Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
Commentary
6/1/2010
09:47 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary
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Radical IBM: 200,000 Home-Office Workers

An IBM employee works out of his home in the Canary Islands while his boss is based in Madrid and his team is sprinkled in home offices across North America. A blogger on a site sponsored by Microsoft, no less explains how that all works, and also offers this head-spinner: 200,000 IBM employees work remotely.

An IBM employee works out of his home in the Canary Islands while his boss is based in Madrid and his team is sprinkled in home offices across North America. A blogger on a site sponsored by Microsoft, no less explains how that all works, and also offers this head-spinner: 200,000 IBM employees work remotely.From a blog site called FastForward, which says it's focused on Enterprise 2.0 developments and user-driven IT, comes this intriguing story under the headline "IBM The New Workplace It's all about the culture." Here's blogger Rob Paterson on what wild and crazy IBM is up to:

Last week I called my old IBM buddy Luis Suarez at his home office in a small village on the Canary Islands. I wanted to find out directly what the new IBM was like.

Luis's reporting boss is in Madrid and his team is in the US. Each one of his US team live in a separate city. One lives in Toronto. Luis doesn't even work in the capital of the Canaries but in a small village. He is part of a group of 200,000 IBMers who work remotely. He is one of 5,000 who use Macs! The IT group at IBM . . . have a mandate to serve the workplace of the future. Mobility is the key issue. Everything is done to ensure that the individual is connected to the team at any time. The individual chooses their kit. All laptops are supported. All apps are supported. Skype plays a huge role in the organization. All access is supported. Again the key here is to give the IBM worker the ability to control their own work space and to be connected to the larger whole.

Paterson says the chief cultural hurdle IBM had to overcome was uncoupling physical presence from performance evaluation: picture the old model of employees, quite literally, waiting in line to punch the clock as proof that they were on the job.

Next, he says, comes the enlightened mindset of the CIO (and IBM CIO Pat Toole has spoken frequently about the need to move away from standardized computing equipment for everyone in favor of what tools are appropriate for which responsibilities):

The other key to the culture was to get the IT department and the CIO behind their main task which is enabling the people to get the most out of their investment in technology. In most organizations the role of IT and the CIO is in effect the opposite. It is to control the legacy systems at all costs.

Now the full power of all that is happening in the world of tools and apps becomes available. Security is something that you design in rather than make security the only issue.

I think Paterson is overstating his point-perhaps intentionally, but still erroneously-that in most organizations, the CIO and the IT team are driven by their sweeping desire "to control the legacy systems at all costs." Does it still occur in too many organizations? Yes indeed-but that number is plummeting as those companies find their ability to compete, to retain great people, and to engage effectively with customers is severely stunted.

Let me leave you with one last excerpt from Paterson's compelling piece in which he describes briefly his friend's richly interconnected IBM life in the Canary Islands:

He lives in a place of remarkable beauty that is very affordable too but he is paid a global wage. He has an aesthetic and a surplus that is not normally available to those that choose to live in a major city.

His team is in North America spread over a number of time zones. Luis's work day begins at noon and ends at 7pm which in Spanish culture is ideal because dinner is not usually until 9.30 or 10pm. Of course these hours are not fixed because he is measured by results. He has a huge amount of flexibility. No fretting about the plumber or the dog going to the vet. If he had been married lots of space to be a great parent. No commute. No office wardrobe.

For CIOs wondering how aggressively to support the home-office revolution in case the corporate-philosophy pendulum should begin to swing back the other way, or for those concerned that the model breaks down across time zones and country borders, I urge you to read the entire piece because, after all, 200,000 IBMers can't be all wrong, right?

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