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FOAK Proof Points

The goal of FOAK is simple and has remained consistent since its inception in 1995: to deliver innovative technologies and thought leadership to the marketplace. By accomplishing this goal, the research labs at IBM can generate opportunities for growth for IBM and its clients.

Is it working? The question isn't academic. Investments, careers, and credibility are at stake. While FOAK is far from the only path for externally influenced innovation—acquisitions and mergers bring new products and services into IBM and its clients' business regularly—FOAK is a serious initiative, intended to be an important route to innovation.

FOAK is an important bet from a public relations and client relationship point of view as well. If the program does not deliver thought leadership, the IBM brand—currently worth $59 billion—is put at risk.

Finally, recognizing and acting on emerging opportunities and challenges is what creates the future. If FOAK does not provide a means of identifying, understanding, and responding to change in the world, IBM will not be taking advantage of the chances that come its way to develop and grow. FOAK itself continues to change, expanding the range of disciplines it involves itself with and reaching ever further into different organizations and cultures to find the best talent and ideas. For example, the program has seen a 60% increase in the amount of FOAK activity in the growth markets, reflecting the change in global markets, such as China and India.

Luckily, there is plenty of evidence that FOAK is working in an effective and productive manner. Here's a small sample:

  • One FOAK project, MASTOR, achieved near-real-time translation for the military in combat zones. According to Admiral Edmund Giambastiani, Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "This type of technology can help to improve communication for U.S. and coalition personnel with Iraqi citizens and aid organizations serving in Iraq."1
  • In the Middle East, a FOAK project is helping to better predict and avoid the spread of pandemics. Public Health Information Affinity Domain (PHIAD) is a standards-based, interoperable infrastructure that leverages IBM inventions to enable scientists and public health officials to query clinics, hospitals, lab systems, and other stakeholders for anonymous data, categorized by disease. They can then create and use models of infectious diseases to paint a picture of the health of a population with real-time information.2
  • With end-of-life legislation and recycling requirements becoming effective worldwide, a Japanese automaker needed a better way to track parts from their creation to their ultimate disposal or recycling. Researchers worked with the firm to create a global parts traceability system framework and data architecture (TraceSphere) to enable distributed, accurate, and dynamic bill-of-materials tracking throughout the entire vehicle life cycle. As a result, the client can comply with new laws while reducing its manufacturing costs and improving quality levels and customer satisfaction.

Of course, the value provided to clients does not tell the whole story. IBM also benefits from the solutions it creates for its clients. For example, a scheduler that balances workloads and allocates resources for a bank can find uses in other firms. A framework that combines requirements for engineering, conceptual design, and analytical models for a carmaker may be beneficial for IBM manufacturing. A security solution that uses analytical tools to index digital video recordings and issue real-time alerts for a government agency may find its way into a retail or educational environment.

In each case, IBM builds relationships and gets a better understanding of how banks, manufacturers, governments, and other organizations work, and what they may need next. These relationships are key to building the trust necessary to open the door for new partnerships and megadeals. Understanding the industry provides an important way to prepare for what is coming in the future and to be ready with the next solution.

This specific know-how is useful for many IBM endeavors that go forward long after a FOAK project has finished its last task. Just as valuable to IBM are the contacts and trusting relationships that are established through successful implementation of a new and challenging solution.

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