“I see IBM as a social business,” says Jeff Schick, IBM’s vice president of social software for IBM. “We’ve broken down the barriers of reaching out to the people within the organization” — not to mention partners and clients as well. And the company is making it easier for its client companies to do the same thing.
When companies use the tools that they sell to the outside world, the common expression is that it “eats its own dog food.” “I prefer the French version of the expression, ‘We drink our own champagne,’” says Jeff Schick, the vice president of social software for IBM, and the key player in bringing social networking both to the IBM global staff and to IBM’s corporate customers. And why not? IBM’s products are more akin to a fine wine than to a canine commodity. “IBM itself deploys our technologies for our own business purpose,” says Schick. “We’re a user of Sametime, we’re a user of Lotus Notes, we’re a user of IBM Connections. We use all of our collaboration technology across the 430,000 employees and another 75,000 contractors that are inside of IBM at any given moment.” Schick has been pivotal to IBM’s work in social technology for decades. He’s been a developer, he’s been in the field working with clients, he has run lines of business like enterprise content management, he’s the creator of IBM Connections, and now he’s in charge of the company’s entire collaboration space, including messaging, unified communication and office productivity technologies overall. In a conversation with David Kiron, executive editor of Innovation Hubs at MIT Sloan Management Review, Schick, who tweets at @jeffschick, talks about how, as part of the big picture of creating collaboration capabilities, IBM thinks about what kinds of things companies can do to create go-to forums, the incentives that make people participate and the value — both financial and creative — that social tools bring to a workplace. How important are collaboration tools within IBM? I see IBM as a social business, because of the way we’ve broken down the barriers of reaching out to the people within the organization, but also how we’re leveraging these same tools externally facing, to interact with our partners and clients. When I joined IBM 25 years ago, there weren’t any personal computers. My dad also worked at IBM, and I could log in with a big terminal into the mainframe and basically look up my dad’s name and find his phone number. But that was it for collaboration tools.