IBM is a global information technology and business consultancy business, whose origins can be traced to the end of the 19th Century with the invention of the tabulating machine. The company was first listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1911 and is the oldest technology company in the world.
IBM has two inter-related key business strands: first, to strive to lead in the invention, development and manufacture of advanced information technologies, including computer systems, software, storage systems and microelectronics; and secondly, to translate these advanced technologies into value for customers through professional solutions, services and consulting businesses worldwide. To deliver these services to clients IBM operates in 163 countries. In the UK it employs a workforce of around 21,000 and has an additional 5,000 agency staff.
IBM’s approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR) is traceable back to its founders in America. They committed IBM to a broad definition of leadership: ‘to be a trusted partner for customers, a reliable long-term investment, a progressive employer and a responsible corporate citizen’. Corporate milestones include: 1914, when IBM hired its first employee with a disability; 1935, when it declared that men and women would do the same kind of work for equal pay; and 1953, when it established a formal equal opportunity policy. More recently, in 1984 IBM incorporated sexual orientation into this policy.
This case study focuses on IBM’s On Demand Community, which provides resources and structures to support volunteering among IBM staff.
A key driver for IBM’s approach to CSR is the need to maintain its market position in a changing business environment. IBM recognises that CSR benefits the company’s business by helping enhance a company’s reputation so increasing its brand value. Further benefit from CSR comes from demonstrating thought leadership. For IBM thought leadership includes being recognised as contributing to shaping the agenda of policy and practice outside of the company, whereby IBM is recognised for both great products and great ideas. “Other benefits of CSR include staff retention and recruitment. This is important to us as a knowledge-based company, where much of our value resides in the collective intellectual capabilities of our staff. This too drives our approach”, said Mark Wakefield, IBM UK’s Corporate Community Relations Manager.
In the early 1990s IBM misjudged the importance of the emerging desktop computer hardware and software market. Part of its turn around strategy involved re-engineering itself to focus on its unique competency of being a complete IT solutions provider.
More recently IBM has, under the leadership of its new global Chief Executive, Sam J Palmisano, conducted a major review of the values of the company, with opportunities for full involvement from 319,000 staff around the world.
Following the review, in spring of 2003 over 300 senior executives met at their annual meeting to consider, amongst other matters, the next ‘great’ ideas that would guide IBM, promote it’s new technology strategy ‘On Demand’ computing and exemplify the three core values of the company: dedication to every client’s success; innovation that matters, for our company and for the world; trust and personal responsibility in all relationships. One of the ideas selected by the senior executives - the IBM On Demand Community employee volunteering programme - was launched in November 2003. The momentum behind realising the idea was generated by the personal championing of On Demand by IBM’s vice-president for Corporate Community Relations, Stan Litow.
IBM On Demand Community seeks to encourage and sustain corporate philanthropy through volunteering. Volunteers provide the mechanism to deploy valuable IBM technology tools targeted at schools and non-profit community organisations. The programme is designed to encourage staff engagement with the community in a variety of ways e.g: by acting as advisors to charities; supporting local schools as governors; running workshops and training sessions; and being mentors to young people.
The volunteering programme was developed and launched in just six months. During that time virtual workshops involving IBMers from around the world in the creation of the materials for the programme were held. Work was completed with HR and legal departments on, for example, the legal issues of volunteering arising from differing national legislation. An intranet website was developed containing a database of organisations providing opportunities for volunteering. In November 2003 IBM’s campaign to recruit 25,000 of its staff as volunteers commenced, underpinned by a new On Demand Community intranet and actively championed around the world by IBM’s regional and country Chief Executives.
The scheme works as follows. Once registered on the site, IBMers have immediate access to a full range of technology solutions that support IBM’s commitment to its philanthropic priorities: advancing achievement in schools; working to promote digital inclusion; and improving strategies and outcomes for non-profit organisations through technology. Resources on the site also enable employees to receive on-line training to improve their capability as volunteers. Volunteering occurs in the employee’s own time, although with flexible working this can be during ‘working’ hours. The intranet site helps employees to select their volunteering depending on how much time they have to give.
Volunteers are asked to track and log the time they give. If they achieve 40 hours in five months they can nominate the organisation that they are volunteering with to receive a donation of either IBM equipment or a small cash grant. The donation process assesses bids against specific criteria and there is a sliding scale for equipment donations up to the value of £4,000, depending upon the numbers of volunteers involved and whether any of the resources available on the On Demand Community intranet site have been used.
Examples of volunteering in the UK include IBMers using their consulting skills to assist head teachers on the processes of managing change within schools, to improve standards of education. Well over 600 IBMers are currently providing virtual mentoring from IBM staff, for school students, through the IBM MentorPlace programme, launched in the UK in 2002. The scheme focuses mainly on students studying subjects such as IT, science and business studies. Mentors provide practical advice and study support. So far over 1000 students from more than 35 schools across the UK have benefited.
IBM volunteers are helping to introduce technology appropriately to nursery schools. IT equipment in nurseries has tended to be second-hand, and teaching was done by staff with limited knowledge of technology and even less confidence in using it. IBM donates specially developed units - KidSmart installations - to not-for-profit or state run nurseries in areas of significant disadvantage, that are selected by professionals as part of its KidSmart Early Learning programme. The programme aims to provide young children with access to technology, better preparing them for life-long learning and it contributes to digital inclusion. Since 2000 over 650 KidSmart computer units have been donated in the UK alone and many thousands more worldwide.
KidSmart is a partnership between a voluntary organisation, Early Education, which helps to select the nurseries and manage the programme, local education authority personnel, who attend IBM-run training sessions and then cascade the training down to the nurseries and IBMers, who volunteer to work with the programme by helping to set up the equipment at the nursery, and providing practical advice to staff and parents.
“Our research showed that, as much as communities appreciate donations of money and equipment, local agencies and schools are most interested in receiving volunteers who can share their skills and intellectual capital”, said Stanley Litow, talking about the IBM On Demand Community initiative.
Globally IBM set a target of recruiting 25,000 employee volunteers in two years. In less than half that time very nearly 25,000 employees had registered, including more than 1,200 in the UK.
The business benefits
IBM firmly believes that there is business benefit: ‘There has always been a direct correlation between IBM’s corporate citizenship and our mainstream market place activities’ says Sam J Palmisano, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer.
As an example new graduates are actively encouraged to volunteer. This is because IBM feels that volunteering provides them with an opportunity to learn new skills such as team working, customer relations, project management and leadership.
“Another benefit of volunteering is that staff act as IBM ambassadors and become the face of IBM in communities. This helps change any preconceived idea that IBM is a faceless corporation, solely out to make a profit”, said Mark Wakefield. “It demonstrates our commitment both to society and to our staff and that appeals to potential new recruits.”
IBM has found that engagement in the community helps to maintain the company’s presence in the public eye. It also believes that it helps to improve its understanding and identification of new market opportunities,. through the interaction that volunteers have with a wide spectrum of the community.
Why is it CSR?
The consultation process that initiated the development of IBM On Demand Community demonstrated openness and active participation of IBMers, which is an important process underpinning CSR. Furthermore, the actions of employees supported by IBM are completely voluntary. By providing resources (information and grants for IBM equipment) and structures (intranet and an IBM community relations team) to support volunteering, IBM is demonstrating corporate responsibility that goes well beyond compliance.
IBM UK has developed a volunteer extranet for its pensioner community, who number around 10,000 in the UK. IBM wrote to them in April 2004 and invited them to register on the new website in June. In the coming months it intends to review and consolidate the volunteer programme, developing new resources to add to what already is available on the intra and extranets.
For more information on IBM please contact Mark Wakefield on 020 7202 3608 or email email@example.com.
© Article 13 and CBI – CSR Case Study Series, November 2004
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