One of the little known secrets at IBM, and no doubt part of the secret sauce behind its transformational shift to software and services, is its reusable asset initiative.
IBM captures unique software assets that have been used for decades in client engagements and makes them easily accessible to more than 30,000 IBM software developers and services consultants who are focused on developing client solutions in every industry around the world. This approach has enabled IBM to differentiate itself with industry clients.
"Clients require a customized approach but still benefit from the reuse of high-quality, hardened assets. Developers have different experiences and expectations about how they should develop code and therefore benefit from community interaction," said Julie King, distinguished engineer at IBM Software Group.
Over the last few years, IBM has quietly created a global team of hundreds of software and services experts whose sole mission is creating reusable pieces of code, which IBM refers to as assets. IBM has marshaled its legion of software developers and researchers around the world to create software building blocks that help services practitioners assemble complete industry client solutions. These developers have close relationships with other IBMers in the field to ensure that the code meets actual customer needs.
But IBM's effort to build a reusable software base for the services business involves a lot more than just writing code. The initiative requires that services practitioners profoundly change the way they operate-that they abandon the habit of doing everything from scratch every time. This resulted in an extensive and ongoing companywide campaign that has quite literally changed the culture of service delivery. IBM built a portal-a kind of "iTunes" for assets-that allows practitioners to find what they need fast and download it.
"Solutions that are created from existing assets have a significantly higher gross profit than those built from scratch-meaning cost savings passed on to the customer-and at the same time customers receive software with hardened components that have already proven themselves in the real world," King said. "For example, code that enables bank customers to open new accounts or allows telecommunications companies to process customer orders."
Today, more than 31,000 developers are accessing and reusing more than 35,000 software assets available in IBM's portal with an average of 4,000 downloads of code per week. In addition, in the last three years, there have been more than 3,000 instances of direct reuse of shared code components coming from its internal repository.
Moving forward, IBM will be investing even more in assets like those from the recent acquisitions of SPSS and Cognos, with particular focus around analytics software that uses algorithms to provide insight into a wide range of business processes.