The Initiative, which applies what the company learned about logistics over its decades as a computer hardware manufacturer to its human assets, has already become much more efficient, saving IBM $500 million. It has also improved productivity. In February, for example, a health-care client needed a consultant with a clinical background. The system almost instantly targeted Lynn Yarbrough, a former registered nurse -- a search that would have taken more than a week in the old days.
But the Initiative's greatest impact may be its ability to help managers analyze what skills staffers possess and how those talents match up to the business outlook. The goal is to train people ahead of anticipated changes. This year IBM will spend $400 million of its $750 million employee-education budget on instructing people in the skills it thinks will be hot in the future.