Thomas Harrer-Chief Technology Officer for IBM Systems Hardware Sales Europe is the well-known professional, a visionary and a renowned leader in the techie world. With his vast experience in a well-known organization IBM, his understanding of digital transformation and emerging technologies is incredibly advanced.
He indulges in technology and digital business ideas that leverage their customers. He is a well-known spokesperson for his visionary thought and leadership in Artificial Intelligence, Data, Blockchain, Core Frameworks, and hybrid cloud solutions.
I can’t resist myself to share more about him as he is also a community leader, a speaker, an influencer, an author, a mentor, a social media evangelist. He works to encourage networking and opportunities for technological leaders and new talents to develop.
Botsify: Hi Thomas, It is an honor for me to have discussion with you, thank you for giving us your precious time. Let’s start with your career. Tell us about your success journey at the prior stage and the major responsibilities about your current designation.
Thomas: Thank you for having me. I studied computer science with a focus on mathematics – very technical indeed, but I also spent some time on language, literature and philosophy. At the end of my study, I had the opportunity to apply IT technology for biology and life science. This broad background enabled me to start my career as a technical expert in IBM 25 years ago and also enabled me to grow that career to become a community leader, a speaker, an influencer, an author, a mentor, a social media enthusiast. It is all about inspiring people about digital innovation and how applied technology and architecture fuels that. All together enabled me to become an IBM Distinguished Engineer and brought me to my current CTO Hardware Sales EMEA role, which covers many clients in Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Botsify: You have been working at IBM for 25 years. It is amazing to have such experience at one place. How much have you grown professionally and what exposure have you got under the roof of IBM?
Thomas: As a curious person and as a person who stretches the comfort zone, I was lucky to have steady growth on a personal and on a professional side. You need exposures and you need to go to your limits in order to grow. I jumped into several cold waters, just starting in the first month at IBM when our sales team for a large client struggled to establish a modem connection within that client. These situations continued over the years with new challenges and unforeseen issues that needed creative solutions. The work at IBM continued to stay interesting, rich and inspiring, and the best is yet to come.
Botsify: IBM has a vast line of products including cloud and AI. IBM Watson is also famous from the start. Would you like to share IBM upcoming products for AI?
Thomas: IBM is a strong promoter of AI from Research, Development to implementation of AI at scale. IBM is integrating AI everywhere, in the cloud and at the edge, as a service or as a software delivery, within the IBM technology and hardware platforms which all together enables broad innovation based on all kinds of data. IBM is steadily innovating the technology base and the product and services portfolio using Hybrid Cloud and AI as strategic fields. One specific area of the future of computing are the neurons (besides bits and qubits), which will contribute to exponential growth of AI abilities in the next decade.
Botsify: How will you describe the passionate work for a top cloud company as you spent almost 25 years. What advice you will give to budding technical people.
Thomas: Be open, be a learner, be positive, never give up, ask for mentoring and become a mentor for others, grow your professional network and aim for sustainability in all your activities, including your mental health
Botsify: Let’s talk about AI chatbots, research says, “In this way, by 2020, 85% of all customer interactions will be handled without a human agent, helping businesses to cut costs by $8 billion”. What are your thoughts about this research?
Thomas: There is clearly a huge potential to improve the customer experience and add value for many business situations. I do not see that cost cutting should be the only target. It is part of a balanced effort to improve the quality of the interaction while also improving the efficiency. The best results come from smart intelligent interactions assisted by AI bots well integrated with some human interactions, who also have the best information on the customer situation based on AI and data.
Botsify: In January 2018, IBM introduced the world’s smallest computer. Tell me about that invention, what is the core concept behind it and how people get benefited with that smallest computer up till now?
Thomas: This smallest computer has been described in the context of crypto anchors, “IBM researchers are developing crypto-anchors, tamper-proof digital fingerprints, to be embedded into products, or parts of products, and linked to the blockchain. These fingerprints can take many forms such as tiny computers or optical codes, but when they are tied to a blockchain, they represent a powerful means of proving a product’s authenticity.” In that context, these computers are smaller than a grain of salt and with the cost of a few cents are helping authenticity of products and could reduce product fraud or enhance trust for many aspects of life.
Botsify: Decision making is a risky task as anyone knows about it. As a CTO, what about your decision making style when you are taking steps over new initiatives.
Thomas: Information is key for good decisions. As humans, we have our reasoning and our intuition. The reasoning side of decisions, the facts, are necessary for understanding the options and to explain decisions afterwards, but your brain knows more than just the facts and you can rely on the balance between reasoning and intuition. Some decisions need some time, for those I need to sleep one night in order to let the intuition figure out what is right or wrong. But intuition can also be very quick, enabling you to take (smaller) decisions in a few seconds, based on data that your brain has already collected without reasoning.
Botsify: Tell us about your last memorable book and favorite place to escape and refuel?
Thomas: I really love the books of Yuval Noah Harari like Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Yuval Harari explains the history of humans, what makes us so special as a species and describes our future as humans. He describes AI and biotechnology as strong factors for the future with all the consequences that that has.
Botsify: Before AI, many companies didn’t focus on Data storage approach. AI is helping companies with data analytics and helping in making decisions. Do you think every company should adopt this approach?
Thomas: I had many opportunities to work with organizations who saw the role and value of data decades ago and continued to enhance the data storage strategy over time. Coming from the core business data like customers, contracts, products, suppliers etc. – they extend the data strategy by leveraging analytics and AI on more and more data for the whole organization, from research and development to sales and marketing to customer support. AI especially opened the use of non-structured data like language, images and videos. And yes, nearly every company should establish and evolve a data and AI approach, to gain competitive advantage in a quickly changing market environment. This approach needs to include good data protection, as data becomes more critical and valuable and cyber threats are increasing.
Botsify: As people trying to maximize usage of AI technology, what do you think about the upcoming grand innovation would be?
Thomas: AI as a key part of data science will contribute to more knowledge out of data and to more intelligence in processes. In the last years, the automotive industry pushed the boundaries with the development of autonomous vehicles. In many industries, trained AI models will be deployed massively into all kinds of environments. There is a prediction that in the next five years, 80% of the AI computation will be performed at the edge, which means close to the location where things happen and where data is generated. I personally see significant grand innovations in medicine and life sciences because there is so much more data including genomic data, that we will see a big shift towards precision medicine based on AI and data.
Botsify: Companies are adopting AI methods but still there’s a huge gap in AI adoption. What are the roadblock companies are facing to implement AI? How IBM is helping companies to adopt this approach?
Thomas: The “cognitive enterprise” has a huge potential and adoption is done step by step. The ingredients are theoretically available – hybrid cloud platforms, next generation applications, the data and the exponential technologies have evolved over the last years and are still improving. A specific roadblock is the lack of skills and experts to implement all valuable steps towards the digital future. IBM is helping companies with technology, expertise and services to help with the implementation steps.
Botsify: What would you like to do beside your work that please you the most?
Thomas: Besides my family, my aspiration to include sport and movement into my life, and my strong interest in food, I’m excited about music. I really enjoy playing guitar and bass and I’m eager to learn more about melody and harmony and rhythm and improve my skills as a musician.
Botsify: Multiple chatbot platforms like Botsify and Watson assistant work to optimize communication between customers. What more exciting features can be added in chatbots to optimize chat automation experiences. We would love to add your feature ideas in Botsify.
Thomas: Chatbots may adapt individually to the personality of the person it interacts with. And chatbots may also use good humor in the interactions.
Botsify: If you feel comfortable, share your images or videos at your workplace. We are super excited to do a quick tour of IBM.
Thomas: We created a video about German Graduates, most parts taken in the IBM Ehningen Office, where I have my shared office space. The videos were taken at our Spectrum Scale Strategy Days in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 lockdown in Germany. We all hope that we can get back normal at some time in the future.
More impressions are here: https://www.ibm.com/ibm/clientcenter/all-centers/#Ehningen
Many thanks for giving us your precious time, Thomas!
You motivated our readers, with your insightful words and with your knowledge.