My IBM Connect 2013 Outlook: Focus on the Employee

The IBM Connect – aka Lotusphere – will kick off in Orlando this Friday. This is the event’s 20th edition, and I’ve had the privilege of attending five or six times before. That may not sound like much to some of you Lotusphere veterans, I know. But I’m especially excited about this year’s IBM Connect. Why? Because this time around, the Smarter Workforce theme is taking center stage – IBM and, in particular, my own area of Social Business are set to place an even greater focus on employees.

When IBM launched IBM Connections onto the market several years ago, it provided businesses with a social platform for and based around employees. Each employee has his or her own profile that gives an overview of their blog and wiki entries, activities, communities, files and bookmarks and also includes status updates (kind of like tweets). The profiles enable me to form an impression of my colleagues, is a social footprint helping me to seek out expertise and to exchange ideas with others. IBM Connections was and still is an employee-centric solution, and it’s really exciting to see how our CEO Ginni Rometty uses the platform not just to communicate with us, but also to get feedback from employees and encourage discussions on how the company should develop. The aim is for employees to play a significant role in shaping the future and vision of IBM.

This idea of placing employees at the heart of the company has been around for a long time, and IBM Connections is just one of the forms it has taken. The IBM Employee Experience Suite – which was not coincidentally renamed recently – is another. Other companies have jumped on the Social Business bandwagon in the past year and are attempting, through acquisitions and other means, to develop software that is less about file and storage structures and more human-centric. Well, we’ll see what they come up with…

But going back to IBM Connect, I think we can expect to see IBM make further strides with its focus on employees;the acquisition of Kenexa is certainly a clear indication in this direction. Kenexa is not a provider of typical, ERP-centric human resources software.Instead, its focus lies on finding good personnel in the first place, on training and developing their skills and talent further, and, finally, on getting assessed how satisfied they are – in other words, Kenexa picks up where conventional HR software packages leave off.

This focus is based on the recognition that good and satisfied employees are one of the most important – if not the most important – factors for productivity, particularly in industrialized countries. McKinsey studies say that companies with dedicated, motivated and autonomous employees can make a 26-percent higher turnover. I find this focus fascinating. It seems to me that companies have often lost sight of their employees in recent years. The latent pressure created by cost-cutting programs and by staff reduction and relocation has led to many employees feeling unmotivated. Often that means they have left their jobs mentally, if not physically, and are now working to rule – in other words, doing the bare minimum.

I believe that any attempt to reach out to these employees again, to motivate and train them, and to show them that their work has meaning and can even be fun not only makes business sense, but also – and particularly – makes sense from a people point of view. Yes, I know that “cash is king” and the next quarterly financial statements are looming on the horizon, but I believe every little bit of humanization in the working world helps. (And, as I mentioned above, also makes sense economically.) This issue is extremely topical, especially in my home country Germany, given the shortage of qualified staff here. So I’m looking forward to this focus, to working with Kenexa and discussing with human resources managers how we can make tomorrow’s working world more humane.

This focus on people can be found throughout the event and the strategy of IBM’s Social Business division. On the one hand, our aim is to create a Smarter Workforce; on the other hand, we want to put customers at the heart of what we do and provide them with the best possible experience in dealing with the company. We call this the Customer Experience – and naturally, it also focuses on people. So there are some fascinating topics ahead that will certainly keep me busy at the IBM Connect and throughout 2013. And of course, I’ll be tweeting (#IBMConnect) and blogging live from the event – I’m looking forward to it!

P.S. If you can’t make it to the IBM Connect in person, you can watch a lot of the sessions, including the opening session, on the live stream.

P.P.S. If you’re curious to learn more about Kenexa, I can recommend the Kenexa blog (it’s in English) – there are posts on all sorts of interesting topics.

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