By Thetis Tsiakou.
Extreme Blue is the flagship innovation project of IBM Center for Advanced Studies (CAS) and IBM Netherlands for the summer. The selection procedure for 2015 has already finished and we are ready for take-off!
Pierre de Wit and Cees van der Lee are the two main figures behind this program. They devote a lot of time to make this internship program a success. We had the pleasure of interviewing them on their experiences and future plans for Extreme Blue.
How did Extreme Blue start in the Netherlands? What was the initial idea and does it still remain the same?
Cees: The Extreme Blue started in the USA in the 90s to attract top talents to IBM. The initial idea was to have the program run internally, for research challenges. In 2002 it came out in the Netherlands, and for 2 years it was still an internal project. After that it was organized in cooperation with clients, bringing in challenges to be tackled. The Extreme Blue program is a combination of recruiting and bringing IBM’s latest insights and tackle challenges with new ideas and innovation to clients, showing that IBM is not just a software and hardware company, but can take over big projects as well. The ultimate goal is to solve a strategic client challenge a creative and innovative idea into a business solution.
Pierre: So Extreme Blue started in one of our research labs. The idea was to have bright, young fresh minds to work on a research challenge. And the reason behind this, was to avoid all the working patterns you start to develop when you work for a long time in the same environment. Bringing in young students, who think that the sky is the limit, having no boundaries offers a fresh air to your activities. So at some point, we found out about this cool program and we brought it to the Netherlands, applied it here twice internally and then came up with the idea to apply it externally as well. The current idea is to attract students to solve strategic challenges for IBM clients. Every year we improve, change and refine the program. The core idea remains the same, but it is adapted to current needs. For instance, this year we introduced design thinking as the methodology, next year it might be something different.
What is your personal goal regarding EB? What is your aspiration about it?
Cees: I want it to be fun for everybody. The strength of EB is having a fun factor, for the client and the internal organization as well. People get energized because the see young students working on a challenge with the attitude of a conqueror, as if they would reach the sky. Moreover, the level of professionalism and capabilities of the students, for instance their presentation skills are quite amazing. Going back to my personal goal, I would like to connect the Extreme Blue, which represents innovation in the Center for Advanced Studies Benelux, with the research projects. So while tackling a client challenge during Extreme Blue, we are connecting the business solution to our research programs and vice-versa. In that way you have a unique selling point, you serve the community through research and develop the business at the same time.
Pierre: Now, but even when I managed the program in 2010, my single goal was to have impact on all aspects of it; in terms of recruitment, innovation, business and research. In addition, I would like the program to keep on taking place the following years as well and be a priority for the organization. There should be no doubts on whether the program should be continued. The answer is definitely yes.
What does this program offer to students? Why should they participate?
Cees: First of all, Extreme Blue is a great opportunity for students to enrich their professional expertise on a certain domain and develop their capabilities and skills. But most of all, this program is a chance for students to look into the future and to imagine what and where they want to be later in your career. When you are studying sometimes it is hard to visualize that. Extreme Blue can give them insights on the business world. They have the tools to explore a multinational corporation like IBM and its whole community throughout the world. Last but not least, students are currently working with IBM clients through which they can develop themselves professionally and grow their network.
Pierre: There are several reasons. Firstly, students get a deep understanding of what IBM is and where it is heading to. So they get a thorough overview of how we make business. Then, in terms of personal development, I think it is really interesting for students because this internship is not restricted just in one company, but they are working as consultants for an actual client, having the ownership of the challenge and the solution. In addition, the program is multidisciplinary; it includes a huge personal development in terms of soft and hard skills as well. It is a big opportunity and it is fun. It is meant for people who love to be challenged, act on the edges of something and want to get the most out of it. And last but not least, it is a way to get into IBM and pursue a career here.
But there are other stakeholders as well. What can an IBMer or a mentor gain from getting involved with EB?
Cees: Mentors can learn a lot from students. Students who participate in Extreme Blue bring in new insights from an academic and scientific perspective, providing a different point of view on problems. When you work for a long time in an organization, you develop a blind spot, you know only what is going on internally and certain ways of working. Mentors can be challenged and learn from what students bring from the outside world and have enjoy the program through an enthusiastic cooperation with the teams.
Pierre: There’s also something in for mentors. The collaboration with students gives them energy and excitement. It feels like we are doing business development in a fun and light way and brings in inspiration on strategic problems.
This year is quite more special for CAS Benelux and IBM NL. As we know the EB program is going to end with the European Expo hosted in NL. Could you give us some insights about it?
Cees: The European Expo is an important event for IBM NL, CAS and our clients. Every participant has the opportunity to see and understand what IBM is currently working on, what possibilities lie ahead and what developments are made with our innovative products like Bluemix and Watson. Moreover, we can have a look on how other people are working and learn from it.
Pierre: It is a great honor to welcome all the European Extreme Blue teams in Amsterdam. It is always exciting to see what everybody was working on and it represents the end of the program. IBMers have the opportunity to see what is going on in other labs in a tangible way and the same is relevant to clients as well. They get insights on where IBM is heading to in the future.
How can they IBMers contribute to the European Expo 2015?
Cees: Any IBMer can contribute by being there, be curious about it, talk about it and spread the word through their network.
Pierre: They can be part of it and spread the word among their network. They should realize what Extreme Blue and the Expo are, not just an internship and an ending event, but the whole effort regarding innovation and research behind the final outcome. In this way, the can come up with ideas and suggestions.