Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hacking becomes mainstream in IBM

In a large company like IBM, not many employees have a chance to meet and interact directly with the CEO. However, the CEO will act as a role model for all employees about how the should behave and all executive communications are regularly examined carefully for clues to what is considered good behaviors.

In the book "Who says Elephants Can't Dance", Lou Gerstner described about how he was advised to start using email when he took over at IBM because apparently his predecessors got secretaries to read email on their behalf and this did not project a very good image for a leader of a high tech company. In the early 1990s reading email was considered to be leading edge. When Lou was replaced by Sam Palmisano in 2000 nobody questioned whether or not he was using email, because by then it was assumed that everyone would be. However, when Sam was recently replaced by Ginni Rometty the pendulum had swung so far that people have now started boasting about how little email they need to use.

Ginni doesn't look like a typical Hacker,
but appearances can decieve

In the short time that she has been in charge, Ginni has proven her tech credentials by becoming a highly visible user of social media communication tools. All of he quarterly employee messages are delivered on an IBM internal blog and she also regularly uses many of the tools provided by the IBM Connections product.

In a recent update posted to her blog she even went a step further and announced that she was going to hold a "Social Business Hackday" in which she expected participation from all of IBM's 400k+ employees. The exact format of this Hackday is still being decided, but what is clear now is that during a designated day in early September all employees will be expected to come up with a plan for how they can make better use of social media tools in their work. In addition it is expected that they will make concrete steps to implement this plan during the Hackay.

I think this is very significant for a number of reasons:

  1. The original Hackday events in IBM were launched without any formal management approval. I think the originators were afraid to ask for approval in case it might be refused. Over the years the reaction to any executive who found out about the events has been mostly positive. However, we have has some feedback that the word Hackday projects a negative image. I think that when the CEO publicly declares her support for the events we should not have any trouble convincing other IBM managers that they are a good idea.
  2. In IBM we have always been careful to ensure that participation in Hackdays was as diverse as possible and not restricted to just developers. For example we had prizes for the best hacked business plan and we also even had a semi serious prize for the best hack that didn't involve either Sametime or Connections (because these products are extremely popular subjects for Hackday projects). I think that the Social Business Hackday will increase the participation level even further.

Officially this will be an IBM internal event so I am not sure how/if it will be publicised outside of IBM. However, due to the nature of the event I am not sure that it makes sense to keep it secret (even if we could).

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