Is IBM a Social Business, I doubt it

UPDATE (10 oct, ’13): After speaking with several IBM’ers in the real world and in the comments below, I have learned that the story below is not business as usual at IBM. Questions have been asked and people have been approached in order to rectify the faulty process.

It goes to show, that kicking up some dust is a good way of determining a companies intend.
I will leave the story below intact, as a reminder of how not to be a social business. But, by now, IBM has proven that it has every intend of being (or becoming) a social business, in all it’s facets.


When I talk about Social Business, I regularly mention (and praise) IBM for doing it right. For being at the forefront of the “movement”, for providing many a company with SocBiz solutions and actually being a Social Business.

I’m going to stop talking about IBM. I don’t believe they are as social as they think they are.

ibm soclal businessLet me explain:

My wife and I make decisions which usually result in dramatic course changes. We do this because we like a change of scenery or because we want a change in career.., or whatever. We just leap.

One of the leaps is me finding my way into Social Business on my own, switching my ‘career’ into a higher gear and into a field which I’m passionate about.

There are many ways to earn a buck or two, and I’m not one to dismiss an opportunity. Reading about IBM and its views on, and practices of Social Business, made me keep an my eye on them (it would be a very cool company to work for).

At Bat

The first chance was the best vacancy I ever saw: Senior Social Business Consultant.., yup, that would be me. So, I applied, I even had a recently met on-line friend endorse me. My friend also confirmed that they received my E-book: “Why? Social Business“.

But, I never heard anything from IBM. I figured holidays and the like must get in the way. So I waited a bit.

First Strike

After not even receiving a confirmation I decided to call them, as a follow up on the application. All the way to London. A very friendly (they’re always friendly) person told me that if I applied for a vacancy (which I did), I’d be contacted.., maybe. I could not get anybody else on the phone.

Second Strike

Making a phone call is always a good idea. Getting a personal connection going is one of the better strategies. So, I called again, this in Belgium (closer to home and where the original vacancy was found).

After dealing with a menu, I talked to a person who could not help me with the application, that’s recruitment and no, I could not speak to them. But, I could send an email and she’d make sure, if it was a good email, that recruitment would get it.
By now I read that IBM and Dachis were teaming up to provide more and better social business services. I figured that they would need all the help they could get.

Third Strike

Not a peep after this email, not even a single automated “we’ve received your email” notification.., nothing. So, I called again.

This time the message was that, although they’re sorry, but the email could not be found. Say what? This is IBM, one of the biggest software companies in the world, and they loose email. Nobody looses emails any more.., not since 2009. Not ever, I still have every single email send and received since 2005, not one is “lost”.

Plus, this person said that it’s no use sending emails with an open application, because, you know, that’s like, just weird. Why would I want to offer my services to IBM?
No, you apply to a vacancy but, you only get a response (any response apparently) when they deem you worthy of an interview.

And I don’t know the status of the vacancy because a) it’s no longer on-line and b) nobody will tell me anything and I don’t get past their call centre.

And Your Out!

I don’t know IBM, I never worked for them, but everything I read is positive (I can’t imagine people are getting paid to write positive things about IBM), and the few people whom I know work for IBM are positive too.

It could be just me, but, if my interactions with the company stand for anything, than it’s quite the opposite of “social”. Maybe they can sell it really, really well to their customers and partners, but I’m not buying it.

Really, if you have nearly 3000 open vacancies (world wide) and your business is Social Business, which is, or will be, the hottest thing on the planet the coming decade.., then you want all the help you can get. Then you want to receive emails, phone calls, tweets or homing pigeons from people who have something genuine to offer you.

At the very, very least.., acknowledge an email (don’t “loose” it).

Microsoft’s New World of Working

Office 365 is a result of a philosophy coined by Bill Gates’s white paper “The New World of Working“.

I was made aware of this philosophy by a friend who’s working for Microsoft. It was a side of Microsoft I had never seen before. It’s a philosophy which didn’t fit into the image I had of the company.

A monopolist who’s always late to the party and thanks its existence to the dependency they so successfully created through their office products.

This is an unfair assumption. Microsoft Netherlans


Microsoft has come a long way. Especially Microsoft The Netherlands, now the “Lighthouse” division, it leads the way into the new way of working. Not just for their partners and clients, but for other Microsoft divisions too, across the globe.


They started the journey of rehabilitating themselves into a Social Business in 2005(!).

CEO Theo Rinsema asked the question if they were living up to to the “The New World of Working” envisioned by Mr. Gates. The answer was ‘No’.

Rinsema, like a few other CEO’s before and after him, stood on stage during an event and told it’s employees that they would start a journey together. And like others before and after him, he knew where he wanted to end up, but had no idea on how to get there. He asked everybody at Microsoft The Netherlands for help. Mind you, even Steve Balmer had to green-light the transformation.

Now, 8 years later we can see the results of this journey.


One thing is clear. Transforming your business into a Social Business takes time and a whole lot of patience. 8 years running and still they’re learning, developing, innovating and honing their plan.

Over the past decade, software has evolved to build bridges between disconnected islands of information and give people powerful ways to communicate, collaborate and access the data that’s most important to them. – Bill Gates, 2005

Because of the transitional nature of business in general and social business in particular the innovation never stops. Especially if you are one of the pioneering companies. Granted, there are more companies going at it, IBM and GE are two prime examples, but they all started from the same place, an old classically structured business with a top down mentality, there was no map available.


Things are different now, maps are available, some with detailed guides on how to get you where you want to go. But, social is a custom business. Even the better books have to take into account the differences in culture, size, budgets and commitment. It’s not just a change, it’s an evolution.

Microsoft’s New World of Working

And people who live this new world of working realise this. They see what’s at stake, what needs to change and what the impact is on the individual.

People like Michiel Hoogenboom who passionately shared the story of his journey with Microsoft NL. Starting with the mentality that he had to be at his desk at 09:30. 5 minutes late was reason enough be asked why he was late.

Now, he leaves home after peak traffic, stops by a colleagues’ home for a meeting before heading to the office. Which he leaves before the afternoon peak traffic (a really good idea in Holland, especially between Amsterdam and Rotterdam).

The new home on Schiphol was designed with this revolution in mind. Nobody has an office, not even Theo Rinsema. Flexibility is the key here.

After diner and spending time with his kids he opens his laptop and is instantly connected to his entire office environment. Able to edit and share documents, call or chat with anybody who’s online, and e-mail of course. All through a secure connection, all in the cloud. Office 365 is the technology that enables the people.

The people are the core and Microsoft is People Ready. Obviously it works, read more (Dutch).

Het nieuwe werken

I’ll let Theo Rinsema explain Microsoft’s The New World of Working: