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Posts Tagged ‘IBM’

The Brand behind the Brands We Love

In brand-building, Healthcare, innovation, retail, Shopper Marketing on January 2, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Inmar leads the way in digital promotions

by Jeff Sandgren

As we wrap up another round of holiday shopping mania, there’s a powerful force at work behind the scenes. For more than 30 years a company you may not know has been quietly helping you shop every day, and lately they’re ambitiously working to change the way you’ll shop tomorrow. In the ‘Emerald City of Retail,’ the hidden Oz who’s helping to enhance your shopping experience (while not bothering to attract your attention) is a company called Inmar, and their ‘Intelligent Commerce Networks.’

Inmar Inside

Sometimes the brands you know and trust deliver on their Brand Promises by relying on other brands. Think ‘Intel Inside®[i]’: a great advertising slogan, catchy, memorable, succinct and effective. When you buy a computer, you’ll hopefully never even have to see the Intel chip, much less actually touch it; but the little sticker on the outside telling you it’s in there could easily sway your purchase decision. Another example, wordier but similarly powerful, is BASF’s old slogan:

We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better®[ii].

In both of these cases, the B2B company wants you, a consumer, to value their brands in order to make you feel better about buying – not from them, but from their customers, the B2C companies that sell finished consumer goods to you. It’s unlikely that you ever bought a chip directly from Intel or a drum of chemicals from BASF (unless you’re a bigger geek than the editors of BrandTech News, or go by the street name “Heisenberg.”)

But while you almost certainly know who Intel is, and probably have heard of BASF – the largest chemical company in the world (even if you don’t know what the letters stand for) – you might not know who Inmar is. And you might be surprised to learn that the financial transactions they process en masse daily have an annual aggregate value of about $44 billion across their promotion, supply chain and health care networks.

If you’ve ever clipped and used a paper coupon, chances are good that it was processed by Inmar. This was their first competency, and remains a major component of the company’s business. They started handling coupons back in the early 80’s, as Carolina Coupon Clearing, a company formed by the son of a Reynolds Tobacco exec who brought in a team of former IBM associates to elevate the process from one which, at the time, relied on weighing masses of paper coupons by the pound. The solutions they built, and the refinements that have evolved since, now enable a smooth, secure processing of billions of coupons from thousands of brands in countries around the globe. They currently process coupons for a large share of US companies; and they serve a global customer base with their broader promotional solution portfolio that has grown to include not only paper coupons, but also rebates, sweepstakes and now digital coupons – more on that in a minute. This approach of harnessing technology and smart thinking to improve complex processes still steers the company.

David Mounts, Inmar CEO

David Mounts, Inmar CEO

“It all starts and ends with people,” explained Inmar CEO David Mounts, at a recent interview. “We strive to find the best minds and intellectual capital we can, then we direct our investments to make it easier for bright people to deliver great solutions to our customers … and ultimately great experiences to consumers.”

Inmar innovation

In the coupon world, paper still dominates in sheer volume, but the most impressive growth percentages there days are being posted by digitally discovered coupons. Digitally discovered coupons fall into two major groups. The already familiar Print-At-Home (PAH) coupons – those discovered online and printed with home computers – increased in use by more than 12 percent in the first half of 2013, relative to 2012. The newer kid on the coupon block is the use of completely paperless “e-wallet” coupons, where the reward is either loaded to a consumer’s loyalty card or stored on a smartphone app. While still a small segment, the use of these promotions increased by more than 230 percent in the same period.

The targeting and personalization capabilities of these digital offers provide powerful new ways for marketers to engage and entice consumers with increasingly relevant offers, and to gain insights on what consumers preferred (and what provided the best return on investment). But with this new sophistication comes the matter of new complexity. To help brands and retailers cut through the cyber-maze, Inmar has developed their Offer Management app, which lets marketers easily create offers, aggregate performance data and score the promotional effectiveness of multiple offers across all channels.

The rapid development of these solutions by Inmar has, in part, been accelerated by two recent acquisitions: the first, a company that pioneered an innovative technology to facilitate the secure distribution and redemption of digital promotions; and the second, a company with deep expertise in shopper behavioral analytics. By combining Inmar’s own knowledge and experience of couponing and promotional strategies with the added power of analytics and shopper insights, and with the real-time, on-demand delivery of offers to smartphones and tablets, Inmar’s innovations are changing the promotional game for brands and retailers – and delivering offers to consumers on products they want, with promotion types they like, across the digital platforms they individually prefer.

Inmar integration

One shopper insight that everyone knows is that shoppers in the checkout line don’t want to be delayed. Retailers are keenly aware of that, and they are particularly (and rightly) sensitive to the impact of any new technology at checkout that might slow things down. So the big hurdle that digital couponing has had to clear has been one of achieving a seamless and super-fast digital redemption when the paperless coupons are presented. No one wants to download a coupon offer to their loyalty card or unique identifier, then have to wait for an elaborate network to validate the coupon, in a setting where passing seconds feel like minutes. But the validation can’t be skipped, either, because coupon fraud can cost retailers millions. Inmar’s point of sale technology, developed by acquired company M-Dot achieves secure, accurate, real-time redemption by leveraging the speed and scalability of cloud technology. In fact, prior to Inmar’s acquisition, M-Dot was chosen as the winner of Amazon Web Services’ Startup Challenge. The solution is so scalable that it has been demonstrated to execute over a million concurrent transactions in a 10th of second.

More recently, Inmar built on that impressive back-end integration with a promising new front-end partnership. They recently announced a strategic relationship with NCR, one of the top Point Of Sale (POS) system providers for retail. The new offering will integrate Inmar’s digital coupon solution with NCR’s marketing and POS applications, providing retailers with a powerful new platform for quickly and easily planning and implementing digital coupon campaigns, offering paperless coupons to shoppers across multiple touchpoints … including mobile phones and tablets.

According to Mounts, “Retailers that ‘opt in’ will be able to introduce digital promotions into their marketing efforts with remarkable speed – and at minimal cost.”

It’s a win-win-win solution: shoppers get the added savings of digitally discovered coupons, without slowing down their checkout experience; retailers get an easy platform for implementing their digital coupon campaigns; and consumer goods manufacturers get a much more targeted delivery mechanism that can yield new insights in minutes.

Inmar involved

For all the technology focus, Inmar hasn’t lost sight of its ‘human goals’ either. Ever since opening shop in Winston-Salem, Inmar has remained true to its community, where it is one of the area’s major employers. This part of North Carolina has seen economic decline over the past decades with the erosion of three of its major industries – tobacco, textiles and furniture – the latter two primarily declining due to relocation of the industries to cheaper offshore markets. Inmar, by contrast, has stayed in the game locally, opening three different offices as headquarters for its coupon, product returns and pharmacy solutions groups. Supporting operations in the supply chain, health care, and coupon redemption networks occupy around 30 additional facilities across North America.

Exterior_8.29.12

Now the company is upping its ante by consolidating all three local offices into a beautiful new complex in downtown Winston, with almost a quarter million square feet of modern office space, renovated from an old tobacco processing plant. Located on the edge of the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, a cornerstone of the Renaissance of Winston-Salem, the new facility clearly underscores Inmar’s corporate social responsibility and its commitment to the local jobs it has created.

When Mounts says it all starts and ends with people, he clearly means it. – JTS


[i] Registered trademark of Intel Corporation

[ii] Registered trademark of BASF SE

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Top Ten Brand/Technology Stories for 2013

In Apple, brand-building, Healthcare, Microsoft, Steve Jobs on December 29, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Big Brand Hits and Misses From 2013

by Robert Liljenwall

Top TenIt’s been quite a year for big brand stories, and even bigger surprises. Here’s our take on the Top Ten stories for 2013, from the intersection of branding and technology.

 1)  Edward Snowden managed to build a powerful, influential global brand in less time than it takes to say, “Gotcha!”  And all on the back of technology and the US National Security Agency secrets he divulged starting in June 2013.  While he may not be a household word, he certainly is now infamously (or famously) known in every government spy agency, every major capital, and by every editor or newscaster carrying the day’s news.  Only 30 years old and a relatively low-level NSA contract employee, he managed to steal rarified, classified material that is called the most significant leak in US history.  He used The Guardian and The Washington Post while employed by NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton to leak his material.  At his news conference from his ‘temporary home’ in Russia this past week, he says the leaks and subsequent chaos caused at the highest level of governments around the world has assured him of ‘victory.’  “Mission accomplished,” he says.  He thinks of himself as a hero while others have other apt descriptions.  Time will tell how this plays out.

2)  The National Security Agency’s brand image has fallen fast since the Snowden disclosures.  The NSA-Snowden story remains evolutionary as one judge tells the government to stop and another one just the other day says it’s OK.  But surely this NSA scandal has affected the US brand all over the world. The reality is that probably everyone else is doing it, too … so it’s probably more bark than bite from the average American point of view.  But in government circles, the confusion surrounding NSA and all government ‘oversight’ programs bothers many of us.

3)  Obamacare site bombed on launch.  Millions have been impacted by the false start, and the cancellations of 5 million-plus insured guarantees a major hit on Obama and his signature program.  The continuing debacle exposes tremendous technical shortcomings of government-run program.  How has this affected Obama’s brand?  Obama’s negative ratings continue their downward spiral. Recent polls show that most Americans don’t want or like the Affordable Care Act – and it’s just beginning.  Will more Americans lose or gain insurance coverage in early 2014? How will the voters’ sentiment play out in the midterm elections?  If there was a BrandTech News ‘perfect storm’, this was it!

4)  Cyber Monday surpassed expectations, and mobile commerce on smartphones and tablets are making inroads toward becoming the biggest e-commerce sales day in history, up 16.5 percent to $2.29 billion.  Mobile traffic (as a part of online sales) showed similar record sales – IBM’s data demonstrates that mobile shopping did grow significantly from last year – with traffic increasing by 45 percent to 31.7 percent share of all online traffic, and total sales growing by 55.4 percent year-over-year to surpass 17 percent share. But, mobile’s share of traffic was down 20 percent from Black Friday while its share of sales was down 21 percent.

5)  Target‘s 40 million ‘error.’  This story moves onto the list and no, it’s not the first time hackers have gotten into credit card files.  But 40 million?  Is this a brand-buster for Target? We at BrandTech News think that Target has really mismanaged this fiasco – offering a lame 10 percent discount  … they beefed it up a bit, but it was, as one writer put it: “… a puny effort.”  News reports that a group in a Target parking lot were regaling in their recently purchased Christmas gifts – only to have police discovered they did so with purloined credit card #s.  It sends a chilling message on how fragile the relationship there is between a brand’s success and the failure of technology.  What will it take before you trust Target again?  We’re still skeptical.

6)  Changes at the top – Microsoft’s Ballmer moving on. Michael Dell takes control back. Personal brands linked to their technology heart/soul have been the hallmark of America’s technology history, starting with such iconic brands as Thomas Edison, Tom Watson, Bill Hewlett and David Packard.  Their brands were synonymous with their technology.  Ballmer leaves on a mixed note and no one has been named to replace him.  Dell tries to reclaim his past glory days by taking his namesake company private.  We believe that Apple, Google, and even Samsung have all whizzed past the former Whiz Kid. The future of the PC – as we used to know it before smartphones and tablets – is in doubt.  And let’s not forget ‘golden boy’ Ron Johnson – former head of retail for Apple – who was unceremoniously disposed as CEO of J. C. Penney.  Personal brands will be forever linked to their founders and managers over time … and to be sure, it’s a challenge to survive in these chaotic times.  Perhaps Steve Jobs ‘got out’ at the right time – the pinnacle of his career and company?  Time will tell.  We’ll be watching.

7)  Apple wins China Mobile.  This is probably the biggest, best news Apple has had in a while.  Their fall launch was successful to a point – rave reviews on the technology and upgraded products, but capturing China Mobile with 760 million users is the big (nix that, it was HUGE) win on the global stage.  Surely this will propel Apple’s future onto solid ground in Asia, but on the homefront, Apple has some homework to do, in our view.  The Apple story is two-edged – #1 – Apple has made up lost ground on its stock closing in on $600 after plunging below $400 in the past 52 weeks … .and Apple is now worth $503 billion, making it the most valuable company on the Planet.  So the brand continues to perform well with investors, but the #2 worry is whether Apple has lost its creative and innovator brand status. Not everyone is saying this, but we suspect that Apple’s brand will suffer greatly in the winter rollout of new products if they don’t come up with something new, spectacular even.  Is Tim Cook really something more than a good operator?  He is that – but Apple customers and investors want more to insure the future.

8)  Facebook and Twitter go public – check your calendar – both are healthy at year’s end!  Brand turnaround for Facebook is our Comeback Player of the Year. Twitter’s early success is not assured for the longer term – too early to tell, but Facebook has legs and is riding high for now.  Thank you, Mister Zuckerberg, for your vision.  After exploding out of the box and hitting a high of $65, Twitter fell back to Earth just a tiny bit – losing 13 percent as of last week before New Year’s.  Finding the economic models that is going to propel these two behemoths toward financial security seems to be the challenge – initially for Facebook they are fast figuring out the ad revenue model, and soaring at present. Twitter remains optimistic it will solve their revenue challenge in the near term.  From a brand point of view, both Facebook and Twitter have ranked high with users … and investors, too.  Our question for you:  Do you visit Facebook every day?  Do you tweet?  Let us know your answers.

9)  Microsoft buys Nokia.  You’d think this was a ‘marriage made in tech heaven’ several years ago, especially when Nokia controlled the world’s mobile market share.  But BrandTech News – and others – aren’t so sure this recently done marriage is going to last long.  Nokia had already accepted a ‘live-in’ relationship with Microsoft when they committed to Windows Phone several years ago, and many thought this merger was on fast forward, not on pause.  But it finally happened.  And the Finnish folks couldn’t be happier since they were on a death march much like BlackBerry – too little, too late.  But now with Microsoft’s Bank solidly behind the new couple (and publicly committed in splashy television ads), Nokia has another chance to again be a dominant player the mobile market.  The brand still has plenty of strength in Europe and elsewhere, but we think it’s been critically diminished in the US market – perhaps irretrievably.

10) BlackBerry’s ‘death watch.’  Here’s the latest: executives jump ship; huge losses; burnt through $800 million this past year.  We heard there were reports for hospice care until the new Foxconn deal in Indonesia put all talk of being ‘done’ on hold – temporarily, at least.  Indonesia is a stronghold for BlackBerry, but the brand is so tarnished that it would take a miracle to turn it around.  BrandTech News expects that BlackBerry will not be able to catch up with Android or iOS, and even Windows Phone in many markets.   They will remain – forever – a second or third tier player.  Not enough to survive. – RJL

Apple Tops BrandZ’s ‘Most Valued Brands’ Study

In Apple on May 22, 2011 at 8:28 am
Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

by Robert Liljenwall

Apple has now climbed to the top of the World’s Most Valuable Brands, according to the latest study published by mega-agency WWP in their 6th Annual BrandZ list earlier this month.  WPP companies, which include some of the most eminent agencies in the business, provide national, multinational and global clients with a broad range of marketing and advertising services.  Their annual BrandZ study, conducted by Millward Brown, measures the brand equity of thousands of global “consumer facing” and business-to-business brands, based on interviews of over 2 million consumers globally.

When you scan the Top 100, you’re not really surprised by the rankings.  The “usual suspects” remain strong and relevant in 2010.  For example, behind Apple comes Google, IBM, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Coca Cola, AT&T, Marlboro, China Mobile (a newcomer to the Top 10), and General Electric.

It’s important to immediately point out that brands are in good shape: While the overall recovery has been tepid, the report states, the value of the world’s best brands grew at a considerably faster rate than what we saw in 2009. Compared with an overall improvement of 13% in the world’s equity markets during 2010, the best brands grew their value 30% faster, registering a 17% increase since last year.

Inside BrandZ

The BrandZ report is a brand goldmine – full of segmented rankings and data on a variety of how the Top 100 brands are connected within their categories – while pulling out insights on trends, emerging markets, and how ‘we’ – collectively – are coping with the merging of brands and technology.

For example, many of us would never suspect that Amazon.com would become a more valuable brand than the world’s largest retailer – Walmart – but this year, WPP has put the world’s largest “online” retailer ahead. Who would have thought just a few years ago that Apple would be the world’s #1 most valued brand?

It should be noted that Interbrand’s Top 100 Global Brands competes for attention with the BrandZ ranking although its criteria and methodology is different.  One of the key unique elements of this methodology is the ‘Trust-R’ assessment, which looks at the relationship between trust and recommendation.   WPP finds that there’s a high correlation between high Trust-R and bonding, which drives sales.  The other unique element is the ‘Value-D’ assessment, which seeks to measure the gap between the consumer’s desire for a brand and the consumer’s perception of the brand’s price.

The Top 100 Brand List focuses on “actual monetary (quantifiable) contribution to the brand’s success.” For example, the BrandZ ranking notes that the Coca Cola brand value is based solely on the “value of Coca Cola” – and not all of the other company’s 3,500 brands owned/managed/distributed, such as Fanta and Minute Maid. Apple’s brands, on the other hand, are based on its broad monolithic brand structure where all of its products are considered part/parcel of the Apple brand.

Our Observations

As BrandTech News reviews the comprehensive rankings in the Top 100 Most Valued Brands, it is clear that technology brands continue to dominate – 12 out of the top 20 brands are technology companies.

Facebook, just seven years old, made it to the Top 100 (35th) in a meteoric rise and with 500+ million registered users already – of whom 50% visit daily – is quickly morphing into the alternative Internet where it has become the premier connection for brands, consumers, and everything promotional. Only 30% – 150 million – of the users are in the United States.

But what is propelling Apple has been the phenomenal success of the iPhone and the iPad. Before the launch of iPad2, there were 15 million iPads around the globe because Apple made it available on Verizon and distributed through a bank of hungry retailers. Apple expects to sell 30 million iPad2 this year – giving it a dominating 80% market share in the tablet market. And just how in the world will the other 100 tablet makers share the remaining 20%?

What does this success breed? Apps – and lots of them. Today there are 350,000 apps created just for Apple and another 250,000 for the Android. What does this do for the merging of brands and technology? Consumer obsession, frenzy – on steroids.

Another key point in the brand study was that we are seeing an upward trend in all surveyed sectors in the study: All 13 product sectors measured in the BrandZ Top 100 ranking appreciated in overall brand value – which didn’t happen in 2009, when only four of the sectors grew. To some extent, this bodes well for 2011 and beyond if we truly believe the recession was officially over in 2009. Since these WPP surveys cover events of the previous year (2010), the ongoing Middle East unrest and higher oil prices are of course not reflected in these rankings. The leading sectors in brand value growth was insurance (137% increase), fast food (22%), luxury (19%), technology (18%), and apparel (10%). These were followed by financial institutions, beer, cars, soft drinks, personal care, retail, oil & gas, and telecom providers.

The top retail brands were Amazon, which rose 37% in brand value last year alone. Walmart, Tesco, Carrefour, Target, eBay, Home Depot, ALDI, Auchan, IKEA, Lowes, Marks & Spencer, Best Buy, Costco, Lidi, Kohl’s Asda, Sam’s Club, Sainsbury’s and Safeway. The growing use of mobile devices, pre-shopping on the Internet, and discriminating shoppers who are more deliberative before the purchase decision – have made shopper marketing much more challenging. Lower prices weren’t always enough – shoppers wanted a better shopping experience, and private labels grew but not at the rate they had during tougher economic times.

Walmart tinkers and retreats
According to BrandZ, Walmart executed a course correction to reassert price leadership after alienating some of its US customer base by reaching for affluent consumers with edited merchandise displays and less cluttered, more efficiently run stores. The previous effort, Project Impact, was intended to hold on to higher-income shoppers.  Walmart decided in 2008 to reduce POP displays from 700 to 300 per store, and to eliminate 15% of the items carried in store. This perceived, less-cluttered look was to give Walmart the chance to expand and clean up their aisles – not necessarily appealing to the ‘value-happy’ customers.   Instead, at stores open for a year or more, sales fell 1.5% in its second quarter, ending July 31, 2009. Third-quarter sales dropped 0.5%, followed by a 2% retreat in the fourth quarter.  In March of 2010, Walmart reversed course to correct this trend.

On a significant note, Walmart is in the throes of negotiating to buy Massmart Holdings in South Africa, and if that occurs, many predict that Walmart will have a positive impact on improving local economies wherever they go on this continent. Is Walmart a game changer? We think so.

Meanwhile, Dollar Stores won shoppers by tinkering with range and promoting low prices (they are the fastest growing retailer segment in the US today). Target countered the high-price perception of its trendy approach to discount retailing, expanding food selection to drive shopping trips and increase basket size.  The largest global brands continued their expansion into China and other fast-growing markets such as India and Brazil. Each of these countries has brands that are now solidly placed in the Top 100 Brands.

This 52-page report (which you can download at www.wpp.com ) can be overwhelming in the amount of data it has collected. In conclusion, however, we congratulate WPP on another great report – and while it’s a ‘good-news’ report for brands, retailers, and technology providers (compared to the previous two years – we continue to be optimistic about our retailing future – where it occurs.         RJL

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Tasting Notes: Vintage IBM

In brand-building, mobile & tablets on October 19, 2010 at 3:28 am

by Jeff Sandgren

Prior to attending the Web 2.0 conference in New York last month, I could count on one hand the times I’d heard the phrase “we eat our own dog food”.  That day I heard about “dogfooding” at least four times.  One vendor (Tableau Software) even named their server “Alpo”.  It turns out that there’s quite a history for dogfooding (see Wikipedia), given which it makes perfect sense that this would be the unofficial mantra for a conference of developers collaborating on the advancement of the Web.  If you’re hawking a collaboration solution, it’s de rigueur that you choose to use it internally.

So I was intrigued by the slang outlier who began his speech by explaining that he didn’t really like that phrase, and that in his circle at his company, they preferred “we drink our own champagne”.  Now doesn’t that have a much more blue chip sound?  Small wonder, as the speaker was the VP of Social Software for the bluest of the blue, IBM.

We caught globe-trotting Jeff Schick at the conference, en route to the Royal Bank of Scotland and other luminary locations, for a discussion of how one of the most successful technology companies of all times eats – pardon me, drinks – their own, and seems to finds continued success doing so.

Jeff’s a blue-blood Big Blue; literally, his father and grandfather were both Blue, and Dad even got a free set of luggage (color unknown) when Jeff first signed on board.  When Jeff signs on these days, he does so at the portal that over 400,000 other IBMers and 75,000 contractors use, a social structure designed to ensure that “people who need to know information connect with the people who do know”.

Each IBM user ‘surfaces’ a portal of their own personal network, an aggregation of information from multiple sources, but with a friendly social look and feel.  The addition of face photos to the user’s page was itself a feature that surfaced from a collaborative innovation project.   Rather surprisingly, the IBMers aren’t all showing profile pics in their formal attire.  Some wear baseball caps, some show off pets and babies, some hug SpongeBob.

“When I started out,” Jeff explained, “you went to the same office most days, where you actually saw people, and got to know people.  In the distributed mobile workforce today, it’s harder to build those relationships.  But it’s terribly important – it’s foundational to trust-building.”

That’s right; this is IBM – just not Jeff’s grandfather’s IBM.  To illustrate, Schick tells the story of a time his son (not and IBMer … yet) needed help with missed homework, and he suggested that his son email a friend for a copy of the assignment.  The junior Schick didn’t email; he took a more proactive approach and posted a request to his friend’s Facebook page, with immediate results.  “Email is for Granddad,” he explained.

But it could work for Granddad, too, and that’s an important distinction.  “The old test of ease-of-use was that something was so simple, a child could use it,” explained Schick, “but now we make sure it’s so simple a senior could use it.”

One of the keys to an effective interface regardless of age, Schick maintains, is the ability to pivot between people, information, and destinations.  Micro-blogging (Blue Twit), for example, was a recent addition to the Technology Adoption program, where many of the social software apps the IBMers use start out.  A big hit, the Twitter-like application had over 275,000 users within the first few months.

The IBM Pérignon bubbles with tagging, or “human-centric indexing”, as Schick likes to call it.  The secret is a carefully crafted blend of a pre-loaded taxonomy, or library of terms, that also allows for “folks-onomy” and integrates internal search result with web-crawled results for superior information discovery.  Other ingredients in the Big Blue Bubbly include practitioner profiles for the thousands of consultants in the IBM ecosystem, and n.Fluent, a translation utility added back in 2008 which helps the linguistically diverse global associates communicate, collaborate, and innovate directly with world-wide colleagues – Schick describes it as “transformational”.

A majority of the solutions Schick shared with us are commercially available as part of the Lotus Connections suite, the fastest growing organic software product in IBM’s history.  There are, of course, several players in this growing field.  A new Gartner ‘Magic Quadrant’ for Social Software in the Workplace should be out soon.  Last year’s version put IBM’s Lotus Connections in the Leader/Visionary quadrant along with Microsoft’s SharePoint (which recently released a major upgrade) and Jive’s Social Business Software (an early entrant with a ‘mature solution’).

But it’s not all about software.  Rather, it’s about utilizing software tools to enable better collaboration.  IBM puts “real money” behind focus areas, says Schick, through events like their IBM Jams, ideation affairs that bring together collaborators on focused agendas.  In fact, the seemingly omnipresent “Smarter Planet” campaign came from just such a Jam.

As for Jeff, he seems the perfect guy for this dynamic role.  He spent the first chunk of his career as an engineer, contributing to many IBM breakthrough solutions.  Then he moved to a purely Sales role for ten years. (“Why?” we asked.  He confided, “Because I saw all the money those guys were making.”) But the time in both trenches gave him a unique perspective.  “When you’ve been in both,” he says, “neither side can easily fool you.”

Spoken like a veteran collaborator.  Garçon, another bottle of Blue, please.  And a fresh bowl for Rover.

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