Creating a virtual enterprise by reimagining workflows

IBM transforms “business as usual” with AI and hybrid cloud technologies
Karen Boush
7-minute read

A successful IBM seller, Nicole loves the company’s new, smarter sales support processes and tools.

Sitting down to write a sales proposal, she consults with her AI-enhanced assistant to speed proposal building and customization. Then, she asks the assistant to rapidly analyze the contract language, receiving insights on how to minimize IBM’s risk and maximize its revenue. In addition, when it comes to the traditionally time-consuming process of managing client billing and invoicing activities, she relies on another self-service app to simplify tasks.

Since immersing herself in processes that flow faster and more smoothly than ever before, Nicole can work with efficiency, provide better service to clients and have time to innovate. She also finds her work to be more meaningful.

Nicole is just one of hundreds of thousands of IBM employees whose daily work has undergone dramatic transformations using AI and hybrid cloud technologies.

Woman celebrating at her desk

Capitalized on AI and cloud solutions to drive

USD 2.6

billion in business value

Saved 4 million work hours by infusing automation and AI into


of workflows

Boosted IBM employee engagement by



Increased IBM’s ability to help clients transform by commercializing


AI assets

If you can reimagine how work gets done, then you can reinvent an organization. Intelligent workflows start with the experience, bringing AI capabilities on a hybrid cloud platform that empowers employees with data and technology to deliver exponential results.
Joanne E. Wright
Vice President Enterprise Operations & Services, IBM
Competing in the digital era

These changes are all part of IBM’s journey to become a virtual enterprise, the next-generation organizational and operating model that helps enable large-scale organizations to compete effectively. A virtual enterprise capitalizes on technological innovations, open platforms and ecosystems, and new partnership approaches to deliver value at scale and pace. At the heart of a virtual enterprise are cross-enterprise intelligent workflows.

IBM has a long tradition of reinventing itself in response to business and marketplace needs. To fuel the company’s current transformation, leaders sought to reinvent several areas, including supply chain, finance, procurement and sales. Leaders across these functions grappled with common inhibitors to attaining the company’s vision of a virtual enterprise:

  • Siloed teams and processes couldn’t support a client-first approach.
  • Fragmented data couldn’t yield real-time insights and hindered accountability.
  • Inflexible processes and IT systems couldn’t accommodate complex, variable tasks essential to driving higher value.
  • Whereas IBM’s internal workflows had once met the company’s needs, the world had changed, and IBM needed to change with it. Market forces demanded that all stakeholders, including employees, clients and suppliers, be empowered through dynamic digital workflows that provided seamless user experiences, reduced mundane tasks and provided valuable insights. At stake were not only individual employee satisfaction and productivity but also enterprise growth, efficiency and innovation.

    Team meeting around wall of sticky notes
    Connected, automated and intelligent
    Coworkers using digital tablet next to computerized factory arm

    The first step forward was to create a common business architecture — the organizing logic reflecting IBM’s strategic vision and operating model — comprising eight intelligent workflows and two support functions. The second step was to get to work bringing it to life across the company.

    Fortunately, IBM has powerful technological and world-class consulting to accelerate this type of cross-organizational endeavor. The company used its own IBM Garage™ — a transformation framework that brings together people, processes and technology — to implement a set of proven agile practices that integrate user experience, implementation and culture change at scale.

    Following the agile, user-centered IBM Garage Methodology in conjunction with the Design for AI method, execution teams rapidly generated, tested and scaled innovative ideas. They mapped workflows — lead-to-cash, supply chain, client support and source-to-pay — and identified pain points within the context of user journeys. Then, they prototyped technology solutions and, through a process of iteration, moved from pilot to large-scale production.

    IBM consultants were also fully engaged in the transformation. They drew on their deep expertise in migrating, integrating and managing applications and workloads seamlessly across cloud environments to simplify and streamline workflows. Collaborating with key business functions, they embedded processes with IBM Watson®, automation, IBM® Blockchain, IoT and other capabilities. They then delivered these new services on an open, security-rich hybrid-cloud platform.

    Over the course of three years, IBM designed and rolled out truly transformed workflows tailored to people and business needs:

  • Sellers, clients and support functions now have a unified end-to-end experience.
  • Users can access a single source of truth to receive instant insights, significantly boosting enterprise efficiency and financial performance.
  • Human-centric experiences facilitate engagement in high-value activities and faster resolution of complex problems.
  • A close look at how IBM reimagined four primary workflows reveals the company’s new “business as usual.”

    Lead-to-cash workflow

    Nicole’s daily activities as an IBM seller are powered by the company’s lead-to-cash workflow. Broad and complex, lead-to-cash activities encompass client lead and opportunity development, configuration of solutions, pricing, negotiations, contract management, order management, billing and invoicing, and cash management.

    The IBM Lead to Cash Intelligent Workflow Transformation team focused on addressing users’ key pain points: disparate processes characterized by excessive manual data entry, data redundancy and inaccessibility, and multiple handoffs. The team implemented an AI-infused solution that includes intelligent virtual assistance for sellers, AI-driven proposal building and customization, and contract language analysis. It also rolled out touchless management of billing and invoicing activities with dynamic approval management.

    “The key elements of our journey have been, number one, moving our work to the cloud, a single platform that brings a much improved, even reinvented experience. And automation that we’ve never seen before,” explains Theresa Dirker, Vice President Quote-to-Cash Transformation and Enablement at IBM. “And number two, AI at the core. Not as an afterthought or from a tool point of view; rather, embedded in the experience. This drives automation and self-service. And number three, a focus on modernization of some of our core systems. All of this is underpinned with data.”

    Outcomes include the following metrics:

  • 13x ROI generated by streamlining the sales cycle
  • 35% increase in customer satisfaction
  • 40% increase in operational savings
  • Man on video chat infront of a large screen with a bar graph
    Supply chain workflow
    Man accepting packages from delivery truck

    IBM’s global supply chain comprises strategic facilities and capabilities worldwide, supporting hundreds of thousands of customer deliveries and servicing network maintenance requirements. By rethinking the workflow, the IBM Supply Chain Operations and Transformation team helped IBM better prepare for a world in which significant disturbances in supply chains, such as those triggered by COVID-19, are more common.

    “One of the greatest opportunities we have is to truly leverage new technologies and data to reimagine the future of supply chain, a future where end-to-end visibility and intelligence workloads will power agility, adaptability and resilience,” says Ron Castro, Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer at IBM.

    The team implemented AI to predict and pinpoint disruptions and prescribe best actions to optimize throughput, cost and quality. It also integrated IoT sensors for real-time precision tracking and infused other exponential technologies such as automation, Industry 4.0 solutions, visual insights, augmented reality, IBM Blockchain and edge computing.

    Outcomes include the following metrics:

  • Days-to-hours reduction in disruption mitigation
  • 95% greater efficiency in resolving persistent supply chain challenges
  • 10% reduction in supply chain structural costs
  • Client support workflow

    IBM Support is the worldwide technical support assistance organization for approximately 7,000 IBM products. The path to creating an intelligent client support workflow for this mission-critical function was rooted in user experiences.

    “Clients were looking for new, innovative ways of getting support in self-service options,” says Bob McDonald, Vice President, IBM Client Support Transformation & Global CRM Experience. “Support professionals wanted to make sure they were giving a timely response to our clients.”

    The team launched the IBM Client Support platform, which combines software support, customer care, field service and AI translation to create a single customer lifecycle. Several new solutions powered by AI and automation and drawing on case and client data help improve the client experience and enable faster issue resolution.

    A case prioritization solution assesses each case’s status, including the severity, last update and tone to determine priority. Another solution analyzes issues, information assets and client dialogue to curate content so that agents can quickly find the right technical information to solve problems.

    Outcomes include the following metrics:

  • 70 Net Promoter Score (NPS), indicating a world-class client experience
  • Up to 45 minutes saved daily for support agents with automated case prioritization
  • 26% reduction in time to case resolution
  • Woman working in a call center
    Source-to-pay workflow
    Coworkers looking at giant screen of metrics and graphs

    The scope of IBM source-to-pay functions covers end-to-end purchasing and payables experiences for approximately 13,000 suppliers worldwide. Prior to workflow transformation, data analysis was largely manual and neither repeatable nor scalable, thwarting strategic decision-making by accounts payable and procurement professionals.

    The IBM Source to Pay Transformation team took a comprehensive approach toward change. Deploying a robust data foundation to enable data analytics and visibility across the enterprise was one pillar.

    “We need to take full advantage of our data and provide the business with the insights it needs in an intuitive and consumable way,” explains Jason Mudd, Director, IBM Source to Pay Transformation and Operations.

    Along with data, three other teams addressed process, technology and people. The journey has led the team to roll out several new solutions. A cognitive pricing solution enables negotiation of better rates using market insights on inflight deals. Two other solutions use the IBM Blockchain platform, one to provide a trusted source of supplier information and digital identity and another to seamlessly onboard new suppliers and help eliminate disputes.

    Outcomes include the following metrics:

  • 10 minutes to complete a pricing analysis, down from two days
  • 90% reduction in time spent on batch analysis of multiple contracts
  • 10x faster onboarding for new suppliers
  • The benefits of going virtual
    Coworkers high-fiving at a conference table

    On its journey to become a virtual enterprise, IBM has measured its progress. To date, the company has driven USD 2.6 billion in business value by capitalizing on AI and cloud solutions. It infused 65% of IBM’s end-to-end workflows with AI, enhancing decision-making with real-time insights. In addition, it saved four million work hours through automation, streamlining processes and increasing productivity.

    Furthermore, with fewer routine tasks to perform, employees can focus on higher impact, more meaningful activities. In addition to greater job satisfaction, IBM employees are more engaged in their work, as measured by a 20-point jump in the net promoter score (NPS).

    Working with IBM Garage and IBM Consulting, IBM continues to build out intelligent enterprise workflows empowering employees, partners and clients. It is also looking outward and has brought to market 25 of its AI assets. As the world enters a new era of information systems — and new technology adoption becomes pervasive — IBM can help drive significant productivity and create new ways to compete across ecosystems.

    IBM Logo

    About IBM

    IBMExternal Link is an American multinational technology corporation headquartered in Armonk, New York, with operations in over 171 countries. For more than a century, IBM has been dedicated to every client’s success and to creating innovations that matter for the world.

    Solution components
    IBM Logo

    About IBM

    IBMExternal Link is an American multinational technology corporation headquartered in Armonk, New York, with operations in over 171 countries. For more than a century, IBM has been dedicated to every client’s success and to creating innovations that matter for the world.

    Solution components