I have been a regular attendee of IBM Think for many years. The recently held IBM Think 2023 was a defining moment in more ways than one. First, IBM presented a cohesive narrative around Open Hybrid Cloud, Security, AI, and Ecosystem that resonated with customers and partners. Second, IBM demonstrated its commitment to helping companies leverage AI by introducing watsonx. This platform includes foundation models, generative AI, and a governance toolkit. Finally, at its recent Think event, IBM emphasized the impact of ChatGPT and AI on businesses and demonstrated the capabilities of watsonx. The company also highlighted the importance of its partner ecosystem and announced plans to invest in and expand its network to double its revenues. In this article, I will discuss several strategic initiatives that are likely to make a significant impact. In particular, I will delve into the details of the new QRadar suite, the generative AI capabilities of watsonx, and IBM’s efforts to empower partner success.
The rise in remote work and global interconnectivity of devices has brought significant changes and challenges to cybersecurity. Organizations are dealing with complex IT systems that require better visibility, threat detection, and incident response capabilities. Adopting cloud technology, especially hybrid cloud environments, has further complicated the situation. Security teams need help to secure public-facing applications running in the cloud and ensure all applications are up to date.
There is a growing demand for gathering more security data to enhance visibility. However, data collection can be costly and complicated, particularly when transferring it between different cloud platforms. In addition, organizations deploy multiple security tools to protect their new cloud infrastructure, adding to the challenges faced by security professionals.
Organizations are setting up enhanced Security Operations Centers (SOCs) to address these challenges. However, SOC professionals often face overwhelming workloads and require user-friendly tools that can be integrated with different security products. In addition, manual investigation of threats slows down their response time. To address these challenges, IBM has introduced a range of security solutions, including the IBM QRadar Suite.
QRadar Suite: Overview
The QRadar Suite is a subscription-based (SaaS) offering that combines AI-enhanced versions of IBM's existing threat detection and response solutions into a comprehensive global product. It represents a significant advancement and expansion of the QRadar brand, encompassing all critical technologies related to threat detection, investigation, and response. The original QRadar technology was integrated into IBM's portfolio after the acquisition of Q1 Labs in 2011. The new QRadar Suite goes beyond traditional security information and event management (SIEM) capabilities, aiming to provide a unified experience for security management. Its goal is to assist organizations in managing extended detection and response (EDR/XDR) capabilities, SIEM functionalities, and Security Orchestration Automation and Response (SOAR) in cybersecurity.
In addition, IBM has enhanced the suite's capabilities via strategic acquisitions. For example, the inclusion of SOAR capabilities results from the purchase of Resilient in 2016, while the EDR capabilities are attributed to the addition of ReaQta in 2021. Additionally, the QRadar Suite includes a new product, QRadar Log Insights, a cloud-based tool for security log management and federated search and investigation.
Standout Elements: Unified Interface, Automated Investigation, and Flexible Purchase
The QRadar Suite stands out due to three key features: a unified interface, automated investigation capabilities, and flexible purchase options.
Firstly, the suite has been developed in collaboration with security analysts, resulting in a unified and modernized interface that centralizes capabilities and workflows across IBM QRadar and 3rd party solutions. The Unified Analyst Experience (UAX) centralizes insights across both IBM and 3rd Party security tools, not just IBM products. It does this through its “Federated Search” capability. This consistent interface assists analysts throughout their investigation, response, and threat-hunting workflows across EDR/XDR, SIEM, SOAR, and Security Log Management (SLM). In addition, it empowers them to navigate the attack chain swiftly and efficiently, enhancing their response effectiveness.
Secondly, the suite includes Threat Investigator, an AI-powered automated investigation feature that helps manage and prioritize threat alerts by providing comprehensive details about threats and recommending automated response actions for quick mitigation. By automating the data mining processes across various security systems, Threat Investigator reduces the manual effort required for alert investigation, enabling faster response times. The suite also combines essential threat detection, research, and response technologies. Built on an open hybrid cloud platform (OpenShift), it enables extensive interoperability with over 900 pre-built integrations and has a comprehensive partner ecosystem. Leveraging MITRE and SIGMA natively, the suite allows security teams to adapt and keep pace with attackers seamlessly.
Thirdly, it offers flexible purchase options. Customers can obtain individual components separately or as a comprehensive suite. While most components are delivered as a service through AWS, the SIEM component is initially present on the IBM Cloud. It becomes available on AWS at the end of June, allowing for streamlined deployment, enhanced visibility, and seamless integration across cloud environments and data sources. In addition, the modular design of the suite enables customers to start using it with their desired products and easily add additional components as needed.
Security and Compliance in Focus
IBM's approach to security and compliance in highly regulated industries, such as financial services, emphasizes the importance of continuous compliance within a cloud environment. By integrating the Security and Compliance Center, organizations can minimize the risks associated with historically challenging and manual compliance processes. The Security and Compliance Center enables the integration of daily, automatic compliance checks into the development lifecycle, ensuring adherence to industry standards and protecting customer and application data. This approach regulates and maintains compliance posture and reduces the burden on security teams by automating security management. Furthermore, by automating cloud and compliance requirements monitoring, organizations can proactively prevent data breaches and avoid the associated impact and costs. IBM's comprehensive security and compliance strategy combines the tools and practices to protect sensitive data while fostering agility and adaptability within the ever-evolving landscape.
Enhancing AI Innovation: Launch of IBM’s watsonx Platform
IBM Think 2023 saw IBM introduce watsonx, a revitalized platform that leverages the company’s Watson AI system. watsonx focuses on foundation models and generative AI, offering an AI and data platform with various applications. The platform has three main components: watsonx.ai, watsonx.data, and watsonx.governance.
Watsonx.ai is a studio enabling companies to train, test, and deploy generative AI for business functions using foundation models. This studio, set to be available in July 2023, includes a model library containing pre-trained foundation models offered by IBM. It is built on open-source libraries and provides access to a range of IBM, client-owned, and open models from the Hugging Face platform. The models and the data are separate items. IBM is allowing clients to bring their own business data, not necessarily providing any data for them.
Watsonx.data is an enhanced and distributed version of the OpenDataHub project and serves as a dedicated data store for developing AI projects using an open Lakehouse architecture. IBM plans to host governed data and AI workloads on watsonx.data July 2023 onwards.
Lastly, watsonx.governance is a toolkit designed to address the perceived risks associated with AI and help ensure client ethical and regulatory compliance. This toolkit, expected to be generally available later this year, includes various open-source and commercial support tools provided by IBM, including OpenPages. Its purpose is to facilitate the responsible use of AI, provide mechanisms to protect sensitive data and ensure regulatory compliance.
Empowering Enterprises with Embedded AI
IBM has made strides in empowering enterprises with embedded AI, expanding its portfolio beyond the Watson suite of products. In October 2022, it introduced three new libraries of AI software to support IBM Ecosystem partners, clients, and developers. These libraries enable Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) across industries to incorporate natural language processing, speech-to-text, and text-to-speech capabilities into applications across hybrid and multi-cloud environments. Developers without extensive AI or machine learning skills can seamlessly integrate AI into their solutions through access to the same AI libraries that power IBM Watson products. In this instance, IBM lets them access AI libraries but does not specifically give them code. ISVs can embed AI capabilities into their solutions, while managed service providers can incorporate them into their applications and offer them as services. This approach opens up new possibilities for ISVs and service providers to leverage the power of IBM's AI technology and enhance their offerings.
IBM’s Focus on Channel Partners
IBM values its partner ecosystem and continues to strengthen and expand it. The company realizes that partners play a crucial role in the technology industry and adopts a partner-first mindset to succeed with clients in the channel.
IBM has approximately 55,000 partners worldwide, who have driven 40% of its software revenues until 2023, a substantial growth from a 15% contribution two years ago. In an ambitious move, the company has set a goal to double its partners’ contribution within the next three to five years and have them generate 80% of its revenues. To reinforce its commitment to the IBM Ecosystem, the company is also increasingly investing in its network and placing partners at the forefront of its go-to-market strategy. The introduction of IBM Partner Plus in January 2023 marks a significant step in this direction, further solidifying the relationship between IBM and its valued ecosystem.
IBM is committed to supporting the success of its partners by enhancing their expertise through skilling initiatives. As a result, partners now have access to the same training and sales enablement opportunities as IBM’s employees, free of cost. This inclusive approach has resulted in nearly 45,000 individuals embarking on their learning journeys, and over 1,400 partners have registered for the partner plus program since its announcement.
IBM has streamlined its technical training initiatives, allowing partners to acquire the same expertise and empowerment provided to its internal salesforce. In addition, to facilitate further growth of its network, IBM plans to double the number of partner-facing brand and technical specialists, who will support partners in acquiring more clients.
Simplifying processes is another focus area for IBM. The company has consolidated over 45 tools into one comprehensive deal registration system, streamlining operations for partners. In addition, it introduced deal-sharing in April this year, successfully integrating partners into more than 7,000 deals valued at over $500 million.
Final Techaisle Take
IBM and SAP have formed a strategic partnership that focuses on integrating Watson with SAP Start, the search interface for SAP's cloud applications, and S/4HANA Cloud. The integration of Watson aims to enhance SAP Start’s user experience by providing a digital assistant to answer queries and automate everyday tasks, thereby improving the search interface’s efficiency and productivity.
This partnership represents a significant milestone in the ongoing relationship between SAP and IBM. The former has already been exploring the potential of Watson, which is evident from its use of the technology in SAP Concur’s TripIt app. Moreover, in addition to integrating Watson's capabilities into SAP solutions, SAP and IBM are actively cooperating in the areas of generative AI and large language models.
IBM stands out in the generative AI market by exclusively serving businesses (B2B) with watsonx. The company recognizes the increasing demand for personalized generative AI models, and watsonx offers a comprehensive platform to simplify integration and utilization.
IBM also sets itself apart through its emphasis on AI and hybrid cloud. With the acquisition of Red Hat, IBM targets organizations developing data governance systems for hybrid cloud and on-premises infrastructures. Red Hat OpenShift provides the foundation for deploying generative AI models remotely or locally.
The release of the new QRadar suite marks an advancement for IBM in unified security consoles. The solution combines a cloud-based platform and advanced security analytics to cater to large companies with complex security infrastructure needs. In addition, its extensive compatibility and integration capabilities enable it to cater to the diverse security portfolios of IBM’s customers.
The introduction of watsonx brings both opportunities and challenges for IBM in AI. Watsonx streamlines end-to-end AI workflow and can drive accelerated AI adoption. However, it is crucial to note that IBM is working with enterprise vs. consumer-facing use cases that fit IBM's market & competitive advantages better. For example, the low reliability and hallucination-prone consumer use cases of ChatGPT and Bard need to be more reliable for enterprise use cases. That's the gap watsonx fills – allowing them to use generative AI and maintain control over their proprietary data.
IBM has been a leader in the artificial intelligence (AI) race for many years. Its enterprise-strength AI, IBM Watson, has been transforming how people work in nearly every industry. It has helped organizations derive insights from complex and unstructured information and has allowed IT professionals to scale their expertise and focus on higher-value work. IBM's commitment to AI is clear. IT is investing heavily in research and development and is developing new products and services that will help businesses to get the most out of AI. IBM is also working to make AI more accessible to businesses of all sizes. As AI continues to evolve, IBM is well-positioned to lead the way. The company has the experience, expertise, and commitment to make AI a reality for businesses of all sizes.
Despite these challenges, IBM remains competitive in AI and security through continuous innovation and strategic partnerships. IBM Cloud offers robust security measures, end-to-end capabilities, and customizable solutions to manage data with expert guidance effectively.
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