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Machine Learning and Governance: An Interview with Seth Dobrin

I recently had a chance to visit with Seth Dobrin, the new Vice President and Chief Data Officer for IBM Analytics.


You come to IBM Analytics from Monsanto’s digital strategy team where you earned a reputation for leading exponential change. You’ve been at IBM just a few months so you’re looking at things with fresh eyes. Where do you see the opportunities to change or improve what we offer to private cloud customers?

Well, I’ll first say that we’re already doing a lot of things right, and it’s clear that our customers trust us and we make some of the best products on the market — just ask the analysts. We’ve established a reputation for working closely with customers and getting them to the outcomes they want, rather than urging them to adopt the next new thing. And I came to IBM in part because of this and in part because every time I have engaged with IBM, I have been impressed with how incredibly smart everyone is.

IBM recognizes that most enterprises do not have the luxury of starting with a clean slate. Enterprises have existing data and applications that run their businesses today. For better or worse, these platforms live in data centers that were built over the last several decades. How we show up to help them connect these systems to the benefit of cloud will define our future, and theirs. The journey to the cloud — and it’s a journey you can’t just do in a week, a month, or even a year — is not one-size-fits-all, and enterprises appreciate that IBM understands this perspective.

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I’ll just also point out that those existing systems and applications — which some might dismiss as “legacy” — are still at the heart of most of these businesses. These are business-critical systems that run existing enterprises. These are the systems that are paying the bills today. IBM is good at recognizing that a big part of our job is giving those applications and systems more oxygen, not less, and connecting these assets to future strategies whether that’s public cloud, private cloud, or hybrid.

In terms of opportunities, the biggest one we have is around governance. Governance is typically seen as a roadblock or at least a speed bump. We need to help enterprise reframe governance as an enabler or even an accelerant. The way to do this is to build an active and integrated unified governance platform built on an open source metadata backbone, Apache Atlas™. Atlas operates across environments, including business-critical assets, private cloud, and public cloud.

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