Inside jStart, Part 2: Turning Ideas into Products
How jStart quickly addresses client needs by leveraging emerging technology
One of the most unique facets of jStart is it's client engagement mission: jStart doesn't seek to champion emerging technologies for the sake of those technologies; instead, the team is focused on championing emerging technologies which fulfill a market need--as determined by it's clients, not by our technologists. Jim Smith, Chief Architect and Manager of jStart's client engagement team, oversees the part of the jStart team that accomplishes that very mission: figuring out what the clients need, how to build solutions that meet those needs, and how to apply those lessons learned to fulfill the needs of our other clients.
An emerging technologies tiger team
So, given that, what kind of person does it take to be a jStart client engagement team member? It turns out that it requires a relatively unique set of skills, but skills that may not be too surprising to find in an emerging technologies team: "Basically, we're a group of innovators but at the same time we like to tinker--we're very inquisitive, we like to take things apart and put them back together. Most importantly, we're keep ourselves very focused on business value--and trying to get technologies into the hands of business users," Jim explained when discussing his team's unique characteristics. "Our team is always looking for something new to learn about, experience, and use for customers. We're looking a year or two down the road, with an eye towards 'how might this technology be useful to solve challenges our clients are experiencing'--especially if we can do that in new and unique ways which provide value to the client in a timely manner."
"Basically, were a group of innovators. We have people that like to tinker--they're very inquisitive, they like to take things apart and put them back together."
Executing on building solutions for today's challenges with tomorrow's technology, however, is, in itself, a challenge. How does jStart do this? Well, the team has a wide diversity of backgrounds--and has a constantly evolving skill set. "We're heavy into software development...every team member has deep experience in building solutions and putting together systems. Add to that the fact that every team member has over 10 years experience working with customers which translates into collectively the team having over 100 years of experiences to pull from. That level of experience gives us a depth of knowledge that, frankly, makes it possible for us to do what we do."
about this series
This is the second in a series of articles about IBM's jStart® team--a team tasked with engaging clients for IBM's Emerging Technologies Group. This year, the team celebrates its 15th anniversary.
The client engagement process
That history of fifteen years has given the jStart team the ability to finely hone it's client engagement process. "When we start working with a client, it usually begins with some sort of a contact--from website, sales team, or we meet someone. We then try to figure out what's the problem they're trying to solve and ask 'how can technology be applied to solve this?' Many times our customers have some idea of technologies, and so that starts the ball rolling. Once we talk with the client and understand what they're needs are and how we might be able to address it, we schedule a workshop where we come up with the business requirements.
Through out the process, the team iterates with the client to make sure the solution addresses the evolving understanding the customer may have of the technology and/or their needs. The length of the cycles of development may vary depending on the particular project and what we're trying to do--in the end, we come up with a solution that we've collaboratively arrived at with the customer--obtaining their 'buy-in' at every stage of the process.