IBM's approach to innovation has evolved with the times. Originally, the IBM Research division operated as a separate entity, patterned after Bell Labs. Competitive and economic pressures led to its collaborating with other IBM divisions in the form of highly successful Joint Programs that included a new funding mechanism. The emergence of the SAS program upped IBM Research's ante in the growth areas of the '90s, and the FOAK program was a natural extension of this outreach, which connected researchers with S&D and its clients. This became a catalyst to further transform the culture of IBM Research and a powerful way to take advantage of IBM Research's assets to show leadership, build mindshare, create new markets, solve client problems, and deepen relationships.
Engaging with a wider world provided an important step forward, but the journey was just beginning. In 2001, IBM shifted its solution strategy. This made a large portion of the projects that FOAK grew up on irrelevant. The FOAK Board needed to respond to this first by retrenching and then by taking a new look at the kinds of projects that might make sense. As difficult as this challenge was, however, the FOAK Board used that moment of transformation to take on persistent problems around guidance of FOAK, clarity of goals and roles, alignment with sponsoring organizations, client expectations, commercialization, and measurement.
Today, the FOAK program's management system is in a continuous state of transformation. Early each year, the FOAK Board meets to discuss program improvements and alignment with IBM's strategic initiatives and priorities. Additionally, time is allocated during each Board meeting to discuss what is working with the program and what is not so that the processes can be tweaked and tuned throughout the year.
FOAK has many successes it can build on. The examples provide inspiration and guidance for innovators. They also are a ready set of proof points for new partners and IBM sponsors. Through planning, adaptation, and a bit of trial and error, FOAK has put together a pathway that supports succeeding time and again. We'll explore Phase I of the FOAK process in Chapter 2.