Five unexpected things at IBM IOD 2013

Be honest now: If there is one word you wouldn't associate with IBM, it's "unexpected."

Coming from a Windows-IT, Cloud-aware, open-market background, attending the vendor's Information on Demand (IOD) 2013 conference was definitely a culture shock to begin with. Indeed, it took some time to adapt to the very different way that IBM handles the whole concept of competition, for example.

It was almost the same amount of time as it took to relax about my scarlet-red Press Pass badge, visible over the entire length of the sinuous escalators which regularly groaned with the weight of attendees going from one session to another. Their badges were variously coloured, denoting Partners, Developers, IBM staff, Customers and a tiny little chilli-pepper dusting of us press types. Once I got used to the way that all the other colours would introduce themselves to each other by staring avidly at the small print on each other's badge, it was a lot easier to play the Press stereotype for all it was worth: After all, no chance of pretending to be just another working guy with the Ferrari-red flash hanging between the lapels of my jacket.

Unexpected#1: Sneakers

Jake Porway was the anchor presenter, pretty much every day. Look at his CV at and you might conclude he was a classic heavy hitting IBM type with degrees in both computer science and statistics. Yet, every morning he bounced on stage in jeans and sneakers.

His continual message was that everything in decision-making was increasingly being driven by numbers, and the appreciation of both sought-for and unexpected results from fiddling about with numbers.

Data scientists, he said, are the new sexy.The exquisite balance between nerds and hardcore salesmen in the audience came out in a very special mixture of noises in response to that statement. And despite his sneakers (and those of many other speakers), the basic IBM white shirt and shiny shoes culture was still there and, I thought, a lot more open and accepting than some I have suffered.

Unexpected#2: Tennis

I am told that similar IBM events in the UK tend to talk about Wimbledon. This year it described the US Open as the world's largest sporting event, and once again the unexpectedness of this manifested itself by way of audience tittering. But no, IBM collectively stuck to its guns (I nearly said "racket" there but that is unhelpfully ambiguous) and produced key numbers which it felt supported its assertions.

What I know about Tennis you could write with a magic marker on a tennis ball, but its point about analytics becomes much more easily understood if you Google for just one term: Slamtracker.

Being able to update player tables live, as matches progress, is apparently great if you are the kind of sports fan who can reel off player histories at the drop of a hat. Me, I'd be out of earshot by the time the hat hit the floor, but it seemed to excite them a lot.