IT Management

Unlike most high-level IBM executives, Jacqueline Woods, IBM’s global vice president, Systems Software and Growth Solutions, didn’t major in computer science, didn’t do assembler language programming for mainframes, and didn’t sell computers to major corporations. Woods came to IBM from a completely different angle with a deep background in understanding customer requirements and driving revenue growth based on customer needs.

As an undergraduate, Woods took the math classes required for engineers (as opposed to basic math core requirements). She also studied the Fortran and COBOL languages, and belonged to the Black Engineering Association. Still, she chose not to pursue a computer science degree. “At that time, I was more interested in the business side of technology—way before that was in vogue,” she recalls. “But, interestingly, my first job out of college was for GTE—I led a project called MODIBEN—an IT analysis project that examined our payroll system. In that role, I identified a way to stop annual losses exceeding $500,000 in benefit overpayments. Later in my career, I sold software to major corporations and was the executive sponsor for Apple, Nokia, and the U.K.’s Department of Revenue, to name a few accounts. But my long-term focus has always been on matching customer requirements with business solutions.”

In her new global vice president position at IBM, Woods is focused on helping IBM customers understand the value of integrated solutions. She owns the responsibility for ensuring that IBM customers understand the value of IBM’s integrated cloud computing stack; the value IBM brings to market with industry-specific business analytics solutions that have been tuned to exploit IBM systems and storage technologies; and the messaging that surrounds IBM’s new push into Technical Computing (formerly High-Performance Computing [HPC]).

Woods’ organization is part of IBM’s Systems & Technology Group (STG), an organization primarily known in the past for its focus on systems, storage, and networking hardware. “I’m changing this focus,” announces Woods. “At IBM, we can put many components together—both hardware and software—to deliver an excellent client experience. We can use our hardware and software to resolve complex problems and introduce new operating efficiencies. I want customers to know that our integrated systems deliver greater business value than trying to use piece parts from numerous vendors to assemble a solution. The value we bring is expert and optimized integration.”

Tomatoes …

Woods majored in managerial and agricultural economics at the University of California, Davis. To help make ends meet while in college, she took a job with the State of California as a canned tomato inspector. What she observed in this role has set the tone for where she is today.

“Most people don’t know that growers [farmers] get paid based on their crop yield and on how their crops are processed,” Woods explains. “Back then, they planted their crops, hoped for a big yield, and hoped they could meet standards for better color and higher sugar content—which would make them more money. But today, farmers consider a litany of other factors such as the type of tomato, soil, variable moisture, pests, and more.” In other words, growers are faced with business analytics problems. “What I learned was about industry challenges from the grower’s point of view—and I now know how to translate those requirements into solutions that growers can use to earn more money.”

How did Woods get her technical experience? After graduating from the University of California, she attended the University of Southern California where she obtained an MBA from the Marshall School of Business. There she focused on marketing and venture management—which ultimately paved the way for her to enter the technology field—first as a product manager for Ameritech's (AT&T) Customer Premise Equipment business line. There she ultimately became the general manager and P&L leader for $1.2 billion (current value) in products covering both Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-Consumer (B2C) distribution channels. And then Oracle called.

Woods had sent a blind résumé to Oracle and was chosen from a field of 40 candidates to take over pricing and packaging for Oracle’s technology products and services. “I had to learn about the technologies before I could price and package them,” she says. “To do this, I attended high-level CEO meetings two to three times a week for several years on subjects such as database development, business application development, middleware, and so on. You learn technology quickly under those circumstances.” She was also responsible for pricing, migration, and integration strategies for acquisitions (she organized more than 30 acquisition strategies for Oracle). When Woods left Oracle, she had become vice president of global practices and was responsible for approximately $20 billion in product and services revenue.

After serving at Oracle, Woods joined GE—again returning to a focus on customers. At GE, she drove the company’s global go-to-market initiatives for its Finance, Media, and Infrastructure (including Energy, Transportation, Industrial, and Healthcare) business units. This time, the revenue responsibility became even bigger—with responsibility for marketing messages that drove more than $175 billion in revenue. In this role, she also developed the seven pillars of the company’s Marketing Center of Excellence framework and established GE best practices from concept to execution.

The IBM Experience

Two-and-a-half years ago, Woods joined IBM, initially to help the company improve its customers’ experiences. But after a short period at IBM, she was tapped by Rod Adkins, IBM’s senior vice president of STG to help IBM build out its solutions messaging. In years gone by, IBM hardware, software, and services groups tended to drive their own messages and promote their own priorities. But, when Steve Mills was promoted to senior vice president and group executive of  Software and Systems three years ago, the company’s messaging became more solutions-focused as opposed to individual group-focused.

Today, Woods focuses on all IBM market messaging around cloud, business analytics, and technical computing. Her primary role is to understand customer requirements by industry—and to package IBM’s messaging so IBM’s field personnel can relay IBM’s intentions and value to IBM customers and prospects. Her approach is based on understanding customer requirements, understanding multi-dimensional problems, segmenting the issues that clients need to deal with, and then creating a plan that maximizes the value a client can obtain if that client chooses an IBM solution.

Some of her initial work can be seen in IBM’s renaming and repositioning of its High-Performance Computing (HPC) efforts. High-performance computing used to primarily focus on high, parallel computing for scientific and government industries. But now, high-performance computers are being used in computational analysis, upstream/downstream processing, next-generation genomics, satellite ground stations, video capture and surveillance, 3-D computer modeling, social media analysis, data mining/unstructured information analysis, financial “tick” data analysis, and large-scale, real-time customer relationship management environments, and more.

To hone IBM’s messaging, Woods and members of her HPC team have changed the market messaging around high-performance computing. To many buyers, HPC is associated with high-cost systems, high-cost custom solutions, and tons of power usage. Instead of positioning IBM as an HPC company, Woods and her team are repositioning IBM as a Technical Computing company—with an advanced, high-performance computing management environment (acquired from Platform Computing) and with advanced, industry-focused, turnkey applications as opposed to industry-focused applications. Initial analyst reaction to IBM’s name/market focus change has been very positive. In addition, IBM is now clearly differentiating its offerings from those of HPC competitors. This is due, in large part, to bringing customer experience-focused expertise into the STG organization. IBM has learned how to talk about high-performance computing in a way that appeals to other industries.

Summary

Jacqueline Woods brings deep experience in industry segmentation, industry marketing, customer experience, strategic and go-to-market planning, and pricing and packaging experience to IBM’s STG organization. As an “outsider” (from GE and Oracle), she brings her customer focus to an organization that tended to have a product focus. She clearly sees customer requirements, she understands her technologies, and she knows how to build messaging that clearly describes IBM’s products and services in a way customers and field representatives understand. And to think that all this industry and customer experience understanding sprouted from a basic understanding of how tomato growers can deliver better products in order to maximize profits …