*NEWS*BIG BLUE MEETS STAR TREK
*NEWS*BIG BLUE MEETS STAR TREK
2005-04-09 at 11:38:00 am #8716
Big Blue Meets Star Trek The man behind the Blue Gene supercomputer is on
a new mission: Using number-crunching to solve complex business problems
What do you do for a next act after launching a new
generation of supercomputers that promises to change the game in
high-performance computing? If you’re IBM’s William R. Pulleyblank, you try
something very different: Become a consultant. Pulleyblank late last year took
over a new project at IBM, the Center for Business Optimization (CBO) in IBM’s
Business Consulting Services (BCS) unit.
His task is to help businesses
and governments use math to solve their most complex problems. In most of these
cases, the amount of data they’re handling is massive, and supercomputers are
required. “My mission is like the Star Trek theme, to go boldly into new
areas,” says Pulleyblank, 57, who spent most of his 20 years at IBM in
Pulleyblank’s project is a key piece of IBM’s overall
business-services strategy. Big Blue figures a good way to avoid being caught in
the low-margin commodity-tech business is to harness advanced technology to help
organizations fundamentally transform the way they operate.
WHIZ TEAM. “Many clients have done the low-hanging fruit in
terms of performance optimization. But to get the competitive advantage, they
need to get to the next level,” says Ginni Rometty, managing partner of BCS and
IBM has for years been assigning mathematicians to
help clients with complex problems, but Pulleyblank’s CBO group makes it a
formal business initiative. He has already rounded up 25 “black-belt” IBM
consultants with deep knowledge of individual industries and their operational
challenges. And he plans to hire an additional 15 to 25. His group taps into a
few hundred scientists at IBM Research who have math and data-analysis
expertise. The BCS sales force takes their offerings to clients.
engagement with the U.S. Postal Service — one of the group’s first — shows the
power of math and what it can do. The Postal Service contracted with
PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting more than three years ago to assist with
modeling its mail-processing and transportation networks. The consultants
brought IBM researchers into the project after IBM bought PWCC two years ago.
MASSIVE MODEL. Now, Pulleyblank’s crew is on
the case. The challenge: designing a flexible logistics network that reduces
total costs, makes operations more efficient, and improves deliveries so the
Postal Service can compete with UPS , Federal Express, and other commercial mail
shippers. “This is a key part of the postal transformation plan,” says Pranab
Shah, the Postal Service’s manager of network-operations development.
First, a new state-of-the-art mail-processing system was created.
Finished last year, it awaits approval by Postal Service management. The next
phase is perfecting the shipping of mail between the Postal Service’s 300
IBM researchers late last year completed a
simulation of the entire system. They’re now working on a program postal
managers can use day-to-day to decide how best to move pieces of mail — whether
by truck, commercial airline, or dedicated flights.
PATIENCE REQUIRED. Pulleyblank aims to tap the work his
group does for specific clients and turn it into consulting templates, software,
or even managed services. He doesn’t want to have to assign his black belts to
every new client and start from scratch. “The challenge will be taking the
knowledge and reusing it for other clients — but avoid getting too general with
the first client,” says Pulleyblank.
He’s used to thorny challenges that
take a long time to solve. IBM’s Blue Gene supercomputer, which he directed,
took five years to go from concept to delivery late last year. Life as a
consultant should be a cinch compared to that.