Kerrie Holley (LAS ’76, JD ’82)

Kerrie Holley (LAS '76, JD '82)

Chicago native Kerrie Holley is the ultimate problem solver.

Serving as chief technology officer of IBM Global Business Services, Holley has contributed important innovations in information technology over the last two decades. He is a pioneer in the field of software engineering, Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). SOA turns application portfolios into technological LEGO blocks that can be snapped into virtually any configuration.

Since, like LEGO, the only real limit on what can be done with these blocks is the builder’s imagination and vision – and no longer the technology itself (stripped of its rigidity and incompatibility) — SOA turns technology into a supple instrument of business strategy.  With SOA, large travel providers, for example, can expose their online reservation systems to third-party Web sites (like travel agencies and other complementary travel providers), allowing for a big market expansion at relatively little cost.

Prior to SOA, applications had to be “hard-wired” together, a cumbersome and costly way of doing things that substantially slowed down innovation. Indeed, SOA is one of those behind-the-scenes innovations that make modern technology seem like magic.

In recognition of his groundbreaking work, Holley was in 2006 appointed an IBM Fellow, the company’s highest technical leadership position. Fellows are selected for sustained and distinguished technical achievements in engineering, programming and technology. Since the program began in 1962, only 231 individuals have earned this distinction, including 69 active IBMers. Granted a wide sphere of independence in the pursuit of their research, IBM Fellows have invented some of the industry’s most useful and profitably applied technologies. Few computer users may realize how much of this group’s innovations have created the computer technology we take for granted.

One of Holley’s main responsibilities as a Fellow is to peer into the future, identifying areas of big potential (see that could help customers create value. Lately, Holley has been doing a lot of thinking about IBM’s Watson computing system (see, which competed and won on Jeopardy! earlier this year.

Watson is a big deal because it understands language as it’s spoken by real people versus computer language. It can evaluate the equivalent of hundreds of millions of pages of material — publications and reports and the like — and provide the correct answer to a question in three seconds or less. Holley is talking with IBM clients in a number of industries on ways that the awesome Watson technology can help organizations address really complex business challenges. For example, in the future, Watson will serve as the foundation of a digital medical assistant, helping doctors diagnose diseases and make treatment recommendations in real time.

Growing up on Chicago’s South Side, Holley spent his childhood at Sue Duncan’s Children Center, where he tutored the future Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, whose mother runs the center. Holley attended what is now Kenwood Academy where he was drawn to the inner workings of computer science and math. During a time where computers were a lot less prevalent and African-American students were not often present in his classes, Holley continued to pursue his love of mathematics as a student at DePaul University and maintained his computer science skills using software to solve math problems.

Celebrating his 25th anniversary at IBM as the company turns 100 this year, Holley is a strong advocate of mentoring, and he mentors both students and professionals. He also serves on the Board of Directors of DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM) Leadership Council. With a unique style of mentoring, Holley addresses cultural barriers and the need for better education in the areas of math and science for underserved youth and college students.

In a world filled with too much data, Kerrie Holley is a homegrown pioneer whose work helps transform vast amounts data into business insight. And he is eager to share the benefit of his years of experience with the next generation of innovators.

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One Response to Kerrie Holley (LAS ’76, JD ’82)

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