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Big Blue, at your service

While many of the consulting industry's traditional management and strategy firms have scrambled in recent years to incorporate IT into their practice areas, IBM has entered the industry from the opposite door. Though Big Blue always will be associated with computers, the company's business model over the past decade has trended toward services. These days, the Global Services division, including business consulting and IT implementation, contributes more than half of IBM's total revenues-$48.3 billion out of $91.4 billion in 2006-and employs more than 190,000 people worldwide.

PwC joins the fold

With an entrenched reputation as a corporation of computer geeks, IBM has had to work extra hard to establish itself in the consulting arena. The firm's services division got a major boost in 2002 with IBM's acquisition of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting, which added some 30,000 employees in 52 countries to the 30,000 IBM consultants already on board. The acquisition came about after an unsuccessful attempt by PricewaterhouseCoopers to take PwC Consulting public in 2002.

Having created the largest consulting services organization worldwide through the PwC deal, IBM execs began promoting the company's services capabilities. Global Services division President Virginia "Ginni" Rometty led an aggressive push into the consulting world, pursuing former PwC clients through a "win-back" program. In 2002, IBM's direction toward services became even clearer when the firm named Sam Palmisano its CEO. As former head of IBM's Global Services, Palmisano wasn't shy about the division's continued plans for growth. Meanwhile, a series of smaller consulting and services acquisitions solidified IBM's position.

Establishing Services

By the time IBM decided to unload its personal computing business, in a deal that closed in early 2005, it was clear that major changes were afoot at Big Blue. The firm announced a major Global Services reorganization later in 2005, and the realigned group was tasked with focusing more on "high-value" skills in line with those offered by IBM's original Business Consulting Services division, which had been formed after the PwC purchase. The natural choice to head the group in its new iteration was Ginni Rometty, who now holds the title of managing partner. IBM continued taking steps to move itself away from a "commodity" model, focused on selling parts and technologies, and into a "services" model, selling the brainpower of its consultants and other resident experts. The move has paid off; in 2006, three of the firm's consultants, Bridget Van Kralingen, William Pulleyblank and Mary Sue Rogers, were named to Consulting Magazine's top-25 list-more than any other consulting firm.


IBM has continued to realign the division, offering new and rebranded services. In February 2007, the firm announced a new set of software and business consulting services under IBM's global Information on Demand initiative. Included in these new services is a software suite from FileNet, a company acquired by IBM in October 2006, geared toward content management, as well as consulting services to help implement the software. As part of the new services, IBM dedicated more than 1,000 consultants to the FileNet implementation cause. Another new offering, introduced in November 2006-the IBM Loss Analysis and Warning Solution-uses advanced analytics to help property and casualty insurers ferret out illegal and unethical activities by policyholders, service providers and employees. In October 2006, the firm announced a suite of new industry models and consulting services aimed at the financial markets. And IBM added a new practice to its management consulting roster in June 2006, devoted to helping clients get the most out of their research and development spending. Under the IBM Global Business Services umbrella, the R&D consulting practice leverages resources from the firm's research, management, technology and intellectual property experts.

IBM innovates

The business consulting division also offers a number of innovation and research services. The IBM Institute for Business Value provides clients with strategic insights and recommendations, while the Center for Business Optimization uses advanced analytical methods to tackle large amounts of data to solve complex business problems. The firm's "component business methodology" service aims at identifying the "basic building blocks" of a business to gather insights, and its On Demand Innovation Services combines IBM's research and business consulting capabilities. Finally, the firm's Continuous Improvement Business Process Outsourcing, or IBM Daksh, is an outsourcing model based on Six Sigma and reengineering approaches, designed to help businesses improve year-over-year.


In addition to its purchase of FileNet, IBM has been on a bit of a spending spree lately, buying up small software providers such as New Jersey-based Palisades Technology Partners, which specializes in technologies and services for the mortgage lending industry, and MRO Software, a provider of asset and service management software and consulting services. Analysts have noted that these types of acquisitions will only boost Global Services revenue in the long run, as customers who invest in new software typically also agree to purchase service contracts for installation and maintenance.

Truly global services

IBM's consultants can be found taking on engagements around the world. Outside of the U.S., India is IBM's largest country organization, employing more than 43,000 people in 14 cities. Addressing the largest-ever gathering of IBM employees in India, in June 2006, CEO Palmisano declared that the firm expects to nearly triple its investment in India over the next three years, to nearly $6 billion. When it comes to outsourcing, the firm has declared that it doesn't see the Big Six outsourcers as a competitive threat as it gears up in India; rather, IBM is keeping its eye on home-grown Indian shops like Wipro and Infosys.


In November 2006, the firm announced a major initiative to help support innovation in China. Under the program, IBM planned to work with the Chinese Ministry of Education to develop a services science curriculum in universities; work with the Ministry of Health on a pilot program using IT to improve regional medical services; and provide services to a variety of businesses. The firm has 8,300 employees in China. In November 2006, the firm announced its plans to establish a global delivery center in Chengdu, complementing its other Chinese centers in Shenzen, Dalian and Shanghai.

Meanwhile, the firm has continued to strengthen its foothold in Europe. In October 2006, the firm opened a subsidiary office in Ukraine, where it works with major telecom and banking providers. In September 2006, IBM announced initiatives to support entrepreneurship in Ireland, including a Venture Capital Center in Dublin aimed at helping Irish startups. Also that month, Global Services was selected to provide and implement a new IT system for the steadily growing Prague airport. In July 2006, the firm announced that it was working with the government of Slovakia to transform its procurement systems as part of a broader push into e-government in the country. Other major clients in Europe have included Portugal's Banco BPI and broadcast network Retevision, brewing giant Carlsberg and Austrian insurance company Wiener Staedtische Group.

On to outsourcing

Through more than 30 global delivery centers worldwide, IBM has positioned itself to quickly jump on clients' outsourcing needs. In March 2007, the firm announced a $217 million outsourcing agreement to manage and transform human resources services for American Airlines. IBM plans to team up with Mercer HR Services on the project. In another outsourcing contract, signed with the Childrens Hospital Los Angeles in December 2006, the firm was tapped to manage and support the hospital's financial, HR, materials management and grants-tracking systems. And in November of that year, cosmetics giant Avon Products selected IBM to provide a portfolio of specialized HR services.


Global Services consultants work with clients in just about every industry you can think of. Airlines often tap the firm for its "on-demand" approach. JetBlue Airways, Air Canada, British Airways and others have engaged the firm to design self-serve check-in kiosks. The group also continues the grand old IBM tradition of technological innovation. In October 2006, Global Services announced that it was partnering with a number of organizations, including Heineken, shipping firm Safmarine and the University of Amsterdam, along with customs departments in the U.S. and the U.K., to create a "beer living lab." The project aims to track cargo container shipments of the Dutch brew from Europe to the U.S. using satellite and cellular technology. As part of a larger goal of transforming e-customs, IBM hopes to promote a solution that can facilitate international trade by creating less of a need for physical customs inspections at borders.

In with the feds

Over in the public sector, IBM keeps a lower profile than competitors Accenture and Booz Allen, but it still has managed to score some impressive government deals. In October 2006, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs inked a $16 million IT transformation deal with IBM, including the creation of a standardized, interoperable, secure IT environment. Another recent government contract was with the Defense Information Systems Agency, which hooked Global Services in mid-2006 to provide net-centric collaboration services that allow for real-time sharing of information across the Defense Department.

Jamming for ideas

IBM chief Samuel Palmisano has proved to be a big advocate for innovation. In November 2006, the firm announced that it would invest $100 million over the next two years to pursue business ideas generated by "the largest online brainstorming session ever," known as InnovationJam. The InnovationJam event, consisting of two 72-hour sessions, brought together more than 150,000 participants from 104 countries, including IBM employees, their family members, universities, business partners and clients. Of the 46,000 ideas posted by these participants, 10 solid business ideas were chosen, including health care payment systems using "smart" cards, simplified and prepackaged Web 2.0 services for small and midsized businesses, advanced, real-time translation services and more.

Reports and rewards

Like other consulting firms, Global Services keeps its name in the news with plenty of reports and surveys. In March 2007, the firm's Institute for Business Value released a study on business in China, noting that in order for multinational companies to succeed there, they will need to focus increasingly on mass markets, rather than limiting themselves to a handful of top-tier cities. In another report, published in February 2007, the firm unveiled a report on "navigating the new media divide," offering steps companies can take to navigate the tensions between traditional media content owners and their more newfangled distribution counterparts. That same month, the Institute for Business Value released a report on how telecom companies can tap into the market for digital content. An earlier, November 2006 report examined the attitudes of consumers toward their banks.


In December 2006, IBM won two MITX awards, recognizing achievement in interactive technologies, for Best User Experience and Best Consumer Goods Experience. The awards honored IBM's design and development of a new web site feature for its client L.L. Bean. The previous month, IBM was ranked by Gartner Dataquest as the world's leading consulting and systems integration provider for the fourth consecutive year.

Sam's family

IBM has established a reputation as a solid employer, especially for consultants with families. For 18 consecutive years, Working Mother magazine has named IBM on its Top Ten List of the 100 Best Companies for working mothers. The magazine honored the firm yet again in 2006, naming Palmisano a "family champion" in recognition of his dedication to innovative programs for women.


In March 2007, the firm announced a new, multimillion-dollar personal finance and education benefit for employees in the U.S., aimed at easing the transition from its traditional retirement benefits to a new 401(k) program. IBM MoneySmart includes personal financial planning sessions, educational seminars and online tools to help employees manage their retirement assets. The firm said it planned to fully fund the program for the next two years, after which it would review the benefit based on affordability and employee satisfaction.

Education and hope

As a high-profile company, IBM also makes sure to invest in community service. Education tops the list of the firm's pet causes, and it has invested $75 million worldwide in a school reform program known as Reinventing Education. Another educational effort is the firm's commitment to EXITE (EXploring Interests in Technology and Engineering) Camps for middle school-aged girls, a program it has sponsored since 1999. The camps, taking place across the globe, are meant to inspire interest in math, science and technology among young girls. EXITE Camperscwork in teams with IBM employee volunteers on projects that touch on innovations in medicine, health care, agriculture, entertainment, consumer goods, environmental preservation, and rescue and relief efforts. Through another initiative, Hope and Harmony for Humanity, the firm works to bring computer technology access and education to low-income and remote Native American reservations across the U.S.


Big Blue's got it covered
IBM's recruiters practically canvas the country, showing up at schools all over the U.S. Wharton, Harvard, Chicago, University of Texas, Emory, Michigan and Tulane are among the campuses where the firm recruits. A complete recruiting calendar can be found on the firm's web site. Students don't have to wait for a recruiter to come to campus, however. The firm also offers a listing of opportunities for both university and experienced professionals on its web site.


The interview process is fairly standard, with a combination of behavioral and technical questions. Relates a staffer, "I had two or three rounds of interviews. For campus recruiting, there is an on-campus interview, then an office visit. For an experienced hire, there will be an additional interview, which would be the initial phone screen." Another manager goes through the routine: "College recruiting is generally conducted with pairs of interviewers in the first round, followed by an IT aptitude test. Then there are office interviews with executives." Most insiders claim the interview process isn't too painful: "The interviewers really put us at ease. They were very kind and forthcoming about the company. It was enjoyable to meet them," a consultant shares. A colleague agrees, stating, "The process is very selective but very pleasant."

"Tell me" questions

Details of the interview process vary slightly, depending on where a candidate interviews. A manager in the Midwest states, "We ask relevant questions in the following categories: technical/functional skills, creative problem solving, interpersonal competencies, drive to achieve/leadership and verbal communication." Other respondents note that interview questions aren't as clear-cut, and "range from general experiences to very specific skill questions." A colleague who had three interviews and was not asked to take a test advises, "Expect the 'tell me' questions-about yourself, how did you manage tasks, projects and how you would deal with team issues." Another source recounts an example of a case question: "You have a small regional bank who wants to go toward Internet services and close branches. What areas would you look at to determine if this approach would be viable?"

Let your personality shine

When it comes down to getting hired, insiders say that even the most astute answers to technical questions won't guarantee you an offer. "Most interviewers look at the candidates and ask, 'Would I want to work with this person, are they flexible, can they learn and will they do whatever it takes to complete an assignment on time?'" reports a consultant. Another source ruminates on his own hiring: "I felt the interview was geared more toward seeing how I would fit into the corporate culture, rather than towards my specific work experience. I considered that a positive aspect of the interview process."


Love the ones you're with
No matter who you talk to, it's clear that IBM's culture has come a long way since the pre-1990s, when its image conveyed a firm full of stodgy blue suits. "It's not the firm I remember as a child," a consultant proudly declares. Staffers claim the firm is full of "great people" who are "very smart, committed and fun." Exclaims a source, "Ours a very large firm, so our culture continues to evolve with the introduction of new people, new ideas and new culture, which is readily explored and embraced." Colleagues mention that the firm is a sociable place where people enjoy working together. "The culture is lively. There are a million little groups for things ranging from happy hours to running clubs to volunteer work. The people are friendly, intelligent and fun. And the dress code is very laid-back," notes one analyst. In short, boasts a manager, "It is an extremely people-friendly environment. People care about each other and are always interested in learning more about one another and enjoying their co-workers in a nonwork environment (i.e., happy hour)."


One things for certain-the supportive attitudes of colleagues at IBM win praise from insiders. "The best things about the firm are the teamwork and sense of camaraderie. Everyone is willing to offer help or assistance, and make you feel part of the team," a junior staffer affirms. Reportedly, the huge size of the firm doesn't keep these folks from feeling like a close-knit group. "Although the company is very large, I work on projects with a relatively small group of people. I have found them all to be intelligent, dedicated and cordial, usually developing good team camaraderie," states an insider. A co-worker explains that "on each project you work with new people and that gives you the opportunity to help create a new culture within your team," while a co-worker adds, "Everyone at IBM is like a family-we all take care of each other."

Not the place for co-dependence

Employees also have positive things to report about their managers at the firm. "Supervisors and managers are down-to-earth. They make employees feel at home and are very welcoming," a consultant reports. Another insider confirms, "My partner is tops-both my internal reporting partner and my project partner. I would not leave them by choice. They are what make it such a great place to work."

Time with teammates

A number of sources say that workweeks generally average a sustainable 50 hours-but of course that's "depending on the project and travel requirements." "There are some times where working may demand 80 hours per week, but probably 30 weeks we work an average of 45 to 50 hours per week only," details one consultant, speaking for the majority. One insider gets positively sappy about spending long hours with co-workers: "I rarely work over 55 hours a week and even when those times do happen, your teammates are so lovable you do not mind being around them for prolonged periods of time."

Balance at Big Blue

Due to positives like the work-from-home policy and a travel schedule that guarantees that consultants are home on weekends, staffers report that there's an even balance between the job and life outside. "I am able to balance work and life. There are times when I am giving the majority of my time to work to meet the client expectations. This is balanced out, though, during the downtime of the project," a source relates. Says another well-balanced source, "I am actively involved in my church and the community and am able to negotiate a healthy work/life balance." One insider claims, "I think IBM has the best work/life balance of any company I have ever worked for. I travel most of the year. If I need to be at home for any reason, IBM allows me to work from home for that week or as long as needed. They work with us whenever needed. IBM bends over backward to help its employees in any way it can."


But a number of insiders claim that being able to bring work home with them is part of what helps them maintain balance. "We are encouraged to work from home when we can. I like this because I feel that I get more done because I don't have to sit in traffic for two hours each day. I can start working right away," a source remarks. Relates one manager, "If I need to be at home a day during the week, I can work from home the entire week. Or, I can come home from the client site early and work around my schedule." "Work-from-home is an accepted practice and it helps greatly in maintaining the work/life balance," admits a co-worker.

User-friendly travel? Depends on the traveler

While the majority of IBM consultants do spend a fair amount of time on the road, the firm does make an effort to make their time away from home as comfortable as possible. "IBM provides specific benefits to mobile consultants such as legal assistance, health and fitness support, family counseling, financial/retirement planning, etc. Most of these services are provided at no additional cost," a manager explains. Another source adds that "IBM is good about covering expenses ranging from dry cleaning to car rental, meals, gas and even personal cell phone use."

Deferred enrichment

Reportedly, the firm has a strong training program, comprised of both on-the job and official training-mostly online-which insiders say is "generally excellent." "There is some type of training going on every week or month. Employees are encouraged to recertify and, furthermore, their education is paid by my company," adds an employee. "The training is generally available if one makes a case for how it can be applied and how it fits with your long term plans," a senior consultant explains.

Paid to stay healthy

Across the board, consultants say, IBM offers "good health benefits and a good company match on the 410(k) plan." And according to sources, it pays (literally) to stay fit. "You are given a $150 rebate for not smoking and a $150 rebate for living a healthy lifestyle," a colleague notes. "This year I will be exercising four times per week and will receive $150," confirms an insider. Mentions another appreciative employee, "IBM offers discounts on a lot of things from photo development to Cingular Wireless services, to H&R Block tax refunds, to computers and flat screen TVs. You also get to keep your hotel points and airline points, though not you car rental points." Staffers also praise the parental benefits offered, including "$2,500 for adoption and two weeks off paid, with manager's permission."


IBM also offers a few fringe benefits, like "thank you awards," an insider says: "There is the occasional surprise award for a job well done." Boasts one source, "They flew me to Puerto Rico as a top performer for a weekend," while another co-worker adds, "One day, out of the blue, my company gave me $5,000. There are also some project managers that are generous with nice dinners and tickets to sporting events."

Women in charge

When it comes to gender diversity, insiders deem IBM to be top notch. "There are great woman role models at high levels of corporate headquarters to emulate. [The firm is] very involved and helpful, and reaches out with events, web sites and web casts targeted specifically to women," one consultant indicates. Another source adds, "The top executive over the consulting practice is a woman and there are many women in various leadership positions." "I am a woman, I work for a woman and my managing partner is a woman. I have never felt at a disadvantage working for IBM because I am a woman," declares another colleague.


Insiders also recognize that the firm makes an effort to retain women who need to cut back on travel for family reasons. Acknowledges a staffer, "Many women are recruited, but they still have a harder time staying with the profession than men do. The work/life issues are harder for them. IBM has moved several women to roles such as outsourcing and internal projects that allow them to maintain their careers without the heavy travel."

"Diversity is everywhere"

Colleagues maintain that IBM is also strong on minority diversity. "You couldn't ask for a more culturally diverse company," asserts a senior consultant. "I think it is a very diverse environment-it is fantastic. Every project is as diverse as it can be: women, men, Asians, Latinos, Caucasians, Europeans, and Africans and others," an insider details. According to an associate, "A look at a typical consulting team will demonstrate that diversity is everywhere," though one insider suggests that "African-Americans are not represented as much as they could be."

Support groups for all

Sources also give shining reports of the firm's efforts toward gay and lesbian diversity. Insists a senior employee, "The firm is] very receptive. Being gay in IBM is a nonissue. It's the most gay-friendly place I've worked, and I've worked for many of the beltway bandits." Another analyst mentions that GLBT diversity "is brought out in orientation. IBM has respect for everyone, and makes sure that everyone fits in." "Same-sex couples are eligible for partner benefits. I am not in this category, but am proud of IBM being on the cutting edge of recognizing civil rights of all Americans," shares an insider.


Insiders indicate that it's impossible to work at IBM and not find a support group to fit an individual interest or affiliation. "From a corporate standpoint, IBM encourages networking within our groups; for example, there is a women's networking group, and soon there will be a Hispanic networking group, which I plan to join," mentions one associate. Another source verifies, "We have many networks called communities of interest-I believe there more than 100-from the telecom industry community to gay and lesbian to women in business."

Charity work comes naturally

Consultants at IBM may be stationed all over the world, but that doesn't prevent them from coming together to contribute to local causes. Insiders say efforts include "teaching in schools, judging science fairs, helping out with career fairs, installing computers in schools and Habitat for Humanity." "There is an entire group dedicated to sending out e-mails looking for volunteers to go to soup kitchens, provide canned goods or go to women's shelters," notes a source, adding, "There is also an established system for donating obsolete software to NGOs and other charitable groups." One staffer relates, "We get extra points for [community service work], which usually comes naturally to those who come to work with IBM. I ran the Employee United Way Campaign this last year for our sector and won a desktop computer with all the bells and whistles to be given to my charity of choice for bringing my team in at 100 percent." A colleague notes, "It is 'unofficially' required that employees participate in such events. I have been involved in tutoring as well as clothing drives in Philadelphia organized by the company."


One of the firm's many charitable programs focuses on boosting technology in underserved schools. Explains an insider, "My company has a program that offers schools computers. The employees can buy computers for qualified schools. The employee pays 20 percent and the company matches 80 percent of the price. I donated three computers two year ago to my children's school, and last year was able to completely equip their computer lab with new computers. Every student in this small private school wrote a thank you note for the new computers."