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This is why IBM is the next company to watch in generative AI

Jeff Kagan is a telecom, technology and wireless analyst and consultant. Follow him at JeffKagan.com and on Twitter @jeffkagan.
Jeff Kagan is a telecom, technology and wireless analyst and consultant. Follow him at JeffKagan.com and on Twitter @jeffkagan.

Generative AI could be next growth path for IBM and its watsonx.ai.

IBM IBM unveiled its infamous Watson supercomputer on its 100th anniversary in 2011. The company would go on to show it off on “Jeopardy.” Then it made one key mistake.

Let’s look at whether an upgraded product, watsonx.ai, will prove successful for IBM in the competitive age of artificial intelligence.

The question for today is this: Can IBM reignite AI to fuel growth for the long term?

Looking back, IBM knew how to take advantage of AI. The company did it successfully with IBM Watson. However, today’s AI marketplace has changed and matured. Watson is yesterday’s news.  

Does IBM understand this new dynamic? If it does, can it make lighting strike twice?

IBM faded away

This next step into generative AI for IBM would have been better if it started years ago while the original Watson was still on everyone’s mind. Before it faded away. Moving from one growth wave to the next is always better than waiting until one rises, crests and falls. Then you must struggle to restart growth. 

The problem was, IBM let the AI growth wave move ahead without it. Its AI growth curve went up, then down again. This has happened with so many companies making the same mistake. Think of how Motorola handled its handset leadership position with the StarTAC, before it all unraveled and then went from the top to the bottom with other former leaders like BlackBerry. 

At the end of its growth curve, I determined companies who failed simply believed their own press. They thought they were invincible. They were wrong.

The mistake was that these companies did not create the next growth wave in time. They didn’t think they had to. They thought they had the whole marketplace all wrapped up.

IBM faces new rivals

New competitors with new ideas like Apple AAPL with the iPhone and Google GOOG with Android quickly redefined the smartphone industry. 

The mistake previous leaders made was thinking they owned their success. They let their industry leadership rise, then crest and ultimately fall. Once that happens, restarting the growth wave is more difficult.

The next IBM growth wave may indeed be generative AI. However, the company must start to rekindle growth — something that is easier said than done.

I believe IBM can do this, but it won’t be easy. Once again, the company must have the right messaging. It must capture the imagination and the attention of the marketplace, investors, the media, customers. It must be the biggest cheerleader in the marketplace about generative AI. About how it already was a leader in this space. How it led with Watson, and this is just the next step in that journey.

In other words, IBM must orchestrate this so investors, customers and the media want to jump in and not miss out on this growth opportunity. 

Has IBM learned its lessons from the Watson mistake? And will it be prepared and ready this time around to quickly change and adapt to the next level after generative AI starts to give way?

I hope so. I want to be one of their biggest cheerleaders and supporters. 

The world of artificial intelligence is a rapidly changing and constantly moving target. That means if companies don’t prepare and stick with the growth wave, it will pass them by, leaving them behind in the dust. It has happened too often to too many companies. You see, AI is not sitting still or changing slowly. It is running ahead at full speed, continually advancing and changing. 

The secret sauce for every competitor is to continue developing new ideas to keep the marketplace interested and hungry, so it can stay a leader. This is the key challenge IBM faces today. How does it get to the top once again, then how does it stay there?

A hurdle this time around is that IBM is not alone. Today, there are many giants in this field including Google with Bard, Microsoft MSFT with ChatGPT and so many other chatbots like Elon Musk’s new Grok, plus there is promise of so much more.

AI is in its infancy

After attending the IBM World of Watson in 2016 in Las Vegas, I was impressed. However, after that Watson seemed to fade away pretty quickly. 

Today’s AI marketplace is chaotic and noisy. This is a real challenge for IBM. 

The good news is that generative AI is still in its early years. That means the marketplace is fertile ground. It will continue to grow and to change over time. Just look at how quickly OpenAI’s ChatGPT entered and changed the space in one year. Yes, it entered the marketplace just one short year ago. 

There are many big-name and smaller or lesser-known competitors who are all trying to capture the attention of the marketplace. The good news is there is plenty of runway for IBM to take off once again with watsonx.ai. The challenge is there’s plenty of competition this time around.