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FOAK's Distinctive Model for Innovation

On any given day, hundreds of individual projects are under way in IBM Research. It would be misleading to imagine that FOAK is the only route to innovation at IBM. IBM's methodical, tested approaches to developing most of its market-ready offerings remain essential because they reduce risk for both IBM and clients. Many clients either can't afford to take chances or choose not to. They buy the IBM brand, in part, because of a reputation for reliability that has been earned through rigorous development processes.

IBM also goes down exploratory paths in innovation. Some projects are aimed more at new knowledge or proofs of concepts than at creating new products and services. A high percentage of these may never lead directly to bottom-line results, but they provide an essential context and culture for ensuring that innovation occurs at the highest levels. These efforts also add to IBM's credibility and help recruit the best minds.

IBM has many programs that foster client collaboration. It's the combination of clients and researchers applying new technologies and know-how in ways never seen before that makes FOAK client collaborations so different.

The success of a FOAK project takes different forms:

  • Knowledge gained from early in-market experiences with new technologies
  • Development of a working prototype of a solution not yet available in the marketplace
  • Know-how to improve a client's business
  • Software components, methodologies, and tools for reuse in IBM products and services

The program aims to demonstrate market-proven success with the first client so that the innovations can be made available on a larger scale through commercialized offerings from IBM's brands and strategic business partners.

FOAK is intended to exploit the middle ground between risk and potential that often is ignored. The funding, time investment, and contractual requirements are all intermediate. It has as a premise that you can get richer innovation collaboration if you make the trust between partners one of the key criteria for working together. As demonstrated by their investments, the people who take part in FOAK are willing to take measured risks. There is a chance that a FOAK project will not yield value; there are no guarantees. Partners need to have expectations that fit the program—neither so low that commitment is unnecessary nor so high that specific results are demanded. In other words, they need to have the experience in innovation and partnering that allows them to be realistic.

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