IBM offers employees
R&D incentives

15 May 2006

IBM has begun encouraging its Dublin employees to innovate through an initiative called Innovate Ireland, which rewards employee innovation by encouraging them to contribute ideas that may ultimately be used to improve internal business processes within IBM worldwide or to develop new business opportunities.

Employees, who can be at any level in the organisation, enter their ideas into Think Place, an IBM-wide tool. Ideas are collated and reviewed by a dedicated innovation team who act as individual “Think Place catalysts”, engaging one to one with would-be innovators on their idea. These catalysts in turn actively encourage employees to participate and work with the participant to bring the ideas to fruition.

Each innovation falls into one of five categories — shareholder value, customer satisfaction, technical, partnership/team work and people — with quarterly and annual award winners selected from each.

At the recent awards ceremony the overall winner chosen for outstanding contribution in innovation was Orla Doyle for her multimillion-dollar-saving technical innovation. Doyle’s concept involved upgrading an automatic planning system which forecasts orders from IBM’s suppliers.

Orla’s innovation helped trace discrepancies in the system which could potentially lead to costly errors in forecasting with suppliers. The idea has seen such errors decrease from 77.5pc to 2.5pc, resulting in a massive US$64m-per-year in liability savings for IBM.

Alex Ingle, IBM’s innovation manager, explains that where innovation is concerned the company wanted people to feel free to use both sides of their brain — both the analytical and creative. A number of years ago it was realised that the company did not have any programmes in place to explore innovation and it introduced the role of innovation manager to give the area the required support. “I’m not saying that we weren’t innovative prior to that but we really want to encourage people to feel free to innovate here in IBM.”

Ingle is the second innovation manager the company has had in Ireland. “When we set up the programme we set up a team including my predecessor and a number of people who had an interest in the area of innovation at the time and that team came up with the idea of Innovate Ireland and the programme we have in place now.”

In the past companies had suggestion programmes; this is a level way beyond that, Ingle says. Innovation is termed in a much wider context than “invention”. Now it’s about the bigger picture, he says. “Effectively it’s doing things differently than the way it was done before, whether that’s an incremental process improvement or a drastic process re-engineering or a new product which is the classical invention type of thing, or whether it’s a new business idea or a new business model. IBM, even though it has a very renowned reputation for invention and for the number of patents it files every year, is really moving into the wider world of innovation and innovation that matters for the world.”

By Elaine Larkin