New IBM CEO Arvind Krishna says coronavirus crisis will speed up customers' cloud adoption

Key Points
  • It's Arvind Krishna's first day as IBM's 10th CEO.
  • Krishna has previously been in charge of IBM's cloud push.
  • He said IBM has rushed out hundreds of thousands of mobile devices to help employees get work done.
SVP and Director at IBM Research Arvind Krishna speaks on stage during the 2016 Wired Business Conference in New York on June 16, 2016.
Brian Ach | Getty Images

IBM's new CEO, Arvind Krishna, said on Monday that the spread of coronavirus could push companies to speed up their adoption of modern technologies like artificial intelligence and cloud. 

Those two areas are among the bigger opportunities for IBM, which remains active in more traditional categories like mainframe computers and database software. But IBM has lagged far behind cloud leaders Amazon and Microsoft in market share, while in AI the company has been criticized for overpromising while Google has upstaged it with major feats like beating the world's best Go player and deploying AI to improve its data center operations.

Unlike predecessor Ginni Rometty, Krishna has experience running IBM's cloud organization, and in an interview with CNBC's Jon Fortt he said he doesn't wish to dwell on the past. 

The world is just 20% in to cloud, Krishna said, and it has taken advantage of just 4% of the potential for productivity in AI, said Krishna, who joined IBM in 1990. Monday is Krishna's first day as the chief of IBM, where he replaced Ginni Rometty. IBM announced the leadership change two months ago

IBM itself has made technological changes to help around 95% of its employees to work from home so they avoid furthering the spread of coronavirus, he said. IBM employees have spent more than a million hours on video conferences in the past few weeks. Employees have over 200,000 virtual private network connections, the company has distributed half a million laptops and hundreds of thousands of mobile devices, along with enabling hundreds of data centers, Krishna said.

"When we look at the usage of AI and cloud, I think it is especially going to accelerate also not just us, but how our clients are going to go on their digital transformations," Krishna said. "And I believe this crisis is only going to accelerate that as we go over the next few months." He pointed to assets IBM can offer thanks to its acquisition of Red Hat, including Linux containers for packaging software code on machines and Kubernetes for managing containers.

Krishna said he wouldn't talk about how exactly COVID-19 has impacted IBM's financial performance.

"If everybody is going to take a hit from the future GDP issues, if GDP goes south,  and some of the predictions are dire, then obviously there will be some correlation," he said. "it's hard to predict exactly how much. The work we do, though, is quite essential. So, consequently, we feel that we are well positioned to sort of weather this crisis and the storm. It's hard to put any precise percentages on it. Right now I think the next few months are going to tell us exactly how this is going to bear out."

IBM expects to report earnings on April 20.

WATCH: IBM CEO Ginni Rometty on how the company is assisting in coronavirus fallout

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty on how the company is assisting in coronavirus fallout
IBM CEO Ginni Rometty on how the company is assisting in coronavirus fallout