IBM has a new initiative which it argues will help companies successfully transform by creating an environment where a start-up can exist inside a larger organisation – without the bigger entity taking up all the oxygen. 

The IBM Garage concept brings together clients and IMBers to create and scale new innovative ideas that will drive business benefits. It is underpinned by design thinking methodology and gives executives get a future view of their operating model. 

The first IBM Garages were in Chicago, Berlin and Sydney, and there are now 16 Garage locations in total, including two in Australia. More than 500 businesses around the world have participated in IBM Garage projects in the past 18 months. 

Locally, oil & gas giant Woodside is half way through its 12-week IBM Garage program. It has embraced the design thinking methodology to reimagine the onboarding process at the company. 

Shelley Kalms, Chief Digital Officer Woodside Energy said the onboarding initiative was selected because it resonates with the entire workforce.

“Everyone has had a first day, what we are trying to show is ‘this is what is was and this is what is reimagined,” she said. 

Woodside has worked with IBM since 2014, firstly on Watson for Projects, which was designed to process natural-language requests and surface the most relevant information from Woodside’s corpus. The second project, Willow, is a cognitive orchestration engine that one day will understand who you are and what you need, before you do. 

Those cognitive tools feature in the new onboarding process the business is designing in the Garage, with Willow (digitally) introducing new starters to their colleagues and guiding them through their first day. 

The squad inside the IBM Garage is made up of Woodside staff from HR, contract and procurement, security and emergency management and digital, who are working with IBM staff and other vendors.

Ant Farah, Managing Partner, Innovation Strategy & Ventures, IBM Asia Pacific said, “they don’t know who they work for anymore, they work for that outcome, for that purpose. Competitors are in there, but they aren’t competitors in this context.” 

Farah told Which-50 that the model is designed to overcome some of the obstacles which hindered earlier transformation approaches.

A key differentiator is the Garage board, made up of executives and key leadership within the enterprise that can help pick the initiatives which are most valuable to put into the Garage, and help determine the talent to work on the projects. They also agree on the service levels that the enterprise will provide to remove impediments which helps maintain speed to value. 

In the Garage, capital planning cycles imitate a VC-like investments so projects must prove value to secure ongoing investment or they run out of money. 

Doug Powell, Vice President of Design at IBM, also highlighted the role of executive-level leaders in the success of the project. “Not necessarily the ones that have daily contact with the activities of the team on the ground, but the ones who are one of two steps above in the leadership hierarchy. How do we get those executive leaders to understand their role, not in being practitioners of this approach… but in setting the conditions for this work to happen?” 

Powell said strong executive leadership is needed to shield the Garage from the “incoming missiles” that are threatening it. 

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