Inside the new Big Blue: A Q&A with IBM's CIO

Mark Hennessy speaks candidly on transforming the IT organization at IBM.

IBM is transforming itself from a set of multinational companies such as IBM Canada and IBM Japan, into a globally integrated enterprise. How is the IT organization helping in that transition?

We're doing it through a number of different initiatives but I think the primary one is a focus on business process. Just like we've had a very specific focus on meeting the unique requirements of our major business units, we now also have a very clear focus on understanding the key processes of our business, inventorying how we go about those processes around the world, finding the best approach, simplifying that process, and then applying the proper tools. We'd like very much to simplify the process before we add the tools; otherwise we're just automating chaos, so that's a key focus for us, particularly as we integrate the enterprise.

Is that process analysis largely driven out of IT?

Yes. We have process leaders that are in the business units and we work very closely with them. One of our key functions is providing that business transformation and business process leadership to the business units, to actually drive that simplification before we do the automation.

What's IBM doing to foster a culture of innovation across the enterprise?

CIOs today are positioned very well to address this issue for a couple of different reasons. First of all, they're one of the few executives that see the enterprise from end-to-end, across all business units, across all geographies. They see the data flows, they see the interactions, and so they have a very good perspective on the enterprise itself. Secondly, they have access to a lot of these exciting new tools and technologies around social networking, Web 2.0, etcetera. We are working hard to try and use those tools and that knowledge to drive innovation. We have four generations of IBMers -- traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y -- and they're spread out all over the world. We need to try and figure out how to use these tools to drive relationship-building, and then collaboration, and then innovation across all of our employees, regardless of what business, geography or generation they're in.

We've started to implement lots of different tools to do this, such as blogs and wikis. We have about 18,000 blogs up and running now, and over half of our population -- about 200,000 people -- are using Wikis as an ongoing part of their business. We also have online collaboration forums where people can go into an online team room and introduce topics that others in the organisation can talk about, or managers can come in and sponsor a work effort that anyone can collaborate on. Communities have now started to build around topics that groups of people are interested in.

We've also been using the Jam technology for over 10 years now. In 2003 we used an online jam, as a company, to help us re-engineer and rewrite our company values. People from all over the world had the opportunity to participate in that three day event, and feel as though they were part of that process. We even have a Facebook-like social networking tool called Beehive and our senior execs use that as a way to flatten the organisation and learn more about the people in their organisations wherever they be around the world -- what's on their minds, what's on their clients' minds. They really have an opportunity to virtually walk around their branch or their office or their organisation to find out what's going on.

How are you fostering technology innovation?

From out of the CIO's organisation, we have what we call a Technology Adoption program, which is kind of a sandbox that we've built where people can try new tools and new processes. They can then provide feedback to the developers and help shape the new products and processes, ensuring that they're as valuable as possible, whether the intention is to take those new tools to the market or to use them internally.

What are you doing to help optimize the value of the social networking tools you're using?

I find it very important to try and understand the value of each of these different tools, and I do that in a number of ways. How many ideas are created by a particular tool? How many get sponsored by somebody that has a budget? How many are collaborated on? How many actually make it to market? What revenue is generated by those ideas? I have a set of tools now that I use to track the ideas and the innovations that come out of the different tools so that I can better align my investments to the tools that are driving the better and more innovative ideas. That's something that I spend a lot of time with other CIOs around the world talking about -- the ROI of social networking.

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