IBM Watson is working at the forefront of scientific and medical research and reshaping all aspects of business. Can you take us under the hood of Watson to understand the different technologies that drive this revolutionary tool?

The AI platform Watson, which can now reach a billion people in their native languages, is not only reshaping all aspects of business and government capabilities and processes, but also shifting consumer experience and expectations. Watson solutions in business are being built, used, and deployed in more than 45 countries and across 20 different industries. Watson technologies learn the language and nuances of industries and professionals—from doctors and lawyers to security experts and financial advisors. IBM had projected that by the end of 2017 Watson would be available to more than a billion consumers of all kinds, helping them discover the right insurance options, troubleshoot their IT solutions, answer weather-related questions, get faster service from their bank, and more.

For the finance and accounting industries, Watson’s cognitive capabilities allow professionals to go beyond traditional rules-based policy and demographic views to a deeper understanding of profitability, preferences, and needs to help professionals offer new, more personalized offerings and experiences. Watson can also help transform approaches for managing risk and compliance.

In healthcare, Watson is available to more than 200 million patients and is live in 55 hospitals and health institutions across more than 10 countries, helping improve treatment recommendations and helping deliver more efficient care.

You advocate the power of design thinking. What is design thinking, and can you give an example of how it helped a customer simplify a complex problem?

At IBM we say, “The last best experience that anyone has anywhere becomes the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere” (Paul Papas, global leader for IBM Digital Strategy and iX). Today, more than ever before, putting the user—an employee, business partner, or a consumer—at the center of the experience has taken on paramount importance. That’s what we do with design thinking. We create personalized user experiences designed to integrate preferred interactions that simplify and enrich goals and desired outcomes. It’s truly one of the most engaging ways to innovate.

More than 60 years after IBM created the world’s first corporate design program, IBM’s design renaissance is well under way, and design thinking drives the creation of hundreds of products, services, and digital platforms for engaging clients and employees. With 1,600 professionally trained designers, the company has built the largest design team in the world with almost 45 studios in 20 countries.

IBM iX is among the largest design strategy agencies in the world, where multidisciplinary teams of designers, technology experts, and industry strategists help clients from General Motors to the Atlanta Falcons with digital transformation.

In terms of digital strategies, is it better to be a “first mover” or a “fast follower”?

First movers seek to bring their strategies and products to market first, as it allows them to gain market share and recognition as the industry pioneer. At IBM, Watson, AI, and our advancements in blockchain are examples of our being first movers. One of the obvious concerns of being a first mover is that you’ve made a significant investment and competitors will also benefit from that investment. Competitors may become fast followers based on your learnings. First movers must simply be ready to maintain momentum and act quickly to improve upon design. Iteratively reevaluating different approaches and ideas is essential to continue as the market leader. First movers must be relentless in drive, innovation, and commitment to value-based outcomes.

Many companies strategically decide to be fast followers. Companies mitigate risk and minimize expenditures by reactively entering a market and addressing a disruption more conservatively. Fast followers are able to not only leverage the development investment of the first movers, but also learn from the initial reactions to first movers’ products or services. This allows for ease of market entry and agile adaptation.

IBM sees benefits to both approaches. We listen to our clients and work with them to identify the best strategic approach that fits their needs. Additionally, we practice an agile methodology, which promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement and encourages rapid and flexible response to change. This allows us to ensure our clients can evolve with the speed necessary to succeed.

Can you provide some insight on how disruptive technologies like blockchain and cryptocurrencies will impact accounting and finance?

The way we, as consumers, think about, handle, and interact with money is wildly different than it was just 20 years ago. While cash used to be king, now only 8% of money is represented in physical cash form. As consumers’ spending habits continue to shift from cash to credit cards and beyond, new forms of currency are widely discussed. Most don’t truly understand what these new currencies mean to them, what the benefits are, and how they can be used.

IBM has been a pioneer in the development of secure business blockchain with the IBM blockchain and the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Project. IBM is also working with innovative leaders to advance cross-border payments and digital currency and recently teamed with and KlickEx Group to launch a new universal cross-border blockchain payments solution. The solution provides both clearing and settlement of trades on a single network, which will make it much more efficient and less costly for businesses to make global payments. The network is expected to process up to 60% of all cross-border payments in the South Pacific’s retail foreign exchange corridors including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga by early next year. Because of the immutability of blockchain, its use supports economic stability and security at all levels.

Around the world, there are 2 billion adults who are unbanked. But they won’t stay that way. This white space isn’t going unnoticed. Cryptocurrency companies are rushing in to fill the gap created by current approaches to currency.

To hear more from Lori Victor Feller and other exciting keynote speakers, join us at IMA’s Annual Conference & Expo (ACE2018) June 16-20, 2018, in Indianapolis, Ind. The Conference features nine job-relevant specialty tracks and more than 70 continuing professional education sessions focused on key management accounting practice areas. For more information, visit

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