IBM's KM strategy
Posted Jul 7, 2006

With a knowledge management history that dates to 1994, IBM certainly qualifies as an early adopter. Although its focus has shifted through the years, IBM's success with knowledge management continues to thrive through its enterprisewide knowledge exchange and collaboration. That strong history helped IBM earn KMWorld's KM Reality Award for 2005.

Karen Ughetta, director, IBM Collaboration and Knowledge, leads 10 employees who focus on KM from a corporate perspective. The integration of collaboration and knowledge into portals and the way people learn is a major focus for IBM, she explains. It's very much an evolution to bring that learning right to the work experience.

Asset management

IBM's first KM initiative in 1994 involved asset management from the business unit perspective. The strategy was to provide a knowledgebase of the work and knowledge of colleagues so that the assets and intellectual capital could be reused, enabling IBM to deliver client solutions with more quality and speed.

One asset management solution is KnowledgeView, which is a knowledge sharing program targeted at IBM's Business Consulting Services (BCS) unit. The suite of repositories contains intellectual capital, key resources and discussion forums that all support the consulting business, and provides a place for those who sell and deliver consulting work to access reusable assets. KnowledgeView had almost a million assets read in 2004, and more than 11,000 new assets were created and captured. New technology helps consultants find content quicker and increased intellectual capital sharing by 59 percent. That translates to a $42 million opportunity cost savings in 2004 if only 15 percent of reads yield a time savings of one hour.

IBM also supports a Worldwide Asset Reuse program targeted at the company's Global Services division. That group of repositories promotes asset-based services by capturing key assets and making them available for reuse. Since 2004, the Global Services KM team has captured 384 anecdotal success stories that demonstrate significant business impact. Ughetta says the business results captured by those success stories represent $81 million in cost savings, $63 million in asset revenue and $2.6 billion in services revenue.

When IBM's software group started in 1999, it designed Xtreme Leverage as a knowledge sharing and collaboration tool aimed at software sellers. The portal maintains intellectual capital, expertise location and community facilities for IBM's global software brands. At the time, each brand had a different approach to finding content and expertise. Xtreme Leverage started with just one brand, but included all five global brands by 2003.

Xtreme Leverage has achieved some extreme results in the past few years. It is the only place for software sellers to go for content and expertise--down from five--and attracts more than 40,000 users and approximately 800,000 page views per month.

"We focused on the needs of our sellers, who must be able to find experts in any of the five brands. 'Designated experts' means part of their job description is to help sellers and have the right expertise," Ughetta says.

Ughetta adds that IBM calculated a $50 million productivity improvement per year for the last four years by reducing the time required to find experts from one week down to less than eight hours. The organization is targeting four hours, she says, which provides an enormous business value. Xtreme Leverage also contains more than 400 active communities representing 6,000 users between sales, business partners and clients, for $16 million of additional revenue.

Expertise location

As IBM started focusing on collaboration, rather than teaming, the ability to identify and access expertise in an organization with 300,000 employees became a significant problem.

The organization started BluePages as a corporatewide directory enabled with instant messaging and e-mail linkage. It goes beyond IBM's corporate directory because it provides a searchable resource for employees looking for a network of experts to collaborate with or to help solve a business problem. Employees can even provide a photo to personalize their listing.

"It's enormously valuable to feel like you're talking to more than a voice on the end of the phone," Ughetta says.

Today, 84 percent of employees are registered in BluePages, and more than 4 million searches occur each week. Productivity is the easiest measure in terms of business value.

IBM also started Knowledge Point to provide IBM consultants with research and expertise location. In 2004, the organization saved $26.2 million in opportunity cost savings from 220,000 hours of saved practitioner time.


IBM provides employees with virtual spaces that encourage collaboration. Its Collaboration Central, for example, is a companywide portal for collaboration guidance, tools and best practices. It also offers remote teams online collaboration space in TeamRooms to share information and work collaboratively. In the last few years, employees have created 50,000 TeamRooms, with approximately 27,000 currently active.

IBM also offers open collaborative sessions called Jams for all its employees to collaborate and share knowledge on a particular topic. The Values Jam, for example, relates to mission statements. Values are a set of three mission statements that guide each aspect of work in IBM. Jams provide a central example of how IBM uses tools to innovate, says Todd Martin of the IBM corporate communications team, not just through the medium, but top-down and bottom-up collaboration.

"It speaks to the company and how it operates and leverages tools for success," Martin says. "It's a corollary to what we do in the marketplace. For us at IBM, innovation is not innovative new products but about making customers be the innovators in their space."

ThinkPlace is another area focused on innovation for IBM employees to submit ideas to solve business problems or grow the business. Ughetta says ideas are evaluated monthly, and the organization percolates up those that employees submit.

On-demand learning

This form of workplace training started in 2004 to give employees an ongoing set of learning opportunities. On Demand Workplace portals focus on critical job roles within IBM and deliver asset management programs and best practices directly to the right audience. Learning@IBM is an example of a new application on IBM's On Demand Workplace that streams profile-driven learning right to learners' desktops. It ensures employees are focusing on learning that is relevant to their specific job role by providing learning recommendations and resources based on job role, geography and business unit. In August 2005, Learning@IBM had 100,000 visits and more than 400,000 page views.

KM's impact on IBM

Employees expressed some natural reluctance within the software group to make themselves so publicly visible when the organization first reached out to experts. Ughetta says they were already inundated as part of their daily jobs. After people realized that they could package questions and make a searchable FAQ before they were contacted, employees were more comfortable.

"I think the result of the expertise approach we've taken is people begin to realize that by declaring themselves an expert and posting usable and reusable content, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in a positive way," says Betsy Stevenson, director, software group enablement. "They're actually going to get fewer calls and fewer requests for their expertise. You teach people to look there first and they don't necessarily have to speak to a live human every time they have a question."

By working in a just-in-time environment and in different time zones, Stevenson says, sellers need to be able to search and find experts and expertise. With Xtreme Leverage, sellers know where the tools are and how to find the content they need to do their jobs.

IBM's business results from knowledge management initiatives are impressive. Yet it's efforts also impact the people side of the organization.

"When you have these virtual tools and capabilities, they've helped make IBM feel smaller," Martin says. "It's a place that feels like you're dealing with colleagues on a more personal level."

Stevenson agrees. "One more element that is driving productivity for salespeople is making information and experts more readily available," she says. "When those tools really work, our teams will tell you they're invaluable to them and drive productivity in the field." Vicki Powers is a Texas-based freelance writer, with credits in business and trade publications, e-mail