Using supply chain principles to deploy employee talent
When IBM reinvented its supply chain in 2002, the driving force behind the decision was to harness the supply chain for a competitive advantage and enable IBM to become the most adaptive and responsive supply chain in the industry. The result accomplished much more by inventing a new on-demand supply chain that integrates end-to-end across the entire company with 45,000 partners, 33,000 suppliers and thousands of clients. As this supply chain transformation occurred, the IBM Company itself evolved as well to new market realities that witnessed tremendous growth in services and consulting engagements.
With these simultaneous transformations it was quickly realized that IBM's supply chain of the future needed to go beyond the management of assets to being able to synchronize supply and demand across all of IBM. The company is now applying its knowledge in orchestrating parts, supplies and products in its supply chain to the strategic goal of deploying human experts and intellectual capital with greater dexterity. The goal: To allocate people resources with the precision and coordination that is already done with physical goods.
Getting Down to Business
The employees that make up an organization are its most vital and valuable asset. When you look closely at the talents and skills of a diverse, global organization you end up with a knowledge base that, if harnessed correctly, can bring a significant competitive advantage. IBM's approach to harnessing the knowledge of its 330,000 employees is based on the same supply chain best practices that were used to run its hardware business. Fundamentally, it's an ecosystem for talent with the objective of getting the right skills to the right place at the right time and do it all in a faster, more efficient way.
This is innovative and a completely different approach, but it is incredibly significant. Today, more than ever before, the distribution of work is becoming more virtualized performed anywhere, at any time. And the real opportunity is for companies to enable new and more efficient ways to manage employee workflow in today's hyper-competitive, virtualized global business environment.
Many large organizations already employ some variation of talent ecosystem or skills database, using e-mail and phone calls and spreadsheets managed by project managers. This may work in small groups, but once it's properly populated using a regimented taxonomy the practice creates a single, common view of company's entire knowledge base that can instantly pinpoint the right employee for any given client opportunity.
The airline industry is a good example of this strategy in practice today. In addition to assets such as planes, fuel and passenger luggage, airlines have to assemble teams of pilots, flight attendants, security guards and maintenance personnel and get them to the right place within very short windows of time. Each employee serves a role that is critical to the success of the flight. For example, you wouldn't want two recent pilot graduates on the same flight from New York to Tokyo. Another good example is the way in which military personnel are deployed.
How to Get Started
Like any large-scale implementation, this demands a top-down approach with a disciplined strategy to match work demands with talent resources.
It sounds rational in theory, but in practice it has its challenges. For example, companies typically don't use the same taxonomy or terminology to describe a job function a manager in Brazil might be called leader in Japan. Within a talent ecosystem the taxonomy is the standard set of definitions employees use to describe job roles, skills and competencies consistently across the organization. Today within IBM, when a job opportunity gets posted, employee skill profiles are matched to these opportunities in a proactive way based on their availability. Eventually, both of these processes will be automated to eliminate any downtime.