Francoise Legoues, VP of Innovation in the Office of the CIO at IBM

Francoise Legoues, VP of Innovation in the Office of the CIO at IBM

I had the pleasure to talk with Francoise Legoues, the VP of Innovation in the office of the CIO at IBM. We discussed innovation, culture as well as some big trends affecting companies worldwide.

Francoise is a long time IBMer. She started in their Physics Department after getting her PhD in Physics from Carnegie Mellon University. Following that, she took on more client facing roles, related to future technology vision, in the utilities and retail markets. She continued to marry innovation and technology in various positions until she took on her current role working for the CIO at IBM.

It is interesting to note that at IBM the CIO organization is a centralized organization that comprises 4 pillars. The first one is called Run, and that is where they run things – datacenters, telephone, applications, etc. Then there is the organization called Transform, where they own processes (e.g., supply chain, client facing solutions, etc.), the applications that support them, and the transformation of those processes. Next is security and cyber security, obviously an important part of what the IBM CIO is responsible for. The fourth pillar is the one Francoise is responsible for, that of innovation.

As part her responsibilities, Francoise owns all the tools, processes and programs that enable IBMers to become innovators and consume innovation. She also leads a team of developers whose job it is to identify and bring into production those technologies that can transform the way IBMers do their job. Innovation at IBM also includes mining big data for actionable insights – an emerging area for many companies. They don’t just analyze the static data stores they have, but also dynamic data coming from Twitter and their own internal social networks. She sees her role as partly being a service provider, and partly being a partner to other organizations.

Culture is an important aspect of Francoise’s job. It is fascinating that the culture at IBM is not based on a set of shared beliefs that came from the top. Instead, about ten years ago, they ran a three day Culture Jam to see if they could find a set of common things that defined IBMers worldwide. And they did find it, and to this day they keep reinforcing those values through reviews, measurements, and rewards. Remarkably, and because of that, they do not see much corporate culture differences within the various geographical cultural areas.

The three top values that result in the IBM culture are:

  • Trust in every relationship
  • Client centricity
  • Innovation that matters to IBM and the world

At IBM, they practice this bottom-up approach across all areas of innovation– realizing that not all good ideas can come from the top. They followed the Culture Jam with an Innovation Jam and Jams are now an integral part of their innovation culture.

Francoise took the time to explain the differences between successful Innovation Jams and mostly unsuccessful bloated electronic suggestion boxes that many other companies implement. They are:

  • Most suggestion boxes or idea management systems are not connected to the backend processes where those ideas are actually being implemented, measured for success, and brought into production
  • Ideation systems often deal with only a small portion of the ideation process, that related to small ideas, and they clearly don’t connect with the overall innovation process.
  • Good Jams are well prepared ahead of time, and extremely well managed after the Jam is over (with funding, pilots, measurements, decision points and eventually production for those ideas that make it) – and Jams are almost always time-bound (except for the continuous improvement/small idea programs).
  • Successful Jams are either set up as business challenges or as well framed ideation campaigns.

Even though Francoise believes that it is really hard to predict the future, she closed our conversations with two predictions for big shifts – one being the potential for big data and the other being the future of work itself, and especially the future of the workplace.

Other things that we discussed include:

  • The challenges with not being able to know ahead of time which technologies to invest in on innovation
  • The Innovation Jam that led to the Smarter Planet concepts
  • The issues related to generational gaps in the workplace
  • How instant messaging totally transformed the way they work, and how it broke down hierarchies, when introduced 12 years ago
  • The importance of second life and physical presence in a primarily virtual workforce
  • How people cannot deploy their own tools, but how they can vote with their behavior between various alternatives
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  1. [...] don’t have to deal with national cultural differences. Francoise Legoues, VP of Innovation at IBM, said that they do not see much corporate culture differences within the various geographical cultural areas. [...]