IBM will on Tuesday unveil plans to offer its “Jamming” in-house technology to companies and organisations in an effort to build a business out of their need to communicate with thousands of employees in online brainstorming sessions.
The launch of the product – born out of Big Blue’s desire to listen to 300,000 staff around the world – underlines the challenge faced by companies seeking to keep in touch with a diverse, dispersed workforce.
It also shows how technology companies are exploiting the internet’s popularity by grafting their own pro-prietary tools onto the worldwide web.
IBM hopes that the “jams” – named after the spontaneous riffing of jazz musicians – can be sold to companies that want to involve employees in crucial issues such as merger integration, corporate strategy and their relationship with customers.
IBM says that it has already received requests for jams from companies in the financial services, telecommunications and packaging services sectors.
The jams, which will begin next week with a 72-hour event for the ailing US car parts industry, enable thousands of employees to give opinions on specific topics via the internet over several days.
“It is a very democratic process. Everyone has the same voice,” said Liam Cleaver, head of IBM Jams. “It really pools the brain power of the organisation.”
Unlike instant messaging and virtual chat rooms, jam participants are not anonymous and are monitored by IBM technology that enables management to pick out specific themes, ideas and grudges from the cacophony of the online dialogue.
The search tool was used by IBM for a 2003 jam that saw more than 50,000 employees, including the chief executive Sam Palmisano, help the company rewrite its corporate values.
Mr Palmisano later told the Harvard Business Review that the exercise had proved that modern companies could not prosper without grassroots input.
The technology is partly based on hosting technology devised for sporting events such as the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
IBM said the cost of a jam would vary, depending on the size and technical complexity, but it added that next week’s event for thousands of employees of car part suppliers would be free as the company hoped to gain exposure for the technology in that sector.