to-$10.5 billion range it had initially forecast. However, free cash flow was up significantly for the first six months of the year.
It’s also possible that a report saying Apple was looking at slowing down hiring, which caused the overall market to fall slightly today, might have spilled over to other tech stocks such as IBM in the extended trading session.
On the whole, the company delivered what it said it would. Its hybrid platform and solutions category grew 9% on the back of 17% growth in its Red Hat Business. Hybrid cloud revenue rose 19%, to $21.7 billion. Transaction processing sales rose 19% and the software segment of hybrid cloud revenue grew 18%.
“This quarter says that [Chief Executive Arvind Krishna] and his team continue to get the big calls right both from a platform strategy and also from the investments and acquisitions IBM has made over the last 18 months,” said Bola Rotibi, research director for software development at CCS Insight Ltd. Despite broad fears of a downturn in the economy, “the company is bucking the expected trend and more than meeting expectations,” she said.
Software revenue grew 11.6% in constant currency terms, to $6.2 billion, helped by a 7% jump in sales to Kyndryl. Consulting revenue rose almost 18% in constant currency, to $4.8 billion, while infrastructure revenue grew more than 25%, to $4.2 billion, driven largely by the announcement of a new series of IBM z Systems mainframes, which delivered 69% revenue growth.
With investors on edge about the risk of recession and his potential impact on technology spending, Chief Executive Arvind Krishna (pictured) delivered an upbeat message. “There’s every reason to believe technology spending in the [business-to-business] market will continue to surpass GDP growth,” he said. “Demand for solutions remains strong. We continue to have double-digit growth in IBM consulting, broad growth in software and, with the z16 launch, strong growth in infrastructure.”
Krishna called IBM’s current sales pipeline “pretty healthy. The second half at this point looks consistent with the first half by product line and geography,” he said. He suggested that technology spending is benefiting from its leverage in reducing costs, making the sector less vulnerable to recession. ”We see the technology as deflationary,” he said. “It acts as a counterbalance to all of the inflation and labor demographics people are facing all over the globe.”
While IBM has been criticized for spending $34 billion to buy Red Hat Inc. instead of investing in infrastructure, the deal appears to be paying off as expected, Rotibi said. Although second-quarter growth in the Red Hat business was lower than the 21% recorded in the first quarter, “all the indices show that they are getting very good value from the portfolio,” she said. Red Hat has boosted IBM’s consulting business but products like Red Hat Enterprise Linux and OpenShift have also benefited from the Big Blue sales force.
With IBM being the first major information technology provider to report results, Pund-IT Inc. Chief Analyst Charles King said the numbers bode well for reports soon to come from other firms. “The strength of IBM’s quarter could portend good news for other vendors focused on enterprises,” he said. “While those businesses aren’t immune to systemic problems, they have enough heft and buoyancy to ride out storms.”
One area that IBM has talked less and less about over the past few quarters is its public cloud business. The company no longer breaks out cloud revenues and prefers to talk instead about its hybrid business and partnerships with major public cloud providers.
“IBM’s primary focus has long been on developing and enabling hybrid cloud offerings and services; that’s what its enterprise customers want, and that’s what its solutions and consultants aim to deliver,” King said.
IBM’s recently expanded partnership with Amazon Web Services Inc. is an example of how the company has pivoted away from competing with the largest hyperscalers and now sees them as a sales channel, Rotibi said. “It is a pragmatic recognition of the footprint of the hyperscalers but also playing to IBM’s strength in the services it can build on top of the other cloud platforms, its consulting arm and infrastructure,” she said.
Krishna asserted that, now that the Kyndryl spinoff is complete, IBM is in a strong position to continue on its plan to deliver high-single-digit revenue growth percentages for the foreseeable future. Its consulting business is now focused principally on business transformation projects rather than technology implementation and the people-intensive business delivered a pretax profit margin of 9%, up 1% from last year. “Consulting is a critical part of our hybrid platform thesis,” said Chief Financial Officer James Kavanaugh.
Pund-IT’s King said IBM Consulting “is firing on all cylinders. That includes double-digit growth in its three main categories of business transformation, technology consulting and application operations as well as a notable 32% growth in hybrid cloud consulting.”
With the U.S. dollar at a 20-year high against the euro and a 25-year high against the yen, analysts on the company’s earnings call directed several questions to the impact of currency fluctuations on IBM’s results.
Kavanaugh said these are unknown waters but the company is prepared. “The velocity of the [dollar’s] strengthening is the sharpest we’ve seen in over a decade; over half of currencies are down-double digits against the U.S. dollar,” he said. “This is unprecedented in rate, breadth and magnitude.”
Kavanaugh said IBM is more insulated against currency fluctuations than most companies because it has long hedged against volatility. “Hedging mitigates volatility in the near term,” he said. “It does not eliminate currency as a factor but it allows you time to address your business model for price, for source, for labor pools and for cost structures.”
The company’s people-intensive consulting business also has some built-in protections against a downturn, Kavanaugh said. “In a business where you hire tens of thousands of people, you also churn tens of thousands each year,” he said. “It gives you an automatic way to hit a pause in some of the profit controls because if you don’t see demand you can slow down your supply-side. You can get a 10% to 20% impact that you pretty quickly control.”
Computers have helped people wade through their tax returns for decades. Preparers at H&R Block this season will get some help, too. But a computer won’t just crunch the numbers. Rather, it will probe your return and ask questions along the way--trying to make sure you don’t pay a penny more than necessary to Uncle Sam. H&R Block has “hired” IBM’s Watson--a powerful artificial intelligence system--to act as a cyberguide in preparing taxes.
To study for the job, Watson digested the federal tax code (more than 74,000 pages) and absorbed thousands of conversations between H&R Block’s tax preparers and clients. Its objective is to analyze conversational patterns to determine whether taxpayers may be missing opportunities for savings. Now, when a tax preparer and client go through the paperwork, Watson can follow along, and the system will issue prompts on computer screens if it detects a potential deduction or credit they may be missing. “Watson will ask questions that we might not think about on our own,” says Ed Harbour, a vice president at IBM.
With H&R Block expecting Watson to assist with processing 11 million returns this year, the system should get smarter as it absorbs more data and conversational patterns, making it a more useful tool, says Harbour. For example, IBM says the system should eventually provide taxpayers with “increasingly personalized tips” to help lower their tax bills in the future.
Watson isn’t the only AI technology playing a greater role in our lives. If you use Facebook, Google or Amazon.com, for instance, AI is behind the scenes, guiding you through the site. Meanwhile, Watson is expanding into scientific research, robotics and other fields, and IBM hopes it will push to the forefront of several major technology trends, such as the Internet of Things, cloud computing and personalized medicine. (For more companies cashing in on these trends, see 13 Stocks for the Tech Revolution.)
For now, Watson doesn’t appear to be a big moneymaker for IBM. But investors seem impressed with its potential, seeing it as a way for IBM to reverse a long period of falling sales and profits. IBM’s stock (symbol IBM) returned 25% in 2016, after three straight years of declines. One shareholder who should be pleased: Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway owns an 8.5% stake in Big Blue, worth $14.2 billion.
IBM (NYSE:IBM) reported results on July 18th. Non-GAAP beat by $0.02 with EPS of $2.31, which was reasonable. Revenue was about $15.5 billion, up over 9% YoY, which was also a beat. Cash was also up to just under $8 billion, and total debt (including financing debt) was down $1.4 billion.
Looking forward, there's potentially more good news. Revenue is expected to be up mid-single digits, perhaps at the high end in the 7-9% range. That includes potential currency headwinds, which are estimated to be about negative six points. Lastly, FCF is expected to be about $10 billion.
On the whole, this doesn't look so bad. In fact, long-term investors are probably happy, or at least happy enough. But, there is plenty of darkness, and IBM isn't a wonderful company. At best, it's a hold.
Ironically, the strong U.S. dollar is hurting IBM. Here's what I mean:
IBM makes a little over half of its total revenue outside of the U.S., with around 30% in Europe.
IBM CFO Jim Kavanaugh said in the company's Q2 conference call that the rate at which the U.S. dollar has strengthened is "unprecedented." He noted that over half of the currencies that IBM hedges against have dropped by double digits compared to the U.S. dollar so far this year.
So, while the $10 billion in FCF sounds good, it's down 4-5% from previous guidance of $10.5 billion. That roughly lines up with the six point hit from currency headwinds. Hedging doesn't seem to be working well enough.
Now, we have another problem, and it's called Russia. Like many other companies, the extraction is incredible:
IBM has suspended business in Russia, including engagement with Russian clients, business partners, suppliers, vendors, resellers, developers and OEMs and is conducting an orderly wind-down of all business there. IBM is closely monitoring the war in Ukraine and has taken action to protect client and internal operations and to continue delivery of products and services to customers worldwide.
Interestingly, IBM didn't say "Russia" even once in the Q2 2022 press release. In some ways, that's odd, but in other ways, it's not big news at all. After all, Russia accounting for roughly 0.5% of IBM's total revenue in 2021. My rough math says that $28-30 million so it's kind of a footnote.
Adding it all up, the biggest issue appears to be the strong dollar. I've seen very little about the impact of inflation, in terms of inputs, such as labor and materials. Instead, it's all about the currency itself. Of course, things could change rapidly and we'll continue to watch.
I'm not a huge fan of momentum since it's generally used for short-term trading, and options activity. However, I do pay attention when there's a vertical fall to the bottom of the well - plop!
We're looking straight down right now:
10D = (6%)
50D = (6%)
100D = (3%)
Of course, the numbers aren't huge, but the price is directly down, ripping through all moving averages. That said, there's not a death cross here because the 10-day, 50-day and 100-day are all above the 200-day SMA.
So, we'll be watching this as well. But, at least on the surface, there's been a warning shot fired. Sentiment appears to be turning negative here.
Here's the good news in one simple chart:
In this environment, a yield of 5.2% is certainly appealing. And, for long-time investors, it's nice to get paid to hold. In general, for years and years, that dividend has been creeping upwards.
But, is this from constant "sugar" injections? Consider IBM's buybacks.
Although the buybacks have declined significantly, billions and billions were burned to juice EPS but also keep the dividends flowing. By reducing the shares, IBM was able to maintain the growth in dividends.
Of course, the debt picture is cloudy due to Kyndryl (KD) and also financing debt. But, what matters is that in general, IBM has piled on debt. Pushing out KD helped to manage that debt a bit. What matters here is simple. IBM kept the dividend high, and growing, via buybacks and debt. Stated another way, management employed financial engineering.
But wait, there's more.
Basically, what we're seeing is a relentlessly growing payout ratio. IBM continues to grow the dividend, and maintain its impressive growth streak, but the cost is tremendous. Here's another view of the problem:
Like most of my analysis, I'm not looking for perfection. That is, the differences between YCharts and FASTgraphs don't both me. We're looking for converging evidence. Every tool calculates things a bit differently, in my experience. What matters is the extremely obvious trend. Bottom line: IBM has gone from being a conservative dividend machine to a stretched rubber band. Who knows if it'll snap. There's tension, even stress.
Roughly speaking, IBM seems to be navigating the current environment fairly well. The business is facing macro problems, especially currency headwinds, but it's certainly more focused now. With KD in the rearview mirror IBM is starting to get more serious about core competencies, including the hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence. Put another way, IBM isn't going away.
On the other hand, the company seems to still be stuck in the past. This isn't a nimble company. It's like an old "smokestack" business but in IT instead of industrial production. It's also tried financially engineer its way to success. This has been unsuccessful in my opinion.
On the surface, one bright spot has been the dividend. The yield is high, and IBM is a dividend champion. But, they've loaded up on debt over the years, and the payout ratio has been ugly. Frankly, I see risk in the dividend. At a minimum, I don't see much growth in the dividend. For many investors, that's perfectly acceptable. I understand, but then it makes IBM something of a bond proxy. That's not what I find acceptable, but I see why others want it that way.
Adding it all up, I see IBM as a hold. It's fine for dividend investors and income investors, I suppose. But, it's very much a "has been" in terms of high growth, even with A.I. and the cloud. Also, in full disclosure, I sold out of my last IBM shares back in early 2022. I'm not short, but I'm definitely not buying.
IBM’s Red Hat named Matt Hicks, head of products and technologies, as its new leader, solidifying a bet that hybrid-cloud offerings will fuel the company’s growth.
Hicks takes over as the software unit’s chief executive officer and president from Paul Cormier, who will serve as chairman. “Paul and I have planned this for a while,” Hicks said Tuesday in an interview. “There’ll be a lot of similarities in what I did yesterday and what I’ll be doing tomorrow.”
International Business Machine (IBM) acquired Red Hat for about $34bn in 2019 as a central component of chief executive Arvind Krishna’s plan to steer the century-old company into the fast-growing cloud-computing market. As a division, Red Hat’s has seen steady revenue growth near 20 per cent, far outpacing IBM as a whole.
I joined @RedHat in 2006 as a developer, and I've held many job titles over the past 16 years. As I’ve prepared to step into the CEO role, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my career at Red Hat and the opportunity I see that lies ahead: https://t.co/ykG5lPgA6R. pic.twitter.com/7IONOZdxtI
— Matt Hicks (@matthicksj) July 12, 2022
IBM hopes to distinguish itself in the crowded cloud market by targeting a hybrid model, which helps clients store and analyse information across their own data centres, private cloud services and servers run by major public providers such as Amazon.com and Microsoft. IBM has been a rare pocket of stability in the recent stock market meltdown. The shares have gained 4.1 per cent this year, closing at $139.18 Tuesday in New York, compared with a 28 per cent decline for the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100.
“Together, we can really lead a a new era of hybrid computing,” said Hicks, who joined Red Hat in 2006. “Red Hat has the technology expertise and open source model – IBM has the reach.”
Hicks said demand for hybrid cloud and software services should remain strong despite questions about the global economic outlook, touting recent deals with General Motors and ABB. The telecommunication and automotive industries are two areas he is targeting for expansion because they require geographically distributed data.
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