IBM CEO Arvind Krishna: COVID-19 Is a Turning Point for Digital Transformation

By Matt Hunter
May 5, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a “turning point” for many companies, as the disruption and uncertainty caused by the crisis has accelerated the digital transformation that for many was already underway. That was the message from IBM CEO Arvind Krishna in his keynote presentation that kicked off the company’s Think Digital conference on Tuesday.

“There is no question that this pandemic is a powerful force of disruption and an unprecedented tragedy,” Krishna said. “But it is also a critical turning point. It’s an opportunity to develop new solutions, new ways of working and new partnerships that will benefit your company and your customers, not just today, but for years to come.”

Krishna spoke in an online presentation at Think. The annual IBM conference had originally been scheduled as an in-person event in San Francisco. But in response to the pandemic, this year it is a two-day virtual conference, with more than 90,000 registrants. 

→ Watch a replay of Arvind Krishna's Think Digital keynote

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed many enterprises’ vulnerabilities, Krishna said. In response, companies are fast adopting artificial intelligence and hybrid cloud-based IT architectures. That is both enabling them to build agility and resiliency into their networks now, and preparing them to embrace emerging technologies like 5G and edge computing, he said.

“I’m predicting today that every company will become an AI company—not because they can, but because they must,” Krishna said in his inaugural keynote address as IBM’s CEO.

Why Digital Transformation Matters

For enterprises, Krishna explained, digital transformation means putting artificial intelligence at the center of workflows, and using the insights generated from that process to constantly improve products and services. This transformation is powered by a hybrid cloud architecture using open source software that makes companies more secure, and enables them to quickly adapt to shifting customer demands and changing market conditions.


IBM CEO Arvind Krishna (left) speaks with Anthem, Inc., CDO Rajeev Ronanki at Think Digital


Krishna cited the giant health insurer Anthem, Inc. as a company successfully making the transition. He was joined by Rajeev Ronanki, Anthem’s senior vice president and chief data officer, who described how AI and hybrid cloud is helping Anthem transform U.S. healthcare.

Ronanki said the pandemic has revealed the “significant shortcomings” of the current system. He explained how Anthem is using data and AI to make healthcare more forward thinking and less reactive.

“The opportunity that we have in front of us,” Ronanki said, “is to reshape healthcare into a more predictive, more proactive and more personalized holistic solution.”

The Hybrid “Imperative”—and New IBM Offerings

Krishna said the hybrid cloud model has distinct advantages over other IT architecture—advantages he called the hybrid cloud “imperative.”

Unlike existing IT networks, he said, hybrid cloud adapts to the infrastructure that enterprises already have, while also freeing them from being locked into any one vendor’s offerings. Hybrid architectures, which can involve a combination of public and private clouds and on-premises networks, have the flexibility to process workloads closest to where the data is generated—a necessity in high-tech factories—and also make it easier to comply with different regional regulations on data use, Krishna said.

He also unveiled a number of new IBM offerings designed to help companies accelerate their digital transformations.

The first—"AI for IT”—gives CIOs the ability to automate IT infrastructures, which immediately reduces cost and makes the network more resilient, he said. It uses Watson AIOps to diagnose and respond to IT anomalies in real time.


See how Watson AIOps puts AI into the hands of CIOs


The second new offering he announced is a program for independent software vendors and SaaS providers to help them demonstrate they meet the compliance, security and technical requirements to operate on IBM’s financial services-ready public cloud. (Assima, Finacle, Fiserv, Intellect Design, Medallia and Thought Machine are among the first companies to join the program.)

Krishna also said IBM would reveal a technical preview of IBM Cloud Satellite, which extends IBM Cloud services anywhere a client needs them, as well as a new set of services to help businesses and telcos make the most of the opportunities presented by 5G and Edge.

“The 5G and edge computing generation is coming quickly and is poised to have as much impact on enterprise computing as mobile phones had for consumers,” Krishna said. Seizing this imminent opportunity, he said, requires making the right IT architecture choices now.

Krishna also said that IBM during Think Digital would announce the top three initial solutions for this year’s Call for Code challenge that have the potential to contribute to COVID-19 response efforts. This year’s competition, which continues through July 31, is focused on developing solutions for climate change and COVID-19, and developers who wish to participate should visit Callforcode.org, he said.

“History will look back on this,’’ Krishna said, “as the moment when the digital transformation of business and society suddenly accelerated.”