Case Studies

See how other companies’ successful social business initiatives are aligned with their overall business objectives.

  • Innovation management at IBM

    IBM is a multinational technology and consulting company, with headquarters in New York, United States. IBM manufactures and markets computer hardware and software, and offers infrastructure, hosting and consulting services in areas ranging from mainframe computers to nanotechnology. IBM has more than 434,000 employees worldwide and operations in more than 170 countries. The company has 12 research laboratories worldwide and, as of 2013, has held the record for most patents generated by a company for 20 consecutive years (IBM, n. d.).

    As a front-runner in technology and innovation, IBM has a focus on open technology and high-value solutions. A key contributor to identifying and developing a portfolio of innovative technology is encouraging employees to exchange ideas and innovate. Also, IBMers test their products by using them first internally, before launching them to customers. This ensures that the product offerings to customers first satisfy the employees.

    ‘Although IBM does have several external social media presences, including blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, IBMers take advantage of our own social media tools available internally,’ says Ian McNairn, IBM Program Director for Social Collaboration & Innovation (personal interview, 11th January 2013). More than 400,000 employees use IBM Connections, IBM’s collaborative intranet platform across 170 countries, enabling employees to be more productive by providing expertise and information in context. Additionally, the Technology Adoption Program (TAP) has facilitated employee collaboration and reduced turnaround time from idea to pilot to product in certain cases to as little as 5 months, as opposed to the traditional 18-month cycle.

    Additional internal social media tools such as internal wikis, blogs, bookmarking, activities, status updates (similar to Twitter), communities and profiles (similar to Facebook), enable employees to exchange ideas, avance conversations and also do a little self-promotion of their projects. These tools have also harnessed the knowledge of subject matter experts from across IBM quickly and surfaced IBMers as experts to engage with clients, partners and others.

    The success of IBM in promoting innovation is based on several key points:

    • Instead of enforcing top-down rules, IBM developed employee led Social Media Guidelines that focus on individual responsibility for what they create and prohibit releasing proprietary information.
    • Decentralised approach to social media by allowing employees to directly interact, communicate and participate in social media channels, with each other and with the public.
    • Crowd-sourcing innovation ideas from the worldwide employee group and leveraging on the subject matter expertise and knowledge base that already exists in the company.
    • Providing access to the right tools internally that encourages and supports the innovation process. Employees are also given free reign to use and explore the tools, opening up a world of creative ideas.
    • Allowing employees to personalise content and aggregate information to enable the simple and integrated access to internal social media tools, without losing personal accountability.

    IBM (n. d.). About IBM. Retrieved March 26, 2013, from http://www.ibm.com/ibm/ us/en/?lnk=fai-maib-usen

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