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Inside the new Big Blue: A Q&A with IBM's CIO

Inside the new Big Blue: A Q&A with IBM's CIO

Mark Hennessy speaks candidly on transforming the IT organization at IBM.

What's the company's attitude towards younger employees using their own social networking tools, such as Facebook?

I think it would be hard to try to control it or turn it off. We understand it's a reality and we have to try and leverage that technology internally. So we give all of our employees, regardless of what generation they're from, the opportunity to use these tools to collaborate, post their ideas, and work with colleagues wherever they are to try and come up with the best solutions for their clients or for their own internal customers. We really encourage that, and because we have a culture of innovation, utilising these tools to get ideas from colleagues is very natural and it's taken off quickly.

The other interesting thing is how are we going to start using those social networking tools outside the firewall? We started to do it on a couple of different projects. One is our corporate service corps, which is a group of IBMers that have taken a leave to work in emerging markets and places that need their assistance. We now have a Web site that is a part of the social networking tool that allows interaction between those folks and the government agencies that they're working with and others that have ideas that can help them. And we're going to do more of those types of things to help give our clients better access into our resources, our people, our intellectual property and our key industry thoughts, because we think that will be helpful in terms of developing new ideas and new solutions and helping create more value for our clients.

What advice do you have for other CIOs around innovation?

I would say experiment and pilot. There are different innovation tools and approaches out there -- it's not one size fits all. Everybody's company is a little different. Their organizations, their geographies, their cultures are a little different. If you start with different tools and incubate them and test them and pilot them, you'll start to see what may work well for your company. I was with a CIO in Japan and his approach was to create a blog for himself and ask employees, what were the issues that were keeping them from being successful? And he was amazed at how quickly he got ideas back. He didn't expect that kind of direct dialogue. Another CIO started his own Facebook type of social networking tool and he posted ideas about himself personally. Others in his organization started doing the same thing, and they found that the relationships started building quickly across business units and geographies -- they got to know people who were interested in similar kinds of projects, who were working on the same kinds of issues for their clients, and so that took off pretty quickly for them. So try different things. See what catches on and turns out to be valuable for your organisation.

What technology would you point to that is going to have a significant impact in the next three years?

The pervasive devices that are emerging around the world in all different industries -- sensors, monitors, cell phones or whatever -- are really going to change the environment that we're in, whether they be wirelessly connected or not. These pervasive devices, as they become intelligent and interconnected, are going to create an incredible opportunity for understanding the environment and making some significant changes. Road monitoring is a great example. Because of all the intelligent sensors now in place, cities are able to monitor the flows of traffic and figure out where the bottlenecks are so that traffic can be rerouted.

This has reduced congestion and pollution in many areas. It's kind of like a 'smart' environment for the roads. All of these embedded devices, as they become more interconnected and intelligent, are going to give us opportunities for other types of 'smart' environments. And figuring out how to take advantage of that, not only to improve efficiency and effectiveness but also to give value back to businesses, governments and society as a whole, is going to be very important. The question is, how will companies take advantage of that? Who will they turn to to help them figure out how to utilise all of these sensors and all of this data in order to better manage their operations and create more value.

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