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CIO Influence Interview with Francesco Brenna, Global VP & Senior Partner, Microsoft Practice at IBM Consulting

CIO Influence Interview with Francesco Brenna, Global VP & Senior Partner, Microsoft Practice at IBM Consulting

“Fueled by a better-together approach set by Arvind Krishna and Satya Nadella, we have transformed our relationship with Microsoft – that some likely connect to a shared history of competition – over the last few years to a fully integrated partnership.”

Hi Francesco, welcome to our Interview Series. Please tell us a little bit about your role and responsibilities in your current company. How did you arrive here at IBM Consulting? 

I spent the last 20+ years working at IBM Consulting helping clients drive value from data, analytics and lately AI. After having built and led our AI business in EMEA for several years, two years ago I decided to embrace the exciting challenge to lead and grow our global Microsoft Practice for IBM Consulting.   

As Senior Partner and leader of this business, my mission is to empower businesses to unlock their full potential by embracing cutting-edge technologies and realizing the value of a data-driven enterprise using the Azure platform. It’s fulfilling to get to work with clients specifically operating with Azure to help them build strategies that allow them to get the most from their data and AI environments. 

What is the foundation of your partnership with Microsoft? 

Fueled by a better-together approach set by Arvind Krishna and Satya Nadella, we have transformed our relationship with Microsoft – that some likely connect to a shared history of competition – over the last few years to a fully integrated partnership. We know that we are much better partners than competitors in driving business transformation and innovation for our clients through aligned technology portfolios and consulting expertise.  

It’s really inspiring to work alongside my colleagues and Microsoft to aid clients in their business transformation journeys, and it’s been gratifying to see all we have achieved together through this integrated partnership and our shared mission to help clients. To highlight a couple of examples for you, some areas we have seen success together include mainframe modernization and SAP on Azure. 

We’ve had a lot of recent momentum with Microsoft, making it an exciting year for our partnership. IBM Consulting is among the top 5 strategic partners for Microsoft, recognized with this year’s Microsoft U.S. Partner of the Year Award for GSI Growth Champion. Recently, IBM was also designated an official Microsoft independent software vendor (ISV) partner, recognizing our product interoperability and demonstrated track record of customer success. 

At IBM, we’ve invested heavily in this partnership over the years, creating 41 centers of Microsoft competency across 170 countries. We have also skilled our consultants with over 40,000 Azure certifications, greatly enhancing our ability to execute for our clients together. Acquisitions have been center stage for us, notably Neudesic, which specializes primarily in the Microsoft Azure platform. 

We’re now building on our momentum with Microsoft, expanding our established collaboration to help joint clients accelerate the adoption of generative AI, which I’d love to share more on.  

How can organizations leverage IBM + Microsoft solutions to advance their AI journeys? 

As I just mentioned, we just had an exciting announcement at IBM – through expanding our collaboration with Microsoft on generative AI, we’re working together to deliver a new IBM Consulting Azure OpenAI offering.

The offering, which is available on the Azure Marketplace, is a set of services designed to help organizations define their Generative AI strategy on Azure including the required operating model and governance aspects, ideate and test new use cases and finally scale them responsibly and safely across their enterprise. 

Microsoft’s enterprise customers will also have access to IBM Consulting experts, including 21,000 data, AI, and experience consultants to help incorporate these AI models. 

We have seen great momentum in our partnership with Microsoft, and we believe this expansion of our collaboration will provide clients with the opportunity to accelerate their transformation and leverage generative AI responsibly. 

Could you mention the top three Generative AI use cases you’re seeing in this stage of the Generative AI journey?  

In addition to the new offering we just announced, we have been collaborating around AI to create potential solutions and address specific use cases leveraging IBM Consulting skills and Azure OpenAI Service. I can actually point to four use cases that stand out in the generative AI space through our partnership with Microsoft: these use cases cover procurement and finance processes such as Source to Pay, financial services automation, healthcare processes augmentation, and enterprise search/knowledge base.  

These use cases are incredibly important, and we’re offering solutions together with the aim to promote automation in areas like productivity and personalization with generative AI.

For example, on the summarization and content generation piece, we’re working with financial institutions and banks looking to generative AI to deliver personalized content to their clients. We worked with Microsoft on a use case in a hackathon with Julius Baer Group to help develop a solution using Azure OpenAI to transform research reports into podcasts during a hackathon, inspiring a new personalized and client-centric way of engaging with materials. 

It’s been fulfilling to see clients already benefiting from our partnership expansion: we recently worked with Microsoft to help Wintershall Dea, a gas and carbon management company in Europe, to ramp up AI initiatives and better capitalize on data across the business.

Wintershall Dea is pursuing more than 80 AI use cases today, with a growing portion leveraging generative AI.  

I look forward to seeing how our collaboration on generative AI further fuels client innovation in the months and years to come.  

Why is the open ecosystem approach such an important part of developing generative AI technologies?  

New research from our recent Institute for Business Value CEO study found three out of four (75%) CEOs believe the organization with the most advanced generative AI wins. Companies are looking to take advantage of the full potential of AI, turning to the latest advancements in generative AI to help.

As this happens, we think it’s critical for enterprises to have access to both the technology and expertise that enables them to adopt and scale generative AI solutions responsibly. 

We believe in meeting clients where they are – defining the right models and the right architecture to deliver the best outcomes. This is why we take an open ecosystem approach – one that is open and collaborative, advising on the best model for the job at hand. 

Your take on the future of generative AI models built using partnerships:  

Generative AI’s future extends beyond just technological progression. It will have to include innovation, efficiency, and foremost, equity and fairness. I really believe that harmonizing generative AI prowess with ethical responsibility presents one of our era’s most profound challenges and opportunities.  

That’s why nurturing a collaborative ecosystem and forging strong partnerships like this will be essential in steering the direction and realizing the potential of this transformative technology.

Thank you, Francesco! That was fun and we hope to see you back on CIO Influence soon!

[To participate in our interview series, please write to us at]

As Global Vice President and Senior Partner, Francesco Brenna leads IBM Consulting’s global Microsoft Practice. Francesco has over over 20 years of hands-on consulting experience, specializing in digital innovation and transformative solutions. His passion lies in collaborating with teams to develop strategic initiatives that harness the power of Data, Artificial Intelligence, Analytics, IoT, and Edge computing to address complex business challenges.

IBM is a leading provider of global hybrid cloud and AI, andconsultingexpertise. We help clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs, and gain the competitive edge in their industries.

More than 4,000 government and corporate entities in critical infrastructure areas such as financial services, telecommunications and healthcare rely on IBM’s hybrid cloud platform and Red HatOpenShiftto affect their digital transformations quickly, efficiently and securely.

IBM’s breakthrough innovations in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions and consulting deliver open and flexible options to our clients. All of this is backed by IBM’s legendary commitment to trust, transparency, responsibility,inclusivityand service. 

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