In this blog I focus on one of my most positive experiences of my year - and in terms of the Expo Day detailed below one of my favourite days working for IBM. It really was one of the days when you realise you are in the right job at the right time in the right place...
Regular followers of IBM Strategic Outsourcing innovation activities with clients in the UK and Ireland will know that we are huge supporters of the IBM Extreme Blue programme. In this industry leading initiative IBM assigns top talent student interns to deliver innovative new solutions to address IBM and client challenges (rather than do the admin and make the tea).
Each year we partner with one of our outsourcing clients and submit an entry into the local arm of this fantastic global programme.
In 2013 we partnered with an online retail client. (I won't mention the name here - as although the client is very happy to talk about the project its not an official reference and we all need to follow process sometimes - if you would like to follow up and find out more please do get in touch...).
Why did we chose this client to partner with for Extreme Blue? Three reasons...
The client has an ambitious business strategy - to become a world class digital retailer - providing fantastic personalised experience to their customers
Technology is fundamentally at the core of their business strategy - mobile, social, big data and analytics - all key areas for IBM
We were looking for a client who would commit to really sponsor and support the project - and this client did exactly that
Throughout the 12 week project run over the summer of 2013 the support from the client team has been exemplary - led by the e-Commerce and IT teams at the heart of their business. The client supported kickoff workshops at their head office site and at the IBM Labs in Hursley, assigned subject matter experts to support the intern team and hosted a fantastic IBM Innovation Extreme Blue Expo event at their head office on September 5th to showcase the solution and a wider set of innovative technologies to as many of their employees as possible.
What support did IBM provide? A great deal...
A team of mentors and supporting subject matter experts who provided technical and business mentoring and support for the interns throughout the life of the project - led by myself and hugely impressive subject matter experts in Emerging Technology and Software areas
Commitment and support from the whole IBM account team
Support from IBM's service delivery teams to enable a version of the prototype solution to be hosted on the client's network for the client's employees to try out the solution
Support from IBM's Interactive Labs team to create a smartphone version of the solution for customer demos
And last but not least the funding and support of the Extreme Blue programme itself - led by a great team in IBM's Hursley labs
But at the heart of the project were the four fantastic Extreme Blue student interns - real stars of the IT industry of the future - who I won't name here so you don't try and poach them...
What was the project about?
The focus of the project was on enhancing the personalised experience of the client's online customers
The IBM and client teams were careful not to bound the scope too tightly as we wanted to give the students an opportunity to innovate
After considering a number of ideas and reviewing these in collaborative sessions with the client, the team focused on creating a solution which would really engage customers on the client's websites in a new and different way
No spoiler alerts here as I'm not going to give details of the exact solution at this stage but I will add links when it becomes public - suffice to say the project created a new and unique way of combining existing ideas for gamification and applied them in new ways to drive real value for online retail shoppers
This idea very much appealed to the client team who were already considering how they could do more in this area
It was agreed that the project would focus on one of the client's key brand websites
There is a level of detail that would bring this article and the solution alive which unfortunately I won't go into but I can tell you that the solution developed and used social data in new ways - combining social media sentiment (using similar techniques and solutions used by IBM with Wimbledon) with sales, marketing and product related data
The key is that customers are rewarded for their actions and interactions with the website in a very personalised way which drives tangible benefits for each customer
Although the initial solution focuses on fashion, the team documented how it could be widely extended for use with home and leisure and electrical product ranges and categories etc - and documented a whole set of potential extensions just not possible to be delivered in a time boxed 12 week project
Is IBM Hursley really the best place to trial a fashion oriented solution?
Within weeks the project team created a working prototype of the solution and trialled it on the IBM network - with most of the people using the solution located in IBM Hursley, home of IBM's largest software lab in Europe. In addition to driving a potential revolution in the fashion awareness of this corner of Hampshire, there were a number of unexpected benefits to this approach. Many technical people embraced the solution - some just taking part but others finding bugs and/or ways to manipulate the way the website worked - enabling the Extreme Blue team to greatly enhance the prototype system.
Although not part of the planned project, the client was keen to get a version of the game onto their own network to trial. That's where the IBM service delivery team came in. The team quickly made the game available for the day of the client Extreme Blue Expo event, In parallel our Interactive Labs team created a smartphone version of the game for customer demos. Both activities greatly helped enhance the key Expo event that followed.
This was held in the client's head office with the objective of showcasing IBM's collaborative innovations with the client to as many client employees as possible. Placing the Extreme Blue project centre stage, the Expo event also highlighted a range of additional IBM capabilities most relevant to the client's ambitious business plan and strategy to become a world class online digital retailer.
The first part of the Expo was the "On the Street" event which ran from 12:00 - 14:00 - open to all client and partner employees, hundreds stopped to talk, see demonstrations of IBM technologies in action and find out about the innovative projects and capabilities. Attendees included CxO level executives and many other senior executives and managers - with hugely positive feedback.
This was followed up at 14:00 by a presentation and demo to senior IT and e-Commerce management team members. The four Extreme Blue interns presented and demonstrated their solution - confidently answering all questions and outlining a clear vision of how the prototype solution could be taken forward and extended. Both client and IBM teams were amazed by the quality of the prototype solution and the presentation given. The interns were given a very big thank you and a rousing round of applause by this senior audience.
Finally at 15:00 the Extreme Blue interns gave a second presentation and demo to a combined client and IBM IT team audience as part of the lunch and learn programme (late lunch on this occasion) set up with the client as part of our focus on creating a joint innovation culture. Once again the audience was very impressed with the project and the Extreme Blue team.
What has all this got to do with IBM Strategic Outsourcing and our clients?
One of the key differentiators for IBM is that we don't just provide our outsourcing and services clients with innovation and improvement in the core services we provide. We also partner with them to deliver wider scope innovation - due to the additional value that this delivers for IBM and our clients. And we use the full depth and breadth of IBM's capabilities to do this.
IBM and the client are now following up on the core deliverable of the Extreme Blue project to verify if / how the solution can be taken to market but beyond this is the hugely positive experience of the project for client and IBM teams alike. This enhances our relationship, drives customer satisfaction and positions us both firmly as partners for a whole range of innovation activities aimed at driving additional value for the client's business.
And of course some closing words on Extreme Blue. The practical knowledge the interns have gained for their future prospects can not be under-estimated, as the impact they have have made on the client and IBM has been stunning. Oh and yes we also hope that this experience will very positively influence their selection of a future employer in a year's time - as it has for many others before them.
And now I'm looking forward to finding the right client to partner with on Extreme Blue next year.