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A conversation with IBM’s John Patrick

Dec 9, 2001, 9:00pm PST
Aliza Earnshaw
Business Journal (Portland) Staff Writer

John Patrick is the vice president of internet technology for IBM’s server business, and the author of a new book, “Net Attitude,” in which Patrick asserts that business’s inability to use the full power of the internet has less to do with the technology itself than with “the cultural and psychological barriers that straitjacket our thinking about it.”
In a conversation with The Business Journal, Patrick describes where the internet is headed, and what businesses need to do to stay successful.
BJ: You’ve said that the next-generation internet is just starting. Where are we now?
While some businesses look at the dot-com bubble and wonder if e-business has come and gone, our belief at IBM is that we’re just at the beginning.
We view the next-generation internet as something we’re 5 percent into, and there are lots of measurements that confirm that 5 percent figure. At any given moment–right now, for example–about 5 percent of the world’s population is on the internet. The number of devices connected to the internet [that could be] is actually less than 5 percent. So is the percentage of bandwidth now being used that actually could be used. There’s a lot of evolution to come, and a lot of opportunity for business to take advantage of that evolution.
BJ: What kinds of opportunities do you see in the near future?
People expect a lot more from the internet than they are getting now. Why is there still so much paper, for example? Why so many faxes, and so many forms to fill out? Why do I have to stand in line to renew my driver’s license? I should be able to do that over the internet. There are so many things that consumers, and purchasing agents, too, could do over the internet, but don’t yet. For the IT industry–IBM, for example–there’s a huge opportunity to meet expectations.
BJ: You’ve outlined seven characteristics of the next-generation internet. Can you talk about those?
These are:

1) Fast. First, the internet is going to be faster. Right now, you’ve got cable companies, phone companies and satellite companies, all beginning to be a threat to each other. The competition among these three methods will result in more speed, better quality and better pricing. And it’s a mistake to underestimate satellite as an alternative to cable and DSL.
2) Always On. This is subtle, but it’s more important than “Fast.” As people get satellite, cable or DSL, they don’t have to log on to the internet anymore. You simply touch the mouse, and your energy-saving screen springs to life. This changes people’s propensities, and their perception of the internet. Instead of thinking, when you want to check something, “I’ll wait and log on later,” it changes your propensity and expectations–you’ll check it right now.
Businesses have to get ready for this. It’s been found that people with cable and DSL have more page views [than those who dial up for access], because you don’t have the mental overhead of logging on. Businesses will have to make sure their web sites are on all the time, constantly available. You can’t be down for maintenance at 2 a.m., because that’s 4 p.m. in Tokyo.
3) Everywhere. Most people, when they think of the internet, think of a PC. They “go check it” on the internet–they “go” to a PC. No. The internet is where you are, not where the PC is. Today, 90 percent of web pages are viewed through a browser on a PC. That will drop to a lower percentage, not because the internet will be used less, but because of mobile devices: Palms, Handsprings, phones, tablets. This includes too, by the way, kiosks on the street corner, in the jungle, and in public buildings. All transactions will eventually move to the internet–maybe in five years.
4) Natural. This is broad and deep. One example of this would be language translation. Today, when you call customer service, you use the language they use. Why can’t I ask a question in Spanish, for example, if Spanish is the language I’m most comfortable with? We’re working at IBM on enabling servers and instant messaging software to provide on-the-fly language translation. We have this working right now in “Sametime,” an instant messaging software product. We sell it to companies all over the world.
5) Intelligent. For computers, this means calculations per second. There have been huge increases in the power of computers, so much so that we can now apply the intelligence of a computer to itself. One example of this is what we call “autonomic computing,” a research project at IBM to make computers more like the human body.
If a part in a computer is about to fail, the software determines that and sends out an order to send the customer a technician and a particular part in the next day or so. This is incorporated now into mainframes, but we’re expanding it to a whole environment–servers, the network and databases.
How do you make web sites always reliable? By having smart people maintaining them, and there are not always enough of those to go around.
6) Easy. Computing really does need to be easier, both in the PC itself and in applications. Our Beaverton team is doing a lot of work to make server software easier to use. This is where Linux comes in, because it’s easy to use, and students in universities all over the world are learning Linux.
7) Trust. In the end, this is maybe the most important one. If we are going to depend on the internet for more and more things, we have to trust it. Security is part of this: If I provide information to a web site, I have to trust that no hacker can break in and steal it. Privacy is also part of this, related, but a separate issue from security. It’s not, “Can someone steal my information?” but, “Will you give it away without telling me?”
A subtler form is trust in the brand. We all grew up with certain brands in mind–the local grocery store, the brands we know and trust. Increasingly, companies will be judged based on their e-business, on how reliable and effective they will be at meeting our needs.
E-business becomes part of the trust model: Will you be available when I want information? Will you be there for me when I need you?