Steve Lohr, the veteran technology journalist, wrote an insightful feature story in Sunday’s New York Times about IBM. The aged computing giant has discovered “design thinking,” the product-development technique that puts customers first on the way to creating goods and services. Lohr writes that IBM plans to hire 1,100 designers across the company by year-end, on a path to employing 1,500. The goal is to have their methods infuse every aspect of how IBM does business.
Design thinking is all the rage in the corporate world right now, to the delight of its adherents, who have long lamented the ugly, shoddy, product-by-market-analysis approach that prevailed for too long. The best-known design-thinking success story is Apple, where Steve Jobs liked to say that his management team made products they themselves wanted to use—and then obsessed over the details before releasing them to the public. In my new feature story about Nike CEO Mark Parker, Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year, I note that he remains a sneaker designer, a somewhat unusual pedigree for the leader of a company with $30 billion in sales.
What’s important about IBM’s professed commitment to design thinking is what it says about the company’s aspirations to tweak its culture. Lohr presents only two concrete examples of how the influx of designers has manifested itself in products. One is how IBM created a new software platform for a client, the retailer GameStop. The other is a new software platform IBM built quickly from scratch called Bluemix. It is winning fans among software developers.
Still massively profitable, IBM’s growth has stagnated. It feels unlikely that merely by hiring design professionals and turning them loose on the rest of the company IBM can conjure up a new growth engine.
But it might. And one comes away from Lohr’s article thinking that unlike past IBM initiatives—its “smarter planet” sloganeering comes to mind—this project goes far beyond clever marketing. It positions IBM to have a shot at figuring out the future. That’s a lofty and admirable goal.
BITS AND BYTES
Tim Cook: Don't expect Apple to combine iPads and Macs. Microsoft has received rave reviews for Surface Book, its combination tablet/notebook computer, but Apple's CEO doesn't think his company needs to follow. He downplays the hybrid form factor as "diluted," one that compromises too many features. Then again, Cook's comment came during an interview meant to talk up the company's new corporate tablet, iPad Pro. (Independent.ie)
World's biggest drone maker plans first store. China's DJI is opening an 8,611-foot store at a Chinese shopping mall in Shenzhen. The space will be dedicated to selling low-end and high-end drones, along with other gadgets such as robotic selfie sticks. Aside from boosting sales, the move will raise visibility for these technologies among a broader audience. (Wall Street Journal)
Zenefits: We don't need ADP for payroll. Amid reports it won't meet lofty 2015 revenue targets, the aggressive employee benefits startup—last valued at $5 billion—will now handle paying its customers' employees. It has previously relied on partners for this. The startup dreamed up the new service, which is free, after a dispute with payroll giant ADP earlier this year. The two made up in late October, but Zenefits is hedging its bets. (TechCrunch)
Sprint reorganizes sales teams. The wireless carrier is creating four U.S. regions to localize its strategy. Previously, Sprint's sales efforts were organized around the types of services sold, such as prepaid consumer plans or business wireless. The move anticipates Sprint's plan to cut $2 billion in expenses, with layoffs starting in early 2016. (Re/code)
Slack isn't just a chat tool. It might not be quite as sexy as its consumer cousins Snapchat and WhatsApp, but the workplace-chat service Slack is highly thought of by many in the corporate world because it simplifies communication. Some media companies are using it as a full-fledged content management system—that is, a way of collecting, editing, publishing and even distributing the news. (Fortune)
Secrets of Intel's "Super 7" cloud computing customers
There are seven companies whose computing buying power is so impressive they not only get early access to chips that aren’t available to any other customer, they also influence how other corporations are thinking about how they buy everything from chips to servers. Intel calls these companies the "Super 7." In a conversation with Fortune's Stacey Higgingbotham, Diane Bryant—head of Intel’s data center business—explains what these firms are doing and how it trickles down to the mass market of server buyers. (Fortune)
MORE FORTUNE TECH COVERAGE
Xerox has made disintegrating computer chips by Robert Hackett
Here's what Steve Jobs would tell unicorns by Jen Wieczner
Startup CEO loves tech but fears millions will be jobless by Rick Wartzman
Lockheed's Sikorsky acquisition will be a boon for flying robots
by Clay Dillow
Facebook and Apple's news offerings are suffering from growing pains
by Mathew Ingram
Startup tackling unconscious bias raises $7.5 millions in Series A funding by Valentina Zarya
ONE MORE THING
Critics question Facebook's emergency outreach strategy. The social network activated its "safety check" member tracking service during the Paris terrorist attacks—but not for similar attacks one day earlier in Beirut. (Wall Street Journal)
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Heather Clancy: