IBM Marketing Chief on How AI is Driving Productivity in the Workplace

IBM’s employees are using generative AI in-house to produce quality results for clients faster, says Jonathan Adashek, head of marketing.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Adashek; Alyssa Powell/BI
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  • IBM aims to be “client zero” for the AI ​​products it sells to customers, said marketing chief Jonathan Adashek.
  • AI has enhanced the work of IBM’s staff and even made its advertising more effective, he said.
  • This story is part of a “What’s Next” series about business leaders’ strategies for workplace productivity.

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As noted, this article is based on a conversation with Jonathan Adashek, senior vice president of marketing and communications and chief communications officer at IBM. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

In April 2020, our CEO Arvind Krishna said that IBM is going to be the leading hybrid cloud and AI company. Whatever we need to do to get to that point must be more productive. It means acquisition, it means division, it means prioritizing some areas of work over others.

A great example in my mind is AI. We have an HR service center here in the company which had about 800 people. Today, there are 60 people in that service center because we were able to automate repetitive root tasks, allowing people to step into more value-adding roles and create a better interface for our clients.

Instead of picking up the phone or emailing someone at a service center, “I need help,” I can go to my AskHR chatbot, and back and forth with the online system, my request takes two minutes. Answered within.

AI needs to augment the work that people are doing. Last year, when Adobe introduced Firefly, a creative generative-AI model, in beta, we were allowed to create an ad for the Masters golf tournament, which we sponsor.

Using Firefly, we had thousands of selects in minutes. We didn’t just take what looked best and move it. We took the time to go through them and put the right words to sit on top of it. It still took a human touch. The bottom line for me was that it was our best performing digital ad of the year. The ad performed 26 times better than IBM’s average paid social benchmarks in terms of driving engagement among key target audiences on

With IBM, we’re going to build a product assistant so marketers and communicators can tell our stories and personalize that content for more audiences and get more versions of those stories.

The way I see AI today, it’s like a big iceberg. There is a glossy shine point that is 20% above water. Everyone is focusing on the consumer-facing application of AI: pick your engine, pick your model.

Then there’s the 80% that’s underwater, and that’s where real change is happening and where productivity is really happening at the enterprise level. For example, we have IBM Watsonx Code Assistant. Using natural language notation, developers can help move from languages ​​like COBOL to Java and deploy code at an increased rate.

There are all kinds of examples within IBM where we want to be “client zero” to make sure how these things work.

Last year in August, we organized the Watsonx Challenge, a week-long hackathon where members from the most senior level of the company to the most junior worked together. Now, 160,000 people are much better skilled at how they use Watsonx, so they can better communicate it to their clients and partners. Several customers have now said, “Can you help us create a challenge like this so we can help do the same?”

Dropping ‘hybrid work’ from the vernacular of returning from the office

I think a lot of things drive productivity in the wrong direction when you don’t get people to focus on the important things and spend more time on the good stuff.

Take events. Historically, we could go into certain events year after year, but let’s take a step back. Do we need to go to these events? Is our client really there? Or don’t we need to go and spend the same amount of money, all those resources, ready for it all the time, and instead focus on three or four or five others to get us the way we need to go? Is? As a 100% business-to-business company, is a consumer show as important to us as showing at a location where we have retailers, for example?

A lot of the process stuff we’re working on internally in the company is making sure we’re getting simpler and more agile.

IBM has always embraced a hybrid workplace and given people flexibility. This is important, but there is no substitute for face-to-face, in-person support.

I dropped the concept of “hybrid work” from my vernacular a while ago because it means one thing to me, something else to you and something else to someone else. What we’re trying to say is: Be more intentional about what you’re doing in the office.

We stipulate that all managers and executives in the marketing function are in the office three days a week, but I give the flexibility to decide when.

Intention helps. People are scheduling meetings and doing various activities that work these days to get the value of being in the room. It helps people better understand each other’s work style and thought process and allows people to make decisions quickly.

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