Home > Articles > Business & Management

Innovation: A Program That Works

Mary Jo Frederich and Peter Andrews describe IBM's First-of-a-Kind (FOAK) Program, which promotes innovation that delivers real, profitable business value.
This chapter is from the book

If you were tripping over uncut jewels and precious metal ores, you'd probably find a way to take advantage of it. IBM Research can feel like that some days. In the hallways, you hear conversations about computers that understand natural language, advanced analysis of streaming data, or "green" ideas for reducing power and waste. Around you are people who think for a living, hard at work—taking on intractable problems of securing bank records during disasters, optimizing supply chains, or building systems that can simulate drug interactions. Good things are happening. Exciting things.

But for years, reaching out to the real world for innovation partnerships was not an obvious choice for IBM Research. IBM has always had good, inventive minds at work, helping clients and creating the next generation of essential tools for business and the public sector. But IBM kept the jewels to itself. Researchers (that specialized role emerged in 1945) labored in what seemed to be splendid isolation. They managed to invent the disk drive, random-access memory, FORTRAN, RISC computing, and dozens of other technologies that helped create today's digital world.

Not incidentally, IBM made a lot of money during this period. IBM had first-class questions it needed to answer, and it did not need to look outside for expertise. Almost everything was proprietary, and everything that was needed for a complete solution happened within the company. Besides, IBM Research was modeled after Bell Labs, and the perception was that splendid isolation was both appropriate and necessary. The real world, with its budgets, deadlines, and messy problems, would only distract the best and the brightest. Naturally, there were ideas, problems, and relationships that kept IBM Research relevant. It wasn't a completely closed system, but that was the basic perspective.

Research Partners with the Rest of IBM

IBM Research had few formal ties beyond corporate headquarters until the 1970s. At that time, other IBM divisions were facing significant challenges, and they became restive about making contributions to IBM Research when they weren't getting any immediate benefits. In response to this, so-called "Joint Programs" were established. For the first time, other divisions of IBM, those that built and sold and struggled with client problems, began to directly impact the IBM Research agenda and its funding.

Rather than securing 100% of its budget through the corporation, now IBM Research was allocated only a portion of its annual funding. IBM Research needed to secure the remainder of its funding directly from the IBM brands. This was intended to align a portion of the research work with IBM brand strategies, while still providing IBM Research with the liberty to pursue pure, unconstrained exploration.

This funding model still exists today. Every year, each of the IBM brands allocates a portion of its budget to fund its Joint Program with IBM Research. For every dollar that a brand invests in its Joint Program, IBM Research matches it. This matching-of-funds approach has ensured that IBM Research focuses some of its work on areas strategic to the IBM brands. It also has provided an effective incentive for the brands to invest in their Joint Programs, because it is a mechanism for the brands to increase the number of people working on their products, while providing only half of the funding. Essentially, they get extra help at a discount rate.

With the advent of Joint Programs, a substantial and growing number of IBMers began to work shoulder to shoulder with colleagues from across IBM. The collaboration was deep, with brand division employees working at, and even directing, projects in the research labs. The responsibilities of researchers extended to the products themselves, and it was not unusual for the researchers to move their offices to a manufacturing or development site. And if a product did not come off the line with sufficient quality, or a client had a problem with an offering that a researcher had a hand in, that researcher could be called in. Firefighting and problem resolution became part of the job, and many researchers became familiar with the hotels in Burlington, Poughkeepsie, Endicott, Hursley, and Markham.

In 1993, IBM Research took another step toward becoming more externally focused with the introduction of the Services, Applications, and Solutions (SAS) program. SAS aimed to bring IBM Research expertise and technologies to a much larger number of clients who were struggling with business challenges that had no off-the-shelf solutions.

SAS recognized that researchers lived in the state of the art in many areas of science and technology. If they could apply the very best of what IBM Research had to real-world problems, they could drive significant value for clients and the IBM Corporation.

Beyond generating new revenue for IBM, SAS led researchers to confront many difficult business challenges. It also forced the researchers to think more deeply and creatively about the potential impact of their work beyond the laboratory. Looking back, one can see how SAS and the Joint Programs drove IBM Research to be more vital to IBM by guiding the researchers into areas that they might not have otherwise explored. Figure 1.1 shows the evolution of IBM Research from being internally focused to externally focused.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 IBM Research goes from isolation to ever deeper partnering with other IBM organizations and clients.

Although IBM Research didn't welcome these changes enthusiastically, the cloud had a silver lining. Beyond management questions and economic pressures, it became clear that more and more of the action was happening where people from different organizations worked together. Synergies, new perspectives, and fresh ideas drove advances such as parallel computing, object-oriented software, and everything that came with the advent of the Web. And with few exceptions, success in the marketplace depended on a complex array of partnerships. Today's competitor is always, potentially, tomorrow's collaborator.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020