E-fficiency in a new e-conomy
Saturday, February 26, 2000
Lehigh University alumnus John Patrick, who heads Internet development at IBM Corp., preaches business applications of the Web.
By ANTHONY SALAMONE
While making a hotel reservation over the telephone, John Patrick turned to his computer to get a coupon entitling him to a discount.
The reservations clerk said she couldn’t process the coupon; not being online, she couldn’t see it. She told him to call back any weekday “during normal business hours.”
“Is that a stick in the eye?” Patrick asks.
In Patrick’s estimation, sentences in our vocabulary such as — “Call us between 9 and 5” — will soon become passe.
Computer networks will be all-persuasive and pervasive in society in the next few years, predicts Patrick, a 1967 Lehigh University graduate who is vice president of Internet technology at International Business Machines Corp.
But it won’t mean people lugging PCs or laptops everywhere they go. Instead, people will become connected through other digitized equipment, such as wireless phones.
A year from now, Patrick says, Europeans will be able to ride the trains while they pay their bills, trade their stocks and do their shopping online via their cellular phones, because of a “wireless access” standard that has yet to be stamped for approval in the U.S.
IBM has in the last few years transformed itself into one of the biggest — if not the biggest — dot.com companies. Some people refer to IBM now as Internet Business Machines.
As IBM’s chief Internet technology officer, Patrick leads the company’s effort to create new technologies for Web users. He is often quoted in the media around the country and abroad, and he speaks around the world. He also chairs the Global Internet Project, a group of international executives working to ensure private-sector leadership in the Internet development.
The 54-year-old Patrick brought his keyboard, icons, audio and video show Wednesday to Lehigh University, where he spoke to an overflow crowd in Perella Auditorium at the Rauch Business Center. He stressed a holistic embrace of Internet technologies during his one-hour presentation.
In addition to business implications, Patrick talked about a future in which the Internet would enable a multitude of improvements, such as something he called “real-time multilingual intercom.”
During his presentation, Patrick sent an English text message to an IBM associate in Germany. The receiver’s computer not only translated the message into German but “read” it aloud as well. The German user replied in German, and Patrick’s computer translated that message into English.
“Let your minds wander a little bit and think ” says Patrick, who then relates how this intercom could work in business: A customer service representative who only speaks Spanish could still understand a Chinese client’s request for help.
Patrick noted the Internet will be evolving into a system that is much easier to navigate, and can be better trusted — chief among seven characteristics that are still evolving for the better. He also cautioned that company executives need to shed their fear about the network.
“It’s been quite enlightening for me to see what some companies are doing, and even more enlightening about what companies are not doing,” he said.
Future computer-network uses for businesses will be limitless and will help businesses run more efficiently, according to Patrick.
“We are at the very beginning,” he says. “Lehigh is a well-connected campus, but the fact is the percentage of people in the world who are this very moment connecting to the Internet rounds off to zero.
“We haven’t seen anything compared to where we are going.”
Patrick, who grew up in Salem County, N.J., gravitated toward the Internet long after its dawn in 1969, when a team of UCLA scientists sent the first bits of digitized text over an experimental computer network developed by the Defense Department.
He spent the first half of his IBM career in sales, marketing and management positions. He entered IBM’s Computer Integrated Manufacturing Business as vice president and, in 1992, became vice president of marketing for Personal
Systems. He was responsible for creating the “ThinkPad” brand of small personal computers.
Graduating in 1967 from Lehigh with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, Patrick began his career the same year with IBM in Bethlehem, but was drafted into the Army two years later.
While stationed in Florida as a computer operator with a strategic strike command unit focused on the Middle East, Patrick picked up a master’s degree in management from the University of South Florida and a law degree by mail.
The command unit never saw action in the Mideast, Patrick recalls during a telephone interview Tuesday from his IBM office in Somers, N.Y. “Fortunately, there was no conflict. As a result, we had more staffing than was necessary.
“Another way to say it was, there was a lot of spare time.”
Patrick returned to Bethlehem in 1971 and worked there until 1975, when IBM moved him to Philadelphia. He currently works near IBM headquarters in Armonk, N.Y., and lives in Ridgefield, Conn.
His wife, the former Joanne Dobrosky, is a graduate of St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing. The couple has four children.
What does Patrick’s work mean to the average person? The Internet, he says, is all about a massive transfer of power from institutions to people.
“And what that means is that people will have the power of a click, whether a mouse button or a button on a phone connected to the Internet to express their desires. And e-businesses that meet those needs will be very successful.
“There will be a lot of competition among these e-businesses that do a better and better job to make your life simpler.”
# For more on John Patrick, visit patrickWeb, his Web site.
# For more on the Global Internet Project, visit www.witsa.org/gip online.