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How IBM went social

During a press and analyst briefing at the recently concluded Lotusphere 2012 in Orlando, Jeanette Horan, CIO, IBM spoke about the use of social media tools and strategies within IBM. Here are edited excerpts from this briefing.

Today IBM has 425,000 employees in 170 countries and we are a very distributed workforce. We also have about 100,000 sub-contractors. My team supports about 550,000 end-points. So that's a significant population that we are working with. The other thing is that on any given work day 50 percent of IBM employees will not be in an IBM office; a number of employees work from home or from client sites, especially our Lotusphere services professionals. And then we have people who travel for conferences or sales people meeting clients. In fact 40 percent of the IBM population does not have an IBM office.

This presents a lot of challenges and opportunities for us -- how do we connect this very diverse workforce?

The other interesting aspect is that 50 percent of this workforce is in IBM Global services. And 50 percent work in our growth market (outside N. America, Western Europe and Japan). So when we consider technologies to deploy throughout IBM we think about what are the technologies that are going to connect people who are very far-flung within this organization.

We have various project teams where people never meet and they only meet in the virtual world. And so the use of Social is becoming important to how those employees work effectively as teams. Today IBM is one of the largest consumers of social technologies.

We have various project teams where people never meet and they only meet in the virtual world. The use of Social is becoming important to how those employees work effectively as teams

Jeanette Horan, CIO, IBM

A critical goal for us is to ensure that our client facing teams are as effective as possible; I want to ensure that our sales people spend as much time with clients, and minimum time working in the back office (processing orders etc). The use of social tools is enabling our sellers to spend much more time with the clients because they easier and much more access to information. According to surveys that we've done, we found that sellers can spend as much as 40 percent of their time working on back office processes.

Lastly, there's this area of fostering the next generation of leaders. All our new employees who are fresh out of university are used to social tools, and they expect to have the same capabilities internally. In many cases they are in fact educating some of our more senior leaders on how to use some of these tools more effectively. This is part of our reverse mentoring program for our senior leaders.

Back in the 90s when browsers were new, IBM was one of the first companies to encourage its employees to be out on the Internet. We also developed and rolled out Instant Messaging technology (Lotus Sametime) across the organization. It didn't take long to realize that this is a business critical tool and it didn't take long for this tool to flatten the organization. Any employee can reach out to anyone across the organization and ask a question or seek expertise.

In the early 2000s there were many changes in the industry and IBM did a lot of acquisitions; our business was changing to become more about software and services. Sam Palmisano (then President and CEO) initiated a Jam, an online conversation with IBMers worldwide. They discussed what does it take to be an IBMer in the 21st century.

In 2005, we made a strategic decision to embrace the blogosphere. Since then many IBMers have been blogging on a number of different topics. In 2007, we launched the first Connections technology inside IBM. This brought together a number of different innovations across IBM. There were some things developed in Research, some things developed in product teams and some things developed by my own team. And we brought together a number of these capabilities to that first Connections platform.

Initially it was slow to take off, and then the evangelists and some of the early adopters started to use Connections. They became passionate about helping us improve the technology and in improving the product.

We also recognized that social computing is taking off on Facebook, Twitter etc. But we really needed to help our employees understand the appropriate use of these tools. Just as we have business conduct guidelines that tell us about ethics and appropriate regulations, we decided to have social computing guidelines. This would help our employees understand that when they are on the internet, outside the firewall, what is appropriate for them to say and not to say -- as an individual or as an IBM employee. And what is appropriate use within IBM for these other social technologies.

Source: InformationWeek(link resides outside of