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Linda Sanford, IBM Senior Vice President, Enterprise Transformation

By Linda Sanford

Over the past decade, IBM has taken a systematic approach to transformation and has dramatically reshaped the company.

Since I’ve been helping lead that effort, I’m often asked by clients for advice on how to transform successfully. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but there are a few things that most organizations can start doing to create a smarter enterprise. It all starts with creating a movement.

Create a movement. In the age of the social network, employees expect to be part of the process. Mandates from the top aren’t sufficient.

To galvanize IBMers around a common set of beliefs, we held a worldwide online jam nearly a decade ago that engaged the entire company on the question of IBM’s most basic values. At the conclusion of three days of passionate debate, we had set in motion a company-wide movement and created a unifying set of guiding principles that remain just as relevant today. Whether it’s jams, which we continue to employ frequently, or some other social business approach, you must engage employees to energize change.

Build a platform for continuous improvement. Over the past seven years, we’ve been evolving from a multinational model where we replicated IBM from floor to ceiling everywhere we did business to what we call a Globally Integrated Enterprise. We’ve done this by driving common world-wide process, standards and applications. We’ve capitalized on global skills, moving work to where it can best be done. For example, we’ve taken our shared services – IT, HR, Finance, Marketing, Legal, and other functions – and globalized them. Each shared service has a single global leader who is accountable for performance targets.

The integration of back-office processes produced more than $6 billion in productivity improvements from 2005 through 2010. We’ve taken what we’ve learned from the shared services and applied it to other aspects of our operations. With this foundation, we can continuously improve and achieve the productivity goals we’ve committed to in IBM’s 2015 Roadmap.

Equally important are our process improvements which are aimed at freeing up the time of employees. We want them spending less time on administrative tasks, so they can focus on living our values: helping our clients succeed, innovating, and building trusted relationships.

Pursue growth (as well as productivity). Building a global platform isn’t solely a productivity contributor. It’s a foundation for growth. It’s given us much greater flexibility in how we operate. We can now “plug-and-play” a ready-made infrastructure to set up shop, hire employees, and serve clients wherever we see the next big opportunity. You may have read recently about IBM in Africa. With the opening of offices in Mauritius, Tanzania, Senegal and Angola and with established hubs in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt, IBM today is present in more than 20 African countries with more expansion planned. Many believe this is Africa’s time, and IBM wants to be a part of it. With an agile platform for growth, we can.  

Apply technology for smarter transformation. Deploying new technology by itself won’t transform a business, but if applied shrewdly, IT can accelerate and enable transformation and kick start new ways of doing things.

At IBM, we’ve been taking advantage of new capabilities such as cloud computing and analytics to become a smarter enterprise. Over the past several years, IBM has deployed analytics across such operations as sales management, risk management, HR, finance, manufacturing and the supply chain, and others. 

IBM has established an internal analytics team to work with business units on projects where the creative application of analytics can improve business performance and make us a smarter enterprise – faster. We’re educating all of our people on how to use analytics to make data-driven decisions.

Master Change. Finally, effective change comes down to the “soft stuff” – the people side of change, which can be the hardest to get right. Recognizing the importance of the culture side of transformation, we’ve built skills in organizational change management and embedded this dimension in the plans of our transformation projects. We’ve also been focused on developing change leadership as a core competency for our next generation of IBM leaders.

Leading change is challenging. It’s a journey that never ends. Enduring organizations never stop reinventing themselves. The good news is, this is the golden age for transformation. Today, people everywhere are eager for a new, smarter way of doing things. To do it right, what’s needed is a thoughtful and strategic approach that involves the entire organization and is structured for growth.

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Posted by: Germaine Timone
July 23, 2013
10:20 am

I think that what you said was very reasonable. But,
what about this? what if you wrote a catchier post title?
I mean, I don’t wish to tell you how to run your website, but what if you added something to maybe get a person’s attention?
I mean Smarter Transformation: What I’ve Learned From
A Decade of Change

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Posted by: Destiny Depaula
January 15, 2013
8:46 am

Linda — couldn’t agree with you more on the importance of social business and the need to use these tools to engage employees to energize change.
Thank you for sharing your vision.

Posted by: Pat Knight
December 9, 2012
9:53 pm

Very great points

Posted by: Joe
November 13, 2012
1:35 pm

Great post Linda thanks

Posted by: camprod
November 5, 2012
11:33 am

We are in a period of profound transformation, largely due to the power and potential of information technology. The old rules need to be refined and the new playbook has not yet been perfected. One of the leadership challenges during this period of transformation is to reframe the role of IT away from primarily a tool for efficiency to one that is seen as a driver of transformation. Digital transformation of business models as well as redefining the nature of work calls for new modes of alignment of IT with key functions such as marketing, operations and design. I am glad to see IBM taking a leadership role in educating next-generation leaders and managers to look at IT in new and creative ways. We should continue to emphasize that it is ultimately about how we use the power of technology to drive business value through profound and necessary organizational changes.

Posted by: N. Venkatraman
November 5, 2012
10:18 am

I agree that Mastering Change is the “secret sauce” for successful organizations in today’s fast paced competitive world. Good stuff Linda.

Posted by: Ross A. Mauri
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