IBM’s Trip to Become A Socially Integrated Enterprise

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo in the WinterOver the last couple of weeks there have been a number of rather interesting and insightful blog posts that have been covering IBM’s journey to become a social business. A journey that started back in 2001, but that it had its main roots well substantiated within the company for much longer. Interestingly enough, when everyone was starting to think about going social within the enterprise, IBM had already well established, and recognised, since May 2005, the well known Social Computing Guidelines that soon became an industry standard in setting up a reliable and trustworthy governance model and guidelines for knowledge workers to engage with both internal and external social networking tools. However, fast forward to 2011 and I still get asked, every so often, how is IBM doing in the social business space, not just from a vendor perspective, but also from its own internal social transformation. Are we there yet? Have we already made that transition successfully? What has been the experience like so far?

Well, I could probably summarise it all with a single sentence at this point in time: It’s been a long journey, indeed! We have learned a lot, we have become much more efficient and effective at what we do, but we still have got lots more to be done! Like for almost everyone out there, becoming a social business is a tough job, for sure, we are not discovering anything new in there, there needs to be a significant cultural shift, a change of mindset, a change on how we do and conduct business, but the good thing is that the trip to provoke such social transformation has been worth while all the way coming from a Globally Integrated Enterprise into a Socially Integrated Enterprise (a.k.a. SIE)

Take a look, for instance, into this rather insightful blog post over at Social Media Today by Rick Liebling under the heading “An SMT Interview with Ethan McCarty, Senior Manager, Digital and Social Strategy, IBM” where he reproduces a recent interview he did with fellow IBM colleague, and good friend, Ethan McCarty where Ethan tried to describe what that transformation has been like so far. Here are a couple of my favourite quotes from the interview:

At IBM we are trying to create a new way of working that connects our people with our customers, prospective employees, communities in which we want to do business and other constituencies in a more direct manner and meaningful way. This sort of engagement leads to increased surface area between the brand and these various constituents. These touch points produce digital evidence of behaviors, and that can lead to improvements in business

Or this other one:

The real power to transform is on the business side. This is where a social framework can create new ways to enable sales forces, new ways to discover expertise, new ways to understand your organization’s culture, new ways to establish brand trust with your customers, and much more

Those two nice quotes make eventually for a nice segway into another rather enlightening article published, just recently, by Mark Fidelman under the title “Why IBM Represents The Future Of Social Business” where he does another extensive interview with Jeff Schick, VP Social Software at IBM. Perhaps one of the most thorough and comprehensive interviews on describing IBM’s experiences on becoming a social business, the interview itself covers a whole bunch of stories, use cases, experiences, solutions and plenty of know-how describing what’s been like living social at IBM, with a couple of golden nuggets I thought would be worth while sharing across over here:

Social analytics is playing a huge role in not just making recommendations of content, people and communities, but in recommending what an organization need do to better its financial results

Or this other one on the key importance of improving business performance:

“From my perspective, we’re back to making better informed decisions to derive greater value, better results and better customer satisfaction. That’s an important aspect of the role predictive analytics will play as social analytics evolve”

I strongly encourage you all to have a look and read the rest of both interview articles, as they would provide you with some additional information on some of the initiatives IBM is running as part of becoming that successful social business, like the Social Business @ IBM effort (Part of Smarter Planet and IBM’s Centennial Celebrations) or the Expertise Locator (By the way, go ahead and read as well Ethan’s brilliant blog post around the topic of “experts“; worth while the read!).

I can imagine how there may be some folks out there though who may be questioning IBM’s own social transformation efforts themselves, specially when much of the focus hasn’t been really on figuring out the ROI of Social Media, which most folks who know me already know where I stand with anyway (Pretty much along the same lines of “How do you measure successfully KM after 17 years being out there in the corporate world?”), but the way we see things over at BlueIQ, IBM’s own internal social software adoption program I have been working at for nearly 4 years now, has always been prone towards thinking what would have happened if we didn’t embark on living social back in the day? Could we afford ignoring it for much longer? Probably not!

Definitely not! Let’s just look, for a minute, into some of the social analytics that have been shared in both articles referenced above… If you take a look into them closely you will notice how a good number of them are rather staggering, to say the least. The amount of knowledge, expertise, know-how, skills, experiences, project / team / community related work that has come out as a result of using these social tools can be quite overwhelming, given the sheer numbers. Now, imagine for a moment that all of those social tools would not have been there! A large chunk of that precious knowledge would have been retained in locked up systems like Instant Messaging, private Teamrooms, or shared drives, in obsolete Intellectual Capital / traditional KM systems, inside people’s computers, or, my good old time favourite: email! Or, even worse, in people’s heads (Not even shared, nor documented just yet!).

Instead, we have now got that richness of information, knowledge and top-notch, best of breed relevant content, available to people’s fingertips to then be able to make better sense, and better decisions, that would impact not only their individual / team productivity, but also their own personal business relationships with both customers and business partners, which is, probably, what really matters the most at the end of the day. That, to me, is the real ROI of Social Computing. That sensemaking activity around the knowledge shared in making the right decisions to help improve your overall business performance. That’s when the journey to become a successful social business will go into the next level, moving away from that technology focus into one where it is fully integrated into how we do and conduct business, how we all become a lot more engaged, transparent and nimble at what we already do.

Yes, we are still getting there! Like I said, it continues to take time and lots of good effort and energy to provoke that cultural shift and that mindset change. But the trip, so far, has truly been fascinating and quite an amazing learning experience for everyone, of finding out not only great content you didn’t know it was there available to all of us from all along, but, most importantly, the experts behind it as well and within reach of a single post, tweet, or whatever else. Because, as we all know, content is no longer king, people are!

Always have been…


(Oh, by the way, if you would be interested in finding out some more about IBM’s internal use of social software tools, with a special focus on IBM Connections, and rather recent – from July 2011-, check out the one slide shared across by fellow IBM colleague Steve Cogan who keeps updating it every so often as well… Then imagine what things would look like if all of that knowledge, if all of those business connections, would not have been made in the first place … Get Social. Do Business!)

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