My December 13 blog, IBM National Roadmaps: Creating National Workforce Development Strategies, described the process by which IBM works with countries to create national roadmaps—detailed development plans that identify the types of services in which countries, regions, states or cities have the foundation for comparative advantage and the steps that must be taken to realize these plans.
Although these roadmaps provide detailed recommendations and timelines for achieving them, what will prevent the roadmaps from “enjoying” the same ignominious fate of so many other consulting studies?
Two things. First, when the study is a prelude to a potential investment by IBM, the initiative is formalized in a Memorandum of Understanding in which each party commits to defined investments and schedules.
More importantly, IBM has at its disposal a not-so-secret weapon—its University Alliances Program. As discussed in my October 2009 report, IBM’s Effort to Create the Workforce of the Future, IBM has made a huge investment in and is actively partnering with universities. It draws heavily on these relationships to turn its National Roadmap visions into reality.
The Batteries of Nations
IBM sees universities as “the batteries of nations”—the primary vehicles for creating and storing a country’s knowledge. Therefore, it selects clusters of some of each nation’s top research universities and partners with them to help:
- Create the talent required under the roadmap by helping sufficient numbers of students develop the required skills;
- Pioneer the services systems that will insure that the services developed in the nation will be effective, efficient and sustainable in a global services economy; and
- Facilitate the creation of the national infrastructure that will be required for the country to achieve its development goals.
Talent development is the most fundamental of universities goals. IBM’s role is in helping these universities identify the types of skills that will be most required for tomorrow’s jobs, helping them create the curricula for teaching these skills and, where appropriate, volunteer IBM domain experts as advisors or adjunct professors. (See How IBM is Helping Universities Develop 21st Century Workforces for a specific discussion of IBM’s University Alliance program and its talent creation efforts.)
Developing the people required to man a world-class services center is a necessary first step. However, as mentioned, producing service delivery providers (and eventually managers and executives) for these centers provides little real value if the center is not capable of maintaining a long-term advantage relative to other countries with lower cost structures.
IBM, therefore, also helps local universities develop the skills required to design and continually upgrade the processes, technologies and organizational models surrounding the services that will be delivered in the country. It works with these universities to create Services Science, Management and Engineering, or SSME curricula, helps prepare professors to teach and lead research projects around these areas and helps the universities create the type of interdisciplinary research centers required to coordinate and drive research around these systems. And since no university (or even cluster of universities) is an island unto itself, IBM also helps create links among universities in other countries with complementary research focuses.
IBM also helps these universities address the host country’s infrastructure requirements by identifying the region within the country that will be most appropriate for a large service facility—typically an urban center with a critical mass of top universities, talent and the foundations for the required IT, communications and transportation infrastructures.
It helps them identify the infrastructure enhancements that will be required and works with the universities to create research centers (such as around energy, communications or transportation) to focus on these needs. It even participates in programs designed to help countries implement such systems, as with India’s Great Mind Challenge, in which students (under the guidance of professors) donate time to help local governments automate traditionally manual functions.
IBM provides all these services worldwide and uses the same type process for helping design SSME curricula and services centers in all countries, including in the U.S., as for its new Iowa service center.
However, while IBM does appear to have more formalized models than most other companies for handling more of the pieces for helping countries execute on national roadmaps, it is certainly not alone. Many leading management consultancies perform similar analyses for national and regional governments and for corporations. Meanwhile, any large vendor preparing to make the huge investments associated with creating a large service center in a new country or state, will perform similar analyses and establish similar (albeit typically more narrowly focused) alliances with local universities.
Some such studies have even been performed for the U.S. A few have gone beyond studies, generating bi-partisan support and culminating in laws, such as the National Innovation Act of 2006. But given the incredible level of partisan controversy surrounding the last such study and law (The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009), it is unlikely that we will see many more such studies, not to speak of broad-based support of any type of meaningful plan, in the near future.
That’s a shame. While the U.S. is currently preoccupied with the need to create jobs, it appears that in our current state, we will be satisfied with virtually any job. We can worry later about whether that job will yield high value, provide a viable career path or be sustainable in an increasingly global economy and workforce.
Oh well, perhaps it is better not to have a plan. After all, if we don’t have a plan or a specific goal, any path will get us there.