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This is what the master’s students learned about digital networking during their project phase at IBM during the lockdown
“Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, our collaboration with the students started off more challenging than expected. When their practical phase was set to begin, I – their assigned supervisor – was still stuck in Panama and didn’t know when I would get a chance to come back,” says project manager Sarah Seyboth, Cloud Application Consultant, Global Business Service at IBM. Monica Fiorella Guillen Alva and Lucero Barrueto, two master’s students at the TUM School of Management, completed their project phase for the Master in Management & Innovation program as part of Seyboth’s team. This following article will show how they had to cope not only with challenging project work for this global corporation, but also with extreme circumstances resulting from the spread of the coronavirus.
Looking back, Seyboth reports that two things were particularly challenging: enabling the students to work at all and including them in kick-off meetings. In addition, providing the students with the necessary information for their work from a distance was not easy.
IBM operates in a complex and very dynamic market. This, in addition to the technical hurdles due to COVID-19, made it a challenge for the students to work their way into the complex project tasks. “We did not know much about this industry, but we found it so interesting because of how it has been evolving in recent years due to new technologies”, says Alva.
The master’s students’ first task was simply to learn more about IBM by examining the core business and the most important target markets. They also devoted themselves to the work processes, communication channels, and collegial cooperation within IBM in order to gain a realistic insight into the corporate culture – exclusively remotely, of course.
“I tried to keep the program manager and the students up to date by e-mail,” Sarah Seyboth reflects. Additionally, she stayed in touch with her protégés in weekly status meetings via Webex, where the two students got the chance to clarify open questions and report on how far they had progressed with their work.
At the beginning, it was a bit difficult for the two students to find their way into the project and really get a feel for the IBM culture. Nevertheless, they were welcomed with open arms. “The colleagues at IBM trained us as well as they could under the special circumstances, took a lot of time, and made it easy for us to work together virtually,” Barrueto recalls. “Having the experience of working remotely with them, we can say that IBM’s culture is based on trust, constant development, and mutual respect – which might also be one of the reasons for their success.”
The IBM project team was also able to take away instructive insights from the project phase. “It was particularly important for us to get an unbiased view of IBM’s role during our ongoing project phase in which we are rethinking mobility – our Smarter Mobility Lab,” says Seyboth. In particular, the market research and the Business Model Canvas created by Monica Fiorella Guillen Alva and Lucero Barrueto were of great value to the company.
Based on the results, the project team now plans to rethink the structure of the Smarter Mobility Lab. The team has come up with many new ideas on how IBM can position itself in the market and create added value for customers through new services. The management team has now also reviewed the results of the project work and derived a common goal: to use the findings from the collaboration with the TUM School of Management to further develop their business.
IBM’s conclusion was correspondingly positive: “Both students were very engaged and motivated right from the start, quickly familiarized themselves with our Mobility Service business, and brought up applicable solutions in the end,” says Seyboth.
There was also constructive feedback from the students regarding their project phase at IBM: “For me, the most valuable lesson learned was how to get on board quickly with an unfamiliar industry and how to be able to assess the clients in their needs and individual situation, making the solution a custom fit,” says Lucero Barrueto. Monica Fiorella Guillen Alva emphasized how exciting it was to see such a large and traditional company adapting to changes in the market.
The experience that she describes – the ability of companies to change and evolve in challenging times – brings us back to the beginning of this article. The students as well as IBM’s project team had to adjust to unexpected changes due to COVID-19 right from the start. Task assignments, meetings, feedback, everything that comes along with a project phase had to happen at short notice and exclusively remotely. This special situation was undoubtedly a challenge for both parties, but it also showcased one aspect that both IBM and the TUM School of Management exceed at: networking people.
Visual Copyright: Unsplash / wocintechchat
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