IBM's Altman faces changed government market

Anne Altman looks for opportunities to help public-sector customers weather the financial meltdown

IBM Corp. brought back an experienced hand in Anne Altman when the company picked her as its general manager for global public sector.

Altman, who ran IBM’s mainframe business for two years, returned this summer to a changed government market. She spoke with Editor-in-Chief Nick Wakeman about the challenges and opportunities she faces.

WT: How is the government different from when you were here before? 

Altman: No. 1 is the financial meltdown. That really brought to the top of people’s minds the potential threat or disruption of critical government services around health care, education, transportation, utilities and financial services. That just wasn’t there two years ago. It has brought citizens into the conversation.

The discussion around health care reform is very different. And reform will involve the government in some fashion no matter what, whether it's establishing standards or providing services through insurance or even health care itself. Somehow government is going to be inextricably linked to health care reform.

Another difference is the new administration and its agenda around transparency, efficiency and speed and tackling so many of these challenges created by the financial market meltdown.

WT: Part of your new role is to bring customer requirements back to IBM. So what do you see as your customers’ biggest challenges?

Altman: Every one is faced with stressed budgets. They have to do more with less.

The flip side is that there is a critical need to transform the way government operates, probably greater now than ever before.

There is this need for speed and transparency and a desire to get insights that will help us make better decisions.

As I look at this, what I represent back to the company is the need to transform infrastructures and vital systems that run nations. Paramount is the need for transparency, efficiency and speed.

We are articulating requirements to support things from water management to traffic congestion management to electronic health records to making a smart grid.

WT: Are those the hot business opportunities for IBM?

Altman: I would say these are opportunities.

We are passionate about a smarter planet and facing these challenges in a way that brings solutions quickly to market and solves them through the application of information technology.

Whether it is improving the quality, supply and access to water or enhancing surveillance systems to reduce crime or reducing traffic congestions. These are the kinds of systems and solutions that we are building. These types of things will profoundly change the way our world operates.

WT: What are your biggest challenges as a manager?

Altman: My job is to extract requirements from the market and to prioritize our requirements back to the technology side of IBM for product development and manufacturing.

I also identify leading trends and opportunities for new services opportunities, for example, around business analytics and optimization.

Data analytics is a tremendous opportunity because, in the past, we haven’t been able to get to the insights that we’ve needed. We’ve had analytic software but we haven’t had the full capabilities.

IBM bought Entity Analytics, we bought Cognos, and now we’ve bought SPSS. We continue to enhance [the database program] RDB2.

You’ll be seeing additional technology announcements this year around acceleration capabilities. As you move deeper into analytics you have to be able to process queries faster.

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