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Catching the wave; IBM CIO talks about social media at Big Blue

Sim Ahmed | April 19, 2012
With over 400,000 employees in around 170 countries, the future for IBM will depend on how well it can enable communication and collaboration within its own business units, says CIO Jeanette Horran.

With over 400,000 employees in around 170 countries, the future for IBM will depend on how well it can enable communication and collaboration within its own business units, says CIO Jeanette Horran.

"Technology that enables collaboration flattens the organisational structure. That might seem scary at first, but what it really means is an increased efficiency at which information travels from one end of the organisational chart to the other," says Horran.

"For a large company like us the only way to succeed is to collaborate quickly and smartly. It's just that simple. We've made the choice to do it through social media because it suits our size."

Speaking at this year's Lotusphere conference on 'the social enterprise', Horran says there is a widely placed misconception that social media is strictly for the marketing department, which has lead to some companies missing the opportunity to harness it internally.

She says enabling the social enterprise is the new frontline for the modern CIO, adding that IT should lead the charge.

Social media in business is far from new. From as early as the 1980s, email, message boards, and document sharing technologies were deployed in enterprises; all precursors to modern day social networks.

See related article 'The Facebook effect': Social technology has allowed enterprises to improve collaboration across business units. What is the role of the CIO when the company forays into this arena?

Fashion-forwardIBM's first attempt at social media was a little known instant messaging program developed in the mid-90s, which would go on to become IBM's collaboration software Sametime.

It did not take long for instant messaging to become business critical at IBM. Horran says the real-time aspect opened up a new level of communication within the business. She adds that much of its success stemmed from incorporating features found in consumer products that employees were already familiar with.

Now IBM has its own social network inside of the company's firewall, which has over 600,000 users contributing to over 20,000 blogs, 74,000 community groups, and over 50,000 wikis. At the same time, IBM has taken many of the ideas that are familiar to employees outside of the business, and applied them within.

Profiles are set up whenever a new employee is brought on board, which include their areas of expertise. Employees are encouraged to blog and take part in the community and currently there are over 20,000 individual blogs in the IBM network. Horran says a benefit which has organically come about from this is the ability for senior staff to search for subject matter experts.

An area that Horran and her team are looking towards next is gamification, which takes principles found in video games and applies it to business.

 

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