We recently spent some time in Europe talking to current and former IBMers about the Greater IBM network. I wanted to share some of what we heard and learned from the several dozen people who took the time to meet with us in Vienna, Frankfurt and IBM’s Hursley Park lab. (Many thanks to Sandor Barany, our social network’s ultra-connector, for organizing the Vienna event, and reaching out to so many current and former IBMers, especially in the important emerging market of Eastern Europe.)
The good news: in listening to hundreds of IBMers, past and present, from all parts of Europe, there seemed to be genuine appetite to be connected to the human network of people who share an IBM heritage. In some sense, the culture of being an IBMer does transcend the business organization.
There was also broad consensus, among both current and former IBMers, that new Web technologies, and the interactions they enable, could provide benefits to all participants. The majority of people seemed to perceive that there was an essential benefit to enabling current and former IBMers to connect with each other.
Many good ideas and insights on how to improve greaterIBM surfaced in our discussions in Vienna. Three examples:
1) Develop some kind of automated match-making based on profile comparisons to introduce people to one another
2) Make Premium Accounts Opt In: offer them to all who say they are willing, on their honor, to build the network by inviting in others, and enriching it by active participation: contributing to dialogue in the forums, creating events, introducing members to each other, etc.
3) Give members a set of clear, simple value prop talking points to use in persuading others to join
Food for Thought in Frankfurt
The challenges: For former IBMers, trust in an alumni social networking program is a real issue. They want to be part of a network that offers them very concrete, and crystal clear, value proposition, and are, at least initially, wary of such a program being more for IBM’s benefit than their own.
As strongly as many alumni IBMers may identify with Big Blue, in some cases from careers spanning decades, there is understandable skepticism….”if in the past, once someone left the company they effectively fell off IBM’s radar, so what’s different now?”
The short answer is that many social and business trends have made many organizations realize that their former employees are an important constituency in today’s incredibly networked economy.
if IBM can show that it is serious about creating a new kind of relationship between alumni and current IBMers, and offer substantial services and features that will benefit participants, many of the people we talked to seemed to hunger for such a redefinition of the IBM ecosystem, and the opportunity to leverage the global fraternity of IBMers.
In fact, one of the surprising things I heard was that alumni wanted to have a real inside perspective on IBM…”give me access to BluePages (IBM’s intranet directory) and w3″ was a common refrain.
As my colleagues have noted from a range of sources, alumni IBMers have high expectations for IBM. If the company wants to really create a meaningful community with its large pool of “graduate” IBMers, it will have to dig down deep and really deliver on every front with rich features, services, content and commitment.
I think we can deliver on all kinds of reports, events, promotions, research projects, collaborative projects and the like, to make this case, and to show that being part of Greater IBM will be an enormously beneficial experience and asset for all.
(Of course, members of the network have to be part of that productive equation, and are equally encouraged to start initiatives that will feed the interests and needs of other Greater IBMers.)
When we succeed, the Greater IBM Connection will be a step toward turning IBM “inside out” for those such as corporate alumni who want to have a productive, interactive relationship.
This mixture of interest and uncertainty was echoed in questions about how serious IBM was about reaching out to alumni, and whether the company’s culture really could be open enough to involve them in activities, projects and innovation efforts.
On a more optimistic note, most we talked to recognized that IBM can drive great societal level innovation when it sets its mind it. They only hoped that the ideal for greaterIBM was backed up by a plan to match it.
Sandor Barany, superconnector
Of course, some of those who have been involved in the network during its pilot phase these last few months pointed out that most people are time starved, and will only participate to the degree that they feel that their time is wisely invested, which puts further onus on the network having immediate and personal value.
We are conducting as much serious research as we can, but all members can help Greater IBM become what they need by sharing their thoughts…in Greater IBM’s forums, in email, and in disucssion with other members.
Finally, our listening tour reinforced the notion that greaterIBM has the opportunity to be a global program, but it must also have a local focus to make the service most relevant to clusters of member, and that the program needs to create regular in-person events to feed the creation of the trust and social capital that only face-to-face, real human interactions can engender.
To that end, in Vienna we discussed how the growing group based ther could be the spark for a kind of regional initiative to drive innovation and business throughout the emerging market of Eastern Europe. Fortunately, there has been strong growth of members joining Greater IBM throughout the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and the rest of this exciting region.
Making Virtual Connections in Hursley Park
All this, and similar, effort needs is a spark, and a few enterprising people to step up and get such a open source type of innovation community rolling.
2007 is fast approaching, and our network is growing toward the tipping point that will help it become a proactive organization fueled as much by the energy of its members as it is by the support and commitment of IBM.
So let’s create something Great, together, as we roll into that new year.