Worldwide Research Lead, Retail, IBM
On Nov 26th, 2013 IBM announced a new product in its Smarter Commerce portfolio of products called IBM Presence Zones. Presence Zones provides location based services and analytics indoors, enabling IBM to merge its advanced Commerce capabilities on the web with brick and mortar Retail.
How did this come to be? It all started in IBM's Haifa Research Lab (HRL) more than 6 years ago where I was HRL’s lead for the Telecommunications Industry, having had extensive experience in Telco before joining IBM. At that time any thoughts about location based services automatically meant Telco, since mobile phones were not as sophisticated compared to the smartphones we carry today. However, Telco had to know the rough location of the phones in order to route calls to them.
What is an x,y coordinate worth to an advertiser or someone wanting to use the location for personalized services? Nothing! It was apparent to me and the IBM Research team in Haifa that the secret sauce was understanding the meaning/context of the location, and so we created a system to do just that. With a prototype in hand and several patents in our pocket, we tried desperately to convince Telco’s to sell such information to advertisers and/or use it to personalize the services they offered to their subscribers. We hit a brick wall. Telco’s were raking in revenue from their core business, with little regulation or competition in the market. They didn’t get it and it didn’t interest them.
Luckily for us, I realized that Retailers understood the importance of it! Their challenge was to analyze consumer’s location indoors, and so the IBM Research team switched focus to indoor location detection. The initial analysis was based on bluetooth, since mobile devices 4-5 years ago had bluetooth but did not yet have WIFI or GPS. We realized rather quickly that smartphones were going to be the future, and shifted to using WIFI.
The journey was an uphill battle, it took some time to convince the team to understand what the power of smartphones would bring in the future. The day I started working at IBM, Oded Cohn head of HRL, said to me that if someone in IBM said no to an idea I believed in, I should continue pursuing and find someone among the 429,999 remaining people who will say yes. While searching for that person, the team continued to work on the project funding it through IBM’s FOAKs, European Union funding, and various joint programs.
At the end of 2012 a major WIFI provider expressed desire in licensing the technology from Research. It was finally time for IBM to make the decision whether to enter the market or give the technology away.
In Q1 2013 John Mesberg, IBM’s Vice President of B2B and Commerce Solutions and his team made the decision to productize IBM's Research asset. We did it! By combining Presence Zones with WebSphere Commerce, Unica, Coremetrics, and other products in the Smarter Commerce portfolio, IBM is able to help merge the virtual and physical worlds.
To learn more about IBM PresenceZones click here.