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Case study: IBM's journey to becoming a social business (September 2012)


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MBA, Change management, Communications and IT students around the world are learning about social networking tools and the potential benefits of applying these tools within an organisational context.

Articles on this topic quickly become out of date, due to the speed of progress in this rapidly emerging area.

This case study provides information, current as at September 2012, about IBM's journey to becoming a social business.

Published in: Business
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Case study: IBM's journey to becoming a social business (September 2012)

  1. 1. Case study: IBM’s Journey to Becoming a Social BusinessRowan Hetherington, IBM, September 2012IntroductionThe corporate world is in the midst of an important transformation: it is witnessing a significantchange in the way business gets done. It is impossible to ignore the rise of social media and theimpact it is having on the enterprise: the implications for business are profound. While this shiftcertainly means new challenges or issues to think through, risk or governance to name two, italso ushers in overwhelming possibilities. Among some of the companies that have started toembrace this shift, the correlation between social media use and business success is becomingincreasingly clear.The figures below communicate IBM’s journey to becoming a social business, and some of thequestions that journey raises: what does a social business look like, what are some of theopportunities we see and what does an organisation need to do to progress on its journey tobecoming a Social Business?A driver of innovation: Mobile offices and the need for collaborationIBM’s social presence started well over 15 years ago. Back in the early 90s, prior to the arrivalof Lou Gerstner as chairman of the board and chief executive officer, there were plans to breakup IBM into smaller, supposedly more nimble businesses. Gerstner decided this was not agood idea and chose other means to get the company into better financial shape. Oneapproach was to transition from the traditional office to the mobile office. Given teams were nolonger sitting across from one another, remote collaboration was introduced as a means toensure dispersed workgroups were up to date on corporate information and able to continueworking as teams, as they would within traditional offices. IBM has always communicated veryclosely with its business partners and they too would be included in this collaboration.Developing tools for social networkingAs IBM’s level of collaboration maturity developed and it became successful in leveragingexpertise and knowledge across the company and with business partners worldwide, it began tosee tools being developed that were enabling a different type of dialogue to take place, not justaround doing business but doing business ‘better’. Someone in Boston would post an idea onhow to do something better and it would turn into a global dialogue. Teams would step up andbegin to execute the ideas. That was the introduction of social business within IBM. 1
  2. 2. Figure 1: IBM’s journey to becoming a social businessSince 2008, IBM has continued to think of new ways and channels for: • Connecting people to expertise (whether customers, partners or employees), generating new sources of innovation, fostering creativity and establishing greater reach and exposure to new business opportunities. • Removing any unnecessary boundaries between experts inside the company and experts in the marketplace. IBM embraces tools and leadership models that support capturing knowledge and insight from many sources, so that staff can quickly sense changes in the industry, customer mood, employee sentiment, or process efficiencies. • Leveraging these social networks to speed up business, gaining real-time insight to make quicker and better decisions, getting information and services to customers and partners in new ways - faster.The journeyOver time, this evolution has progressed IBM to the Social Model, characterised by end-userdriven content and communities of practice that combine social capital with intellectual capital toenable collective intelligence. 2
  3. 3. Figure 2: The phases of progress towards becoming a social businessThe Website ModelIn the mid 1990’s, the internet browser was developed. It became easier than ever before topublish content, simply by placing it on a web server. When large numbers of people started toshare content on the web, websites proliferated and it became difficult to know where to findspecific information.Just like on the Internet outside IBM’s firewall, lots of sites on IBM’s intranet started to competefor online visitor traffic. Each business unit, department and country had its own website. Mostof these sites tried to offer a wide variety of content.At the same time, IBM had a “central” site that could be described as a planet with a weakgravitational pull. In a way, the IBM intranet homepage wasn’t really central at all. Its uniquevalue was that its intranet editors, who at that time operated much like print editors, created highquality content, or corporate journalism.The Audience ModelWith the move to a homepage that could serve multiple audiences, IBM started to increase thegravitational pull of that central homepage and make it a useful tool for IBMers. By 2002 theintranet homepage could serve up profiled content to a variety of different audiences; howeverthe links still often pointed to silo sites.The Roles ModelIBM continued to focus on delivering all the relevant, personalised content (information, toolsand applications) through one central location – the “single point of entry”. Focus on 3
  4. 4. personalisation increased, and profiling capabilities delivered the relevant content to specificemployees based upon their country and location, business unit, employee-type, industry andjob role. This centralised model proved effective at creating a common environment for IBMers.The Social ModelIBM has extended into a new paradigm of digital workplace that places significant focus on userdriven content. In this social model, individuals can contribute to, learn about and find relevantexperts and expertise, based on their interests, networks and connections. In this highly socialenvironment, the content created through online interactions between individuals (as opposed tointranet editors) becomes the central experience. IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines werecreated in 2005 through collaboration with IBM bloggers and later expanded. They are based onthe view that participation in social media is in both IBMers’ and IBM’s interest, because thevalue that IBM creates comes overwhelmingly from the expertise of its people. These guidelineshelp IBMers navigate the potential dangers and controversies that come with using socialmedia, such as concerns about disclosure of confidential information, violation of privacy orbreaches of security. The data created by all of the social interactions between individuals hasfuelled deeper organisational learning and collaboration and a more responsive business.Social Business at IBM todayIBM’s scale, diversification, nature (a company of ‘experts’) and culture fit with the opportunitiesof social business (see Table 1 below).The organisation Culture Value • 400,000 employees • Collaborative • Flattening the organisation • 170 countries • Progressive • Accelerating learning • B2B, not consumer • Risk averse • Enabling influence • Company of ‘experts’Table 1: IBM todayIBM encourages the use of external social sites including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogsto support their sales, communication, marketing and recruiting efforts. While employee’s socialinteractions are not under a microscope, the experiments in using social on a massive scalecontinue to be governed by the social computing guidelines, along with the business conductguidelines.Internally, the IBM social laboratory is exploring the use of gamification and crowdsourcingprinciples to reduce the cost of projects. IBM was able to significantly reduce the expense andincrease accuracy of language translation and localisation effort for product manuals thattypically cost the company millions by awarding points to employees who helped translate thedocuments. Employees with the highest point totals earned money for their charities.IBM ConnectionsIBM Connections is social software for business that is widely used within IBM, oftensignificantly reducing email. The latest version offers eight distinct applications, and provides an 4
  5. 5. exceptional social platform that helps enable access to the right people, as well as internal andexternal content, through professional networks and communities.Figure 3: Screenshot of IBM Connections home page • Home Page: The Home Page application helps provide individuals with a consolidated view of their social data from across all of the other IBM Connections applications. • Communities: The Communities application connects individuals with a common interest, responsibility, or area of expertise to share information, exchange ideas and collaborate on projects. • Recommendations: Social analytics provide recommendations about people to connect with and content to view. • Forums: The Forums application provides a convenient way to create an online discussion board where people can ask questions, share their experiences, and discuss topics of common interest. • Activities: The Activities application helps individuals create online work areas where they and their teammates can gather together the emails, Instant Message (IM) chats, documents, messages, and other information that they need to accomplish a business objective. • Bookmarks: The Bookmarks social bookmarking application helps you save, organise, and share bookmarks as well as discover bookmarks that have been qualified by others. • Profiles: The Profiles application helps you locate the people you need by searching across your organisation using keywords that help identify expertise, current projects, and responsibilities. • Wikis: The wikis application provides a convenient online method for teams to author content collaboratively, edit it and then publish it. This is designed to help businesses create content faster, and also improve its quality by utilising input from a variety of experts. 5
  6. 6. Most of the technologies IBM brings to market are a direct result of the research and testingperformed internally. IBM Connections is now the fastest growth organic software product inIBM’s long history.Benefits of IBM Connections: • Engage instantly and in context to get business done by staying on top of relevant activity in your professional networks and communities • Act quickly and be responsive to customers by pivoting rapidly between internal and external communities • Create an ideal community experience and anticipate the needs of a community by monitoring social activity and participation • Increase personal and organisational effectiveness by creating, connecting, and sharing in one easy to use social experienceIBMs Social Business statistics (as at September 2012) Internal External • 433,000 users of IBM • 304,000 employees on LinkedIn; 692,277 people Connections follow IBM on LinkedIn - more than any other • 32,000 individual organisation in the world blogs • 32,000 IBMers engage via Twitter each month • 120,000 communities (Methodology: This is an approximation based on a study that • 775,000 files shared found 93,000k people or accounts tweeted about IBM per month. Based on the analysis, 35% could be considered IBMers.) (and 21.1M • 198,000 IBM employees listed on Facebook downloads) • 1000s of individual IBMer blogs • 1.5M bookmarks • 343,000 IBM alumni have self-identified on LinkedIn (4.3M tags) • 100,000 IBM alumni in Greater IBM Connections • 75,000 wikis (60.6M • Almost 4.5M video views on IBMs channel on views) YouTube • 50M instant • 100,000s of followers on IBM’s Twitter handles messages/day via • Nearly 250,000 people follow ‘People for a Smarter Sametime Planet’, one of IBM’s many Facebook pages that • 35,200 IBM experts regularly stimulates lively debates about smarter enrolled in the planet topics through frequent "guest appearances" of Expertise Locator IBM subject matter experts service • Approximately 50,000 visits in a typical month to • More than 120,000 - a group blog, popular with mobile users visitors to and IBM employeesBusiness impacts (as at July 2011) • Improved Company agility & responsiveness • Reduced time to complete projects by 30% • Increased use of “software assets” by 50% • Cut component costs by 33% • Reduction of over $100M/year in help desk support costs • Increases in Employee Satisfaction • Increased Employee productivity 6
  7. 7. • Dramatic increase in innovation (employee crowd sourcing ideas identified 10 high potential incubator business which were funded with $100M) • Improved employee networking and expertiseFigure 4: The growth of social tools and employee-generated contentIBM’s willingness to invest, test, fail and iterate has been key to the journey to becoming asocial business.The International Data Corporation (IDC) ranked IBM number one in worldwide market share forenterprise social software for the third year running in 2011: information“As a global technology leader focused on delivering forward-looking technology and solutions,IBM is no stranger to taking a unique approach in order to generate a stronger end result. Toencourage discussion and foster a cultural affinity for social media across its vastnetwork of 400,000 employees, countless partners, and global customer base, IBM madesocial engagement a key responsibility of every employee. Through a collaborative effortled by marketing, employees embraced social media to help get the word out about IBMsolutions and events. The result was a measurable increase in awareness and tightercollaboration among IBM employees to better meet customer needs.” ~ ForresterResearch, January 04, 2011 • Find out more about the capabilities of IBM Connections at: • Read IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines: • Read more about IBM and Social Business at: 7