IBM IOD 2010: Emerging tech, predicting the future and getting it right

We spoke to David Barnes, program director of IBM's emerging internet technology group about what the next big thing will be and how the company goes about finding it.

What's the main focus for you and your team at present?

I am part of the emerging technology group. We are not specific to any brand in IBM. So we're not WebSphere, Tivoli etc, we're across all of IBM.

I work for Rod Smith. Our group originally brought into IBM XML, Java, Web Services, mashups. These are all things we look at on a 12,18, 24 month horizon, bring them in, start building technology around it, working with customers before we even tell the rest of IBM.

We work with research a lot. But we don't let the product team in on it until we figure out what it is the customers really want. Everything we do is with customer engagements. The British Library and the BBC are two of our biggest customers right now.

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Both of them had challenges. One of our biggest brains was over in London in December and he left the code with the guy from the BBC and by Monday of the next week this guy had already done 10 things we hadn't. He got creative. That's the way we start. We found out what he liked, what he didn't like and then eventually our stuff makes it in to IBM products but only after we've figured out where it fits.

How do you know where to invest your time? Is it a case of trying to predict the future and hope you get it right?

My VP has the utmost respect from Steve Mills but he's also an IBM fellow and IBM fellows are often set free. And you have time because there aren't many IBM fellows. So they're given some free reign to go out and find the next big thing.

It's a brilliant think tank of people we don't get bogged down in the old, we just look at the new. We saw mash-ups long before people even knew what they were. We brought Web 2.0 into IBM. We get some free reign and that's why not a lot of people know what we do within the group.

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