IBM Case Study: A lesson in Social Business Transformation

IBM Case Study: A lesson in Social Business Transformation

Late last year, I started watching and monitoring the #socialbiz hashtag on Twitter.  I was in the middle of writing my book and conducting in depth research of companies that were at least talking about or referring to a social business. One company seemed to dominate the conversation, IBM. I watched more closely and realized that there were literally hundreds of IBM employees collaborating with the community and adding value to the “social business” conversation. I was really impressed and wanted to learn more.

Even with over 400 thousand employees, sadly I didn’t know anyone who works for IBM. And then one day, I met Dana Carr on Twitter and we started emailing back and forth.  She was able to get me exclusive access (well, not really) with Jeff Schick, Vice President of Social Software who has been working for IBM for the last 23 years for an email interview.

1. What is your definition of a social business? Is IBM a social business? Please explain.

Social Business is the world of possibility that occurs when all of the energy and opportunities that have been generated around consumer-side models such as Facebook and Twitter are focused, and brought to bear on business challenges. The stuff that has sprung up on the consumer side is just the tip of the iceberg. The real mass, 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.

IBM is most certainly a social business and a pioneer at that. We’re the largest consumer of social technologies, and a case study for this transformation. This goes beyond our business in social software and services (IBM’s collaboration software, consulting services, analytics/social media research, conducting Jams for clients). We’re leading social business on all fronts – technology, policy and practice.

Our social initiatives started over a decade ago and really date back to the 1970′s when our mainframe programmers started online discussion forums on the System 370 consoles. For 15 years, IBM employees have used social software to foster collaboration among our dispersed 400,000+ person global team — long before Generation Y became fixated with social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. In 1997, IBM recommended that its employees get out onto the Internet – at a time when many companies were seeking to restrict their employees’ Internet access. A few years later, in 2005, we made a strategic decision to embrace the blogosphere and to encourage IBMers to participate. In 2008, we introduced the first social computing guidelines to encompass virtual worlds and sharing of rich media. These guidelines aimed and continue to provide helpful, practical advice to protect both IBM’ers and IBM the brand. In 2008 and again in 2010 we turned to employees to re-examine our guidelines in light of ever-evolving technologies and online social tools to ensure they remain current to the needs of employees and the company. These efforts have broadened the scope of the existing guidelines to include all forms of social computing.

In late 2007, we opened the IBM Center for Social Software to help IBM’s global network of Researchers collaborate with corporate residents, university students and faculty, creating the industry’s premier incubator for the research, development and testing of social software that is “fit for business.”

Recent projects we’re pursuing focus on the concept that IBM is experienced through the IBMer. People get to know IBM through our consultants, speakers, salespeople and researchers. Within our walls, we have huge stores of accrued expertise embodied in several Nobel laureates and thousands of doctors. We’re working to best utilize our most important asset, our people, helping to identify their strengths and expertise and then connecting them with potential customers, partners and the knowledge seeking public visiting IBM.com. We call it the Expertise Locator.

So you can see, our social initiatives run deep and have evolved with the times. But, there is one constant, as you hear about IBM’s approach to Social Business, you’ll notice that our thinking isn’t document centric. It’s people centric.

2. I believe a social business is built upon three pillars – people (culture/leadership), process and technology. In your opinion, what should be the first priority?

People. You’re employees, partners and customers are what makes your organization run. You can’t forget about them when launching a social push, they drive the engine. When we talk about social business we talk about embracing the networks of people you have to create business value. We believe the most effective approach to enabling a social business centers around helping people discover expertise, develop social networks and capitalize on relationships. It helps groups of people bind together into communities of shared interest and coordinate efforts to deliver better business results faster. Culture is of course all part of this. An effective social business embodies a culture characterized by sharing, transparency, innovation and improved decision making. Such a culture enables deeper relationships within the organization and with customers and business partners.

a. How important is culture change to the evolution of social business?

Culture change may be the most challenging component of successfully transforming into a social business. In order to influence a cultural change you have to educate and encourage. Social tools provide a gateway for information exchanges across geographies and organizational silos. Building trust and encouraging social interactions are essential to driving a social change in the workforce. To become a social business you have to recognize that employees need to be agile, informed and able to work beyond their specific job descriptions. In order to support this, you must provide tools and the cultural incentives that allow employees more access to the right information and the right people. You must reduce both the cultural boundaries as well as the technical obstacles for people to connect with people and information, allowing unprecedented access.

Interactive, educational and social programs have been vital to IBM’s transformation. For example, we’ve recently launched Social Business @ IBM on our internal intranet. This is a resource for IBM’ers that aims to educate them about social media and various social initiatives taking place internally while enabling them to participate. We host modules that provide the IBM’er with an introduction to the social web. They learn how to use social computing tools to foster collaboration, disseminate and consume news, develop networks, forge closer relationships, and build credibility. As a result, they’re better informed and prepared to take action. By making these types of tools and information available, we’re changing how the IBM’er approaches social and twofold, changing our culture.

b. How important is the creation of processes to the evolution of social business?

The evolution of social business is a process in itself. An organization must go through the process of identifying market factors that are generating the need for a transformation, it must recognize the social objectives it needs to accomplish, then establish social outputs that will support the objectives and finally, executives need to determine which platforms, applications, and features they’ll need to meet desired outcomes. These basic principles or processes are vital to the success of a social business. Similar actions must be taken for each department and social initiative.

c. How important is technology to the evolution of social business?

Technology is certainly a key factor in the evolution. An organization must adopt tools that work efficiently in order to successfully make this transformation. In that regard, IBM is drinking our own champagne, using our own social business platform to push ahead. In 2010, with 35 percent of Fortune 100 companies using IBM social software in the enterprise, IDC named IBM as the #1 social software platform company in the industry. Just this month, IDC put us on top again, so we feel pretty confident that our technology plays a vital role in the social business transformation.

While social software adoption is on the rise, a growing challenge for global organizations is the ability to manage risk while harnessing insights from a wide variety of social communities and remaining compliant with their own governance policies, including practices dictated by their regulatory requirements. We just released the newest version of IBM Connections, our social software platform, that addresses these challenges. The new IBM Connections > allows organizations to track and trace data on the fly throughout their organizations, then analyze in real-time using the IBM Connections active compliance service versus waiting until day end for analysis. With these new advancements around compliance enablement, a social business can confidently activate networks of people to use a variety of collaborative tools, to improve and accelerate innovation.

Social business technology is also vital in supporting the mobile workforce. We’re witnessing an explosion in the number and type of computing devices in the market today. Just one example is the growth of tablets. Up to 47.9 million tablet PC units are expected to be shipped this year, and 79.6 million next year, according to the latest J.P. Morgan forecasts. In all, this represents a $35 billion annual revenue opportunity, says the investment firm. And they are not all iPad’s. This dizzying influx of new devices is causing a major disruption in the enterprise. With the mobile workforce expected to reach more than 1.19 billion by 2013, nearly 1 trillion Internet-connected devices will be in market by next year, generating 20 times more mobile data by 2015. Social enabling these workers to be effective, collaborate and innovate is a major requirement for organizations. IBM is delivering a broad range of social software and collaboration capabilities to employees to better connect through mobile devices. Whether it be iPhones, iPads, BlackBerry, PlayBook, Nokia or Android. For example, through our Connections software we are enabling mobile employees to create networks, documents, share files through a community that they can access and manage on their mobile device. The software delivers features that enable mobile employees to collaborate on the fly this includes developing social networks, sharing files, locating business experts, participating in online discussions and conducting in web meetings. Mobile is the future of the workforce and organizations must learn how to support them with social technology.

3. I believe that the growing influence of the social customer, among other things, is what is causing business today to humanize its operations. Do you agree? Why or why not?

Absolutely. You have to go to where your customers are. Today, customers are out on social networks looking for information. In order to successfully reach them, we need to be active on those platforms, and most importantly engaged with the knowledge seekers. Most business leaders understand this. In fact, 88 percent of all CEOs who participated on the 2010 IBM CEO study picked “getting closer to the customer” as the most important dimension to realize their strategy in the next five years. But understanding the importance and actually knowing how to act on it are very different. Consumers are connecting with brands in fundamentally new ways. Customers rely on digital interactions, peer evaluations, social media and online after-purchase support to make decisions. Organizations have to become customer centric to survive. Social media tools must be ingrained in an organizations end-to-end business. Organizations also have to be good listeners, and instead of pushing out messages and offers, engagement through open dialogue integrated with rich media capabilities should be implemented.

a. What has caused IBM to evolve into a social business?

IBM has always been about innovation, pushing the envelope. But there’s no “i” in innovation at IBM, its always been about the collective, creative mind – collaboration. So becoming a holistic, social business has been somewhat of a natural transformation for the organization – we want to work together to achieve our goals.

The new workforce has also played a part in our transformation. The younger generation of workers demands tools that help them do work better, communicate with their peers and connect with IBM’ers with similar interests. In order to appease this new workforce, we had to develop tools they were familiar with (Facebook, blogs, Twitter) and relate them to business goals. What better asset does an organization have than its employees? Its the IBM’ers that have pushed us as an organization to develop these social tools, social media guidelines, etc. We recognize that our employees are our what makes the IBM brand and services the best in the world.

4. IBM is a huge organization; and spread out globally. How is social media managed internally? What does the organization look like (i.e. centralized, decentralized, matrix)? Is there a Center of Excellence?

We’re structured as a matrix. We have regional social media managers and teams supporting them based on geography (for example US or Europe) who are working to educate and enable IBM’ers and identify “experts.” Its these managers who are behind the Social Business @ IBM project where IBM’ers can go to become educated and start to engage on social platforms. This program serves as our “Center of Excellence”. Our social business strategy seeks to focus interactions on concrete outcomes, enhancing each IBM’ers social presence, projecting their expertise, driving innovation and ultimately, delivering business value. With the Social Business @ IBM site, IBM’ers can achieve these goals more effectively than if they were on their own. Whether they’re a newcomer to social media, an expert seeking to project their expertise over social channels, or an active social business practitioner who wants to engage in specific IBM programs – everything they need is in one spot.

5. There are several hundred IBMers engaged on Twitter and within the social web. Is this by design or did it happen organically?

Actually it’s closer to 25,000 IBMers actively tweeting on Twitter and counting. Not only are we present on Twitter but we also have over 300,000 IBMers on Linkedin and 198,000 on Facebook. This is just our external social media footprint. Some examples of IBM’s internal social media footprint today include:

  • 17,000 individual blogs
  • 1 million daily page views of internal wikis, internal information storing website
  • 400,000 employee profiles on IBM Connections, IBM’s social networking initiative that allows employees to share status updates, collaborate on wikis, blogs and activity, share files.
  • 15,000,000 downloads of employee-generated videos/podcasts
  • 20 million minutes of LotusLive meetings every month with people both inside and outside the organization
  • More than 400k Sametime instant messaging users, resulting in 40-50 million instant messages per day

We don’t force anyone to participate in social media externally or internally, but its a natural curiosity and interest for IBMers, so we educate and enable them.

We were one of the first organizations to embrace the blogosphere and encourage our employees to participate. Our own IBM bloggers were the ones to develop the company’s Blogging Policy and Guidelines which has evolved into the social computing guidelines as external social platforms have sprung up and evolved.

So our social web engagement is a little bit of both organic interest and careful design and education.

6. Can any IBM employee engage externally with partners, suppliers and customers?

Essentially, yes, and we aim and work to provide the necessary tools and education so that any IBM’er can effectively engage. In 2007 we realized that our client-facing teams were on the front lines for engaging in meaningful conversations with customers about this emerging technology, social software, and we knew we needed to equip these teams with the skills and experience to drive business growth, so we created the BlueIQ program. The BlueIQ team consists of eight worldwide employees who have been tasked with enablement, education, consulting, support, mentoring, and coaching of IBM employees on how they can use social tools in their daily work to help them improve collaboration and share knowledge across the company. At first the target audience for BlueIQ was 16,000 traditional salespeople and technical salespeople (populations that historically do not share knowledge or relationships due to perceived impact on quotas and commissions). Based on the viral adoption of the initial program, BlueIQ extended support to IBM’s 400,000-plus workforce. This program has given our employees the knowledge they need to effectively communicate with our constituents – customers, partners, suppliers, etc.

7. Please explain IBM’s journey to social business transformation. Are there any gaps?

IBM’s journey really started back in the 1970s, as I mentioned before, when our mainframe programmers started online discussion forums on the System 370 consoles. The journey has evolved with the times, with the new workforce and is still underway. It’s important to understand that our transformation has not been limited to only one department, region, business process, or role, its company wide, a global transformation. It’s also important to note that our transformation is not without its challenges. IDC published the results of their Social Business Survey* identifying that the top three challenges associated with using enterprise social software, they are getting people to participate, measuring the impact on business goals, and finding the time to use another tool. Other challenges include security, governance, and privacy concerns. IBM has not been immune to any of these. Realistically, any company making the transition to a social business will face some issues along the way.

8. How do you measure the effectiveness of a social business?

We measure the effectiveness in very traditional ways – is it ultimately affecting our bottom line, and the answer is yes. For example, using our own social business platform, more than 130 communities of IBM professionals around the globe are collaborating virtually. This has reduced the time it would have taken to complete projects by 30%, increased re-use of “software assets” by 50%, and cut component costs by 33%. But we also take into account less quantifiable effectiveness like increases in employee satisfaction, new relationships, and expertise.

9. What advice can you give to other executives who want to transform their organizations into a fully collaborative social business?

We’ve learned many valuable lessons along our social business transformation journey. One of the biggest lessons learned was that social business transformation involves more changes to culture than technology. Remember that your employees are your most important asset. Shift your focus from documents, project plans and other temporary artifacts to the source of the energy, creativity and decision making that moves the business forward: people. Remember that trust is a key element to becoming a social business. An organization needs a certain level of trust to empower its employees to share their ideas and expertise and it must demonstrate this trust by rewarding behavior. At the same time, this trust must be balanced with an appropriate level of governance or discipline that sets the parameters of appropriate actions. Lastly, becoming a social business is not simply a matter of deploying some collaboration tools and hoping for the best. It is a long-term strategic approach to shaping a business culture and is highly dependent on executive leadership and effective corporate strategy, including business processes, risk management, leadership development, financial controls and business analytics.

*Source: IDC’s Social Business Survey, September 2010

IBM Case Study on Social Business

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Thank you Dana and Jeff for providing me with this information. It was truly enlightening to learn about IBM, its culture and journey to become a fully collaborative social business.

I write at length about this very topic in my upcoming book , Smart Business, Social Business: A Playbook for Social Media in Your Organization scheduled to be released in July 2011. You can pre-order by clicking on the below social business book cover. 100% of all book royalties are being donated to Not For Sale; a global non profit organization trying to abolish human and sex trafficking. Thank you for your support.

social-business-book

About Michael Brito

Michael Brito has been making things happen online since 1996 with a legit hustle. He gets mad when the 49ers lose, really mad. Feel free to follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.RicPratte.com Ric Pratte

    Michael, Thank you for publishing this amazingly comprehensive material.
    I could go on for days dissecting this. I think it’s hard for so many social media advocates to realize they are on the leading edge and the need for company culture change will feel like glacial movement.
    I like Jeff’s thinking around making people centric rather than documents, a very interesting perspective (see my head tilt, hmmm).

    Ric

  • http://www.facebook.com/kat.sheehan Kathleen Sheehan

    Great article and good luck with the book.  I’ve been amazed at re-discovering IBM in their 100th year to learn how nimble and socialized the company is.  The sheer amount of bloggers/employees on Twitter producing valuable content is inspiring.  And with all the analytic companies they’ve acquired, I would not be surprised if they are the technology company to truly disrupt how digital and offline media is bought, sold, measured & connected.

  • Tamara Davis

     Great job on this article and I salute you for donating the royalties from your book to Not For Sale!

  • http://www.britopian.com Michael Brito

    Oh thank you Tamara.

    Appreciate the comment.