IBMers illuminate new ideas based on Watson

The Cognitive Build: Igniting innovation in the cognitive era

Knowing where to get started in developing a cognitive strategy is half the battle. IBM created the Cognitive Build program to immerse its employees into the nuts and bolts of how to develop products and services in the cognitive era. To explain the objectives, mechanics, outcomes, and overall significance of the Cognitive Build, IBM has released a report entitled “Enterprise innovation in the cognitive era: Igniting cultural transformation for the future of work.” The report takes a look at this innovative experiment to describe how it came about and what lessons it offers to leaders seeking to bring their organizations into the cognitive era — lessons about technology, strategy, process, and culture.

How it all got started

Because cognitive computing has the potential to transform the way enterprises do business, IBM has already defined steps that will take organizations into the cognitive era. Internally, IBM wanted to make sure that its employees had the opportunity to engage in the cognitive experience. Last year, the company launched a social collaboration project “Cognitive Build,” which was open to every employee globally. This program was designed to supply the tools so that employees and leaders could take on disruption and adopt new work methods. The idea was to provide them with a collaborative initiative that would innovate new ideas, give them a hands-on learning experience and create a more engaged workforce. The project showed that what worked for IBM could work for other enterprises engage their employees in the cognitive era.

Almost all IBMers participated in Cognitive Build, helping 20,000 colleagues collaborate on nearly 3,000 cognitive start-up projects.

The goals of Cognitive Build were to:

  • Broaden IBMers’ knowledge about the power of cognitive computing
  • Equip them to build real solutions to business problems
  • Accelerate the cultural and operational transformation of IBM itself into a cognitive business

The groups in the Cognitive Build program, received guidance from cognitive experts around the company, developed their ideas over a three-month period and applied cognitive tools to bring their concepts to life. The whole company participated in an internal virtual crowdfunding exercise that built awareness for the newly developed ideas. The teams that received the most support were invited to expand upon their prototypes and pitch them to a panel of senior executives.

“It’s a ‘Do Tank’, not a ‘Think Tank.’ — Ginni Rometty, IBM CEO

The “Build” was an enormous artificial intelligence hackathon that began in 1Q with an event and winners selected in the second quarter. IBM believes it may have been the largest AI hackathon ever held.

The report goes on to outline the five stages of the Cognitive build initiative: learning about cognitive computing and its potential (Prepare), collaboration and generating ideas (Team), agile development and design thinking (Build), and the final phase (Launch) where the winning teams pitched their ideas at a global pitch event in Austin.

Prepare: Learning about cognitive computing

In order to bring the Cognitive Build process to life, to understand how cognitive technology works, as well as the concepts needed to achieve successful outcomes. Cognitive Build’s teams used IBM’s cloud-based learning platform to prepare more than 185,000 IBMers for each phase of the “Build.”

The report continues to outline the team building and build phases of the Cognitive Build process.

Team: Bringing people and ideas together

After the Prepare phase, IBM employees were encouraged to come up with ideas in one of three key areas:
• Bringing cognitive capabilities to client opportunities
• Infusing cognitive into products and services
• Transforming IBM’s processes with cognitive

IBM made it easy to get started which proved to be a critical factor I the Build’s success. Any IBMer could register or join a team.

Build: Applying agile and design thinking

Initially, 8,361 ideas were collected during the Team phase, 3,924 teams felt confident to take their ideas to the next level and submit them to cognitive experts for feasibility reviews. Cognitive experts consisted of the company’s technical leadership community to assist teams in refining their ideas.

Teams applied design thinking and agile methodologies to reimagine everything from virtual reality data visualization to IoT solutions to an app that visualizes and tracks what you eat. Of the top 50 teams, 11 of them were led by designers.

At the conclusion of the Build phase, the teams refined their ideas and proceeded to the Invest phase.

Invest: Crowdfunding the best ideas

IBM colleagues could express their support through the company’s internal Kickstarter-like program, called iFundIT, where IBM employees get to vote on which employee-led projects IBM should pursue. Each IBMer was allocated $2,000 of virtual currency to “invest” in what they thought were the most valuable projects. Overall, more than 225,000 IBMers invested $291 million virtual dollars in their favorite ideas.

Launch: Pitching the prototypes

The last phase of the Cognitive Build, Launch, culminated with a pitch fest where 50 semi-finalists were given three weeks, and all the tools and resources they needed to build their prototypes. They were guided by technical and business experts coaching them on everything from finalizing business plans, to creating compelling presentations to pitch their projects to executives.

The eight finalists presented their ideas to a panel of clients and senior business leaders, chaired by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty. After a nerve-wracking pitch fest, three teams emerged as winners of the Cognitive Build Global Outthink Challenge. You can find out more about these winners in the report.

What this all means

Cognitive Build was a catalyst for both creative thinking and new ways of working throughout IBM. The “Build” helped employees learn about new ways of working, and the emerging technologies driving IBM’s strategy. It is making a marked difference in how IBM operates. Many employees have continued working on ideas in their spare time, and IBM has a dedicated Cognitive Build community and project office to celebrate team successes and help them make progress.

Thirty Cognitive Build teams showcased their projects at the World of Watson event last October in Las Vegas. From an automated cognitive meeting minutes tool (the TERMINUTER app) to a new way to visualize data using virtual reality (ViDA) these projects were presented in a demo space at the event.

IBM is continuing to evolve the program by rolling out the Watson Build for partners and other companies. They will have the opportunity to learn about cognitive computing, augmented intelligence, and new ways of working in the cognitive era.

Read the full report: