THE BLOG
02/01/2013 10:56 am ET | Updated Apr 03, 2013

Will "International Business Machines" Make Business More Human (and Social)?

While IBM has grown a hugely successful consulting practice around social business, one has to question how social the company actually is. Is the internal culture of IBM truly open? Does it embrace the same tenants of social business it preaches to its clients?

Attending the #IBMConnect event in Orlando this week one thing is clear -- the younger employees are not the ones driving the conversations around social business. While the company espouses the rallying cry of social -- the innovate or die mentality -- in looking purely at the attendee profile of the IBM event, I personally question how true that actually is. I see a social culture as one that embraces diversity -- diversity of thought and diversity of gender. The event boasted around five to ten thousand people -- 90 percent if these people were middle-aged men.

I did have the chance to ask one of the IBM executives about how they are personally accommodating their younger workers -- those who grew up using social technologies.

Larry Bowden, VP Portals and Web Experience at IBM told me that in the last 36 months IBM has acquired 24 companies. That means over half of IBM's workforce has been at IBM for under three years. Bowden told me "anyone can start a blog." While I haven't personally asked the newbie employees at IBM if this is the case--the term "social business" is omnipresent here in Orlando.

Bowden told me he consults with Fortune 500 companies. He said many CEOs still have trouble understanding the value of social technologies. He said he shows them the ROI of not doing social. He also shares the statistic that 57 percent of companies that deployed social business have better business results. "They put out products faster, have higher customer satisfaction and better communication among employees," said Bowden.

At IBM Connect the term digital native is frequently thrown around -- and IBM and others are preparing for a workforce that grew up on these technologies, and are not about to get excited about employers that tell them the technologies are banned at work.

While some of us wonder if the huge IBM can move as quickly as it's making itself out to, perhaps things are changing inside this institution. After all they hired a female CEO -- Virginia Rometty -- the first woman to be head of the company since its birth in 1911.

Despite the fact that there seem to be almost no young people here at the IBM Connect event, perhaps IBM is making moves to keep up with the rate of innovation happening.

Can there be real diversity of thought at an event that seems to include mostly one type of person?

And in thinking about cultures that need to start embracing change, whether that's more women at the top or a change in culture -- let's look at the example of an Italian bank.

In a panel on the major trends shaping social business in 2013 and beyond, Mark Fidelman, CEO of Evolve! and author of Socialized!, Sandy Carter, IBM's SVP and Evangelist and Beverley Macy the CEO of Gravity Summit and teacher at UCLA took the stage.

We heard from Sandy Carter -- who recently released a book of her own Get Bold: Using Social Media to Create A New Type of Social Business who gave a frequently retweeted statistic that "20 percent of your customers influence all your other customers and 15 percent of your employees influence the rest of your employees."

If this is the case at IBM, one has to wonder, is it the old guard that's influencing the younger employees, or are the digital natives -- the actual ones -- influencing the old guard? Will a company called "International Business Machines" make business more human, a tenant of social business? Will we see more actual proof that the company practices what it preaches -- an open culture that embraces the tenants of being social? Will we see women next year at IBM Connect? I see these two items -- diversity in company culture and ability to embrace social technologies as directly related. Only time will tell for IBM.