One of the many innovations Sam Palmisano has spearheaded at IBM is the idea of reaching out to "alumni". The first initiative was a few years ago when he hosted a reception for a group of former executives of the company. A few were retired but most were in senior positions in other companies. That was just the beginning and now the idea of reaching out has been expanded — big time. The number of past and present IBMers is probably close to a million people. Establishing communications with such a huge base can be nothing but a good thing for the company.
When I left engineering school and joined IBM in 1967, it was common to look for a job at a company and expect to stay there your entire career. Nobody thinks that way anymore. If you tell someone you were with a company for decades, they might ask "what’s the matter, couldn’t you find any other jobs?". Another change is that in the old days if someone left the company they were considered a traitor and barred from coming back. Today, there are many executives that left the company at some point, got some experience at one or more other companies, and then brought that experience back into IBM. Some have come and gone multiple times. The turnover has strengthened the company.
And now we have social networks. In the early stages there was a perception that social networking meant eleven year-old girls on MySpace. Now businesses are realizing that it is more likely forty or fifty year-old business people on Facebook and Xing and LinkedIn and Plaxo Pulse. The Internet has enabled everyone to be connected to everyone. Whether it is reading blogs, posting to wikis, updating status on Facebook, or making new connections through viral invitations, it is clear that a big company like IBM has a lot to gain by "connecting" past, present, and future IBMers to each other and with the company. IBM calls it "the greaterIBM connection". On Monday evening the company hosted a greaterIBM reception at the Metrazur at Grand Central Station in New York. More than four hundred attended. It was good to reconnect with some colleagues I had not seen for quite a few years.
Will social networking payoff in business terms? Nobody knows for sure but in my opinion it is certain — as soon as we see the New York Times run a front page story that social networking is a fad, in trouble or peaking out we will have confirmation that success is a sure thing. A short term inhibitor is that there are so many different social networks. As web standards evolve I am confident that we will have a world where people will create one profile and then be able to decide which part of their profile is accessible in which networks.
IBM sees the potential and is investing the time and resources to build a large and active network. The possibilities are endless — collaboration on projects, networking to hire or get hired, crafting deals, referrals to and from IBM and its business partners. As a bonus, social networking is fun and good for morale. I look forward to continuing to be a part of the greaterIBM connection as it evolves. Upon e-tirement in 2001 after nearly four decades at IBM, I don’t really feel like I left anyway! The stories that I have been writing since 1998 over at the patrickWeb blog fall into a number of categories. One section is devoted to "IBM Happenings". I am sure I will also be writing and linking at the greaterIBM connection along with others. Cross linking will increase the overall "connectedness". That’s what the web is all about. I am really proud that IBM is taking networking and the blogosphere so seriously.