The Unexpected Career

In the Spring of 2015, I happily and successfully earned my master’s degree in Computer Science from Monmouth University, New Jersey, USA. That moment was so special to my parents back home in Saudi Arabia because I was the first member amongst my family and relatives to earn a master’s degree. Typically, in Saudi Arabia, those who pursue top educational degrees will have better chances to find stable job opportunities. Those stable job opportunities can ensure being in the comfort zone for a long time. Therefore, the typical goals of getting married, having kids, and building the one and only owned house can be achieved faster and easier. Applying for a PhD in Computer Science was the ultimate goal that I have always wanted to achieve because of the continuous knowledge that I would gain and the academic life I would live. However, I had zero experience in the work environment and I needed to support my educational achievement with some job experience to expedite joining a company or a university after earning the PhD in the future. In the fall of 2015, I found my dream job in my beloved city at a well-known petrochemical company in Saudi Arabia. This dream job was the reason I delayed applying for the PhD because I thought it was the time, at the age of 28, to start the expected typical life alongside my goal to serve in the city where I grew up. At the same time, the IT job experience that I have gained in the petrochemical environment was great and provided me with great knowledge. It allowed me to join graduate programs, participate in shadowing rotations, participate in the International Toastmasters, manage industrial tools, and develop customized applications using different platforms. On the other hand, I was developing my skills in a routine work environment that might have led to a linear career growth due to the company objectives in the petrochemical environment. For example, the petrochemical environment might have provided wider directions and career positions to the chemical, electrical, industrial, and mechanical engineers than the IT engineers.

After one year, the unexpected career has knocked on the door to pull me out from the routine job environment. I was nominated to join the CbD (Consultant by Degree) program at IBM. I have always assumed that IBM is a company that was in the business of selling research results, advertisements, software, and hardware solutions. Therefore, joining such a company would require a decent number of years of experience and qualifications in the research, marketing and sales fields. In addition, traveling to the United States where IBM is headquartered will be a necessity to join such a great company. However, IBM has opened its office in Saudi Arabia and successful people have been able to join the company. The decision to join IBM MEA in Saudi Arabia was the transformation point in my life because of the unexpected IT career path and the offered learning resources and opportunities to gain knowledge and certificates including the IBM technological innovations, such as IBM Bluemix, IBM Design Thinking and Agile, and IBM Watson. These innovations do not only serve employees with an IT background, but they successfully give great chances to other professionals to progress in the future. In the CbD program at IBM MEA, I have been allied with awesome technical and mechanical engineers, salesmen, saleswomen, designers, and business administrators.

After completing one year at IBM MEA, I have realized that my goal of gaining job experience needs more than one great company to understand different types of job cultures, colleagues, locations, educational materials, and job roles. In my first year at IBM, specifically the CbD program, I have gained experience in different fields that might need five years in other well-known companies. For example, my job role has changed from an analyst to a consultant, which opened the doors for me as a consultant to climb the ladder to be a professional in different areas, such as strategy, digital, analytics, technology, and communication. In addition, I got a chance to explore other cultures from different countries, such as Pakistan, India, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, America, Canada, and Egypt. Now one year has passed and there is another amazing year left to graduate from the CbD program and I will blog about it with a great honor.

Sameer W Mulla



Being Agile (Part 1 – Foundation)

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.[1]

Being agile is being mindful. Mindful of the present (Openness); Mindful of those around you (Empathy/Respect); Mindful of uncertainty and fear (Courage); Mindful of the underlying goodness of every moment (Trust).[2]

Agile Values

What are your values?

Being agile is built on five core beliefs.

Respect: The backbone of agile teams. Without respect then everything else falls apart. Respect is the glue that holds everything together.

Openness: The limbs of agile teams. What is your body language like? Are you accepting of others, their faults, their quirks, their ideas, their values? Being open means sharing, collaborating, smiling, being curious.

Trust: The gut of agile teams. The more vulnerable you are the more people trust you. If you put yourself out there then you will be able to build more trust. Oxymoronic, right? When you give off an air of invulnerability then you become unapproachable, less human thus you create a barrier for others to trust you.

Courage: The heart of agile teams. Our values are not just the values we believe and practice as individuals but the values we walk past. If we see a lack of trust or disrespect happening around us and walk past it then that becomes our value. We must be prepared as individuals and teams to overcoming the uncomfortableness  and call out disrespect, lack of trust, close mindedness and that takes courage.

Empathy: The eyes and ears of agile teams. Are we engaged listeners? Do we see with compassion? Instead of judging the things others are not good at we can instead help people to learn the things that we are good at.[3]

Agile Principles

What are your principles?

Being agile builds on top of the five values by establishing 3 key principles.

Clarity of Outcome: The clear outcome is your north star. Let it guide you; align your team towards it. Remember a clear outcome focuses on the customer and business value.

Iterate: Listen, iterate, learn, think, and course correct. Be lean, fast, adaptable, and flexible. Do not worry about perfect, it does not exist rather strive for continuous improvement.

Unleash innovation: Empower your teams to be self-directed and create a culture of collaboration. You will become more flexible, fault tolerant and innovative this way. You never know where that next brilliant idea will come from.

Imagine the 3 principles as light (clarity of outcome), earth (iterate), and water (unleash innovation). Imagine yourself as a plant. The light helps you grow straight and upright. The earth helps you stay grounded and spread your roots deep and wide. The water will nourish you so that you will eventually produce delicious low hanging fruits that will benefit others.

Agile Practices

What are your practices?

Being agile provides a toolbox of practices that can help guide and align teams to the values and principles. You pick and choose the right tool that is most suitable for the job at hand.


Figure 1: Kanban Board One of The Agile Practices.[4]


A Japanese teaching on how you learn a technique.

The idea is that a person passes through three stages of gaining knowledge[5]:

  • Shu: Follow. The student follows the process as described with no focus on the underlying theory.
  • Ha: Break. The student begins to branch out. She starts to adapt to make the process better, learning from other sources and integrating that learning into her practice.
  • Ri: Transcend. The student isn’t learning from other people, but from her own practice. She creates her own approach and adapts what she’s learned to her own context.

Stage 1: Focus on concrete steps to imitate.

Stage 2: Focus on understanding principles and branching out.

Stage 3: Transition into self-directed innovation.

Being agile will enable you to maximize your abilities and to produce top notch quality on time. It will remove the shackles that have chained you, slowed you down, and dampened your creativity.

Best regards,
Wisam Al Abed
(Reviewed by Gráinne Dolan and Amira Elias)



IBM Agile Academy Training

[1] Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Available at: [Accessed: 28 Nov, 2016]

[2] Babauta, Leo. The Path of Fearlessness. Available at: [Accessed: 28 Nov, 2016]

[3] Updates to the Scrum Guide – The 5 Scrum values take center stage. Available at: [Accessed: 8 Dec, 2016]

[4] Harel, Shirly Ronen. Power of Sticky Notes. Available at: [Accessed: 28 Nov, 2016].

[5] Fowler, Martin. ShuHaRi. Available at: [Accessed: 29 Nov, 2016].

The “thing” in Banking: from electric shock to counting steps

Imagine a wrist band that gives you a real electric shock if you overspend. Sounds scary? Sounds too intense? Sounds like something you wouldn’t try?

This wrist band is the latest technology developed by digital financial solution company Intelligent Environment, who claims to be the first company in the financial sector to apply IoT in banking.

Here is how this “shocking” IoT banking platform works.

1) Consumers log into their credit card or bank account.

2) They connect their device (which is a wrist band developed by Pavlok) and set a spending limit.

3) When users are on the verge of reaching the limit, their phone will display a notification informing them that they are about to overspend.

4) If users go over their limit, Pavlok will deliver an electric shock to their wrist (of course one can set the intensity of the shock from a scale of 0-10).

Now, imagine you are a die-hard shopaholic, would you not be interested in trying out this wrist band, which might help you break your old habit and get your personal finances back on track?

Pavlok might be an extreme example of how IoT could fundamentally shape the way people manage their finance, but it serves the purpose of highlighting the importance of IoT as a disruptive force.

Payments is no doubt the first child of IoT and Banking. One prominent example in the market is: Groceries by MasterCard – an IoT application available with Samsung Family Hub Refrigerators. The story is not new:

You stand in front of your smart refrigerator, which has sensors that can easily detect whether you need another gallon of milk for your family. Groceries by MasterCard integrates with FreshDirect or ShopRite e-commerce platform and orders the groceries for you automatically and effortlessly. There is no longer the need to open the fridge to check each item manually and then run to the grocery store to purchase them. How would you pay? The actual payment is, of course, made from MasterCard, which goes through NFC technology served by Coin, an official MasterCard partner who brings payment to a wide variety of fitness bands, watches, and smart wearable devices.

Samsung is not the only digital giant who is eyeing IoT payment. Amazon Dash Button and VISA have also been building payment capabilities into everyday items.

Application of IoT in banking will no doubt produce data – massive amounts of data – and it is up to us to find a smarter way to analyze these real-time contextual customer engagement dots, irrespective if they are structured or unstructured.

Below are my own takeaways from existing research:

  1. Banks cease to be the sole partner in people’s financial life. There are manufacturers who need to be engaged and prepared – no matter if it is furniture, phones, wearables or geo-locators. All devices need to be smart in collecting data and taking smart actions. Why? If the device is not well-maintained or has the wrong attributes, the level of data collected will not help banks achieve the level of personalization that will delight its customers.
  2. Secondly, data analytics must be integrated at scale so that the customer journey is not just wishful thinking. By analyzing data collected from numerous devices and sensors, banks need to figure out who the customers really are, what products they prefer, and their lifetime value. For example, if the fridge has smartly figured out that the customer needs to purchase milk, banks also need to know which card and loyalty program customers prefer to use. In other words, banks should not rely on data collected from a few traditional channels, but aggregate all inputs to portray a complete customer persona that is unique to that customer.
  3. Security is a diehard concern for banks. One of the risks in IoT banking that has been brought up is the level of authentication and authorization needed when engaging a customer. However, I tend to agree with another school of thought, which believes that IoT will serve as a game-changer for banks to KYC customers. How? With devices that easily identify someone’s biometrics, customer’s onboarding becomes completely digital, secure, and frictionless.

In conclusion, with the right device in the right context, banks cease to be a distant figure that exists only in branch or on a smart phone, but in people’s everyday life. IoT banking will allow banks to obtain a new level of understanding of the needs of both consumer and business clients, reaching a new level of customer intimacy.

Author: Shuyao Kong


Reviewed by Wisam Al Abed

IBM Design Thinking

Good design is good business.” – Thomas Watson, Jr.

Despite commonly known, design is not just about appearance. Design is a method of problem solving.

Designer Richard Seymour defined design as ‘making things better for people’ during the Design Council’s Design in Business Week 20021. This statement emphasizes the human centricity of design. Good design begins with understanding the user. If a design does not meet user’s need -despite how beautiful it is- it does no good.

Putting an emphasis on design helps businesses to create valuable product and services. The Design Management Institute’s 2014 results showed that over the last 10 years, design-led companies have outperformed the S&P by 219%2.

Design Thinking

The importance of design has resulted in development of “design thinking” as an innovative way of thinking and working. Design thinking is a human centric, design-based approach for creating solutions. It integrates the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.3

The typical approach for design thinking has four steps:

Understand: Understanding and developing empathy for users.

Explore: Generating potential solutions for users’ problems.

Prototype: Transforming ideas into concrete experiences.

Evaluate: Evaluating and deciding whether to move forward with an idea or generate alternative solutions.

Figure 1: Standard Design Thinking Model

The standard Design Thinking model was too linear for the needs of IBM and our clients, where continuous innovation is paramount. In order to adapt the methodology to fulfill enterprise needs on speed and scale, IBM enhanced the current methodology and created IBM Design Thinking.

IBM Design Thinking

IBM Design Thinking is created for understanding people’s needs, forming intent and deliver outcomes at speed and scale.

The first principle of IBM Design Thinking is focusing on the most important user outcomes. User is team’s main guide all the time in any phase of a project. Second principle is to have a multidisciplinary team with business, design and technology capabilities in order to collaborate fast and smart. The third principle is to restlessly reinventing by treating everything as a prototype. Ongoing simulation of the user experience by prototyping is key to continuous evaluation of the success of the design.

In order to reflect an agile and continuous delivery mindset, IBM Design Thinking has been established in a Loop model. It is a continuous loop of observing user, reflecting with the team and making the ideas real for user.

Figure 2: Continuous Loop of IBM Design Thinking
  • In the Observe stage team get to know user, user’s needs and success measures. Observe also consists testing ideas with user at each step of the project.
  • In the Reflect stage team understand the capabilities of the team and their stakeholders. The team aligns on their purpose and things learned in the Observe stage.
  • The Make phase is giving form to ideas and realizing the ideas that makes user’s life much more easier and experience much more better.

Teams practicing IBM Design Thinking knows that it is better to start early on giving form to ideas in order to see shortcomings and obtain feedback from user for improving the concept.

In order to deliver meaningful user outcomes and scale the Loop to even more complex business environments, IBM Design Thinking enables complex teams to align on the most important user outcomes, bring stakeholders into loop and work with real users in the project (Sponsor Users) to stay true to real world needs.

For more information on IBM Design Thinking, please visit our official website for IBM Design Thinking.

Client Delivery of IBM Design Thinking

Leaders, project teams and companies can leverage IBM Design Thinking to develop breakthrough solutions and gain competitive advantage in this digital era of empowered users.

IBM Interactive Experience (IX) is the client delivery team for IBM Design Thinking. IBM IX team designs and develops experiences with clients using IBM Design Thinking approach and its design artifacts. One example is the partnership with Peru’s largest bank Banco de’ Credito. The bank redesigned their end-to-end web presence utilizing IBM Design Thinking. Another example is partnership with Citi group. Citi group designers and developers were educated with IBM Design Thinking in order to provide responsive design for its applications. As a result, the bank successfully provided exemplary user experience across its applications.

If you wish, you can have more information about IBM IX and contact IBM IX team from here.


IBM Design Thinking University
IBM Design Thinking for GBS Internal Community
1 What is design. Retrieved from
2 The Value of Design – Design Management Institute. Retrieved from
3 About | IDEO. Retrieved from


About The Author

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I am a CbDer from 2015 batch in Turkey, who leads the establishment of the MEA CbDer Thought Leadership program. This is my first thought leadership article and it gives me great pleasure to be one of the authors and to share expertise on an interest topic that I feel strongly about.

My interest in IBM Design Thinking stems from the IBM Design Bootcamp I participated in last year at IBM Dubai. Since then, I have been trying to improve my understanding of the methodology by doing research and applying regularly on my projects. I desire to grow my experience on this topic and to become an IBM Design Thinking coach.

Digital Transformation of Sports Sponsorship

Digital marketing has had a gigantic impact on almost every industry. Whilst not instantly apparent, the impact that the digital revolution has had on sports is vast. From advertisers connecting with fans, to the use of online channels – digital powers every aspect of fan engagement. Sponsorship is at the heart of this new paradigm since it directly touches fans. To establish a strong connection between a brand and its fans, sponsorship has to have the correct digital glue. IBM has developed a new approach for creating digital sponsorship and engaging effectively with fans.

This article focuses on the experience of one of our client’s digital transformation of sponsorship experiences.

Our client – a denim producer, was sponsoring an ATP World Tour 500 tennis tournament. An event in Germany in which globally ranked top tennis players attend annually. As one of the main sponsors, our client wanted to differentiate its brand among the other sponsor brands. They wanted to shift away from traditional way of sponsorship to one based on value-add and engagement.

IBMs solution centered on socialcommand-center media strategy and analytics wit
h an aim to increase brand a
wareness among fans and to enhance engagement on all social channels throughout the tournament.The traditional approach of placing logos around the court does not bring actionable impact and measurable outcomes. We suggested that they replace the logos with a dedicated brand hashtag. To support the use of the hashtag, IBM set up Social Walls on two large led-screens around the stadium allowing fans to see their posts live and contribute to social conversations.

IBM also set up an analytical dashboard in the press area in order to empower the press with real-time analytics – such as the most used hashtags, most talked topics and most discussed tennis players during the day. At the end of each day, the client and the press received the social media report of the day to share on their news outlets.


In order to extend the fan engagement outside the stadium and stream the pulse of the tournament across geographies, IBM launched a responsive website, which became the “fan’s emotion hub”. Fans all around the world could see social media conversations, photos, videos of other fans along with tournament insights and live scores.



This work led to unique client success story showing how the physical world met the digital world. It allowed a tailored fan experience and extended community engagement. In only ten days, the tournament reached more than 240 million impressions. Unsurprisingly, the most discussed tennis player throughout the tournament was Roger Federer.


Regards – Vedya Daron


Call Center CRM Switch-Over Best Practices

Solutions have been around for more than two decades which constitute a central repository of customer information supporting customer interactions from submitting complaints, to taking orders and answering requests for information.  There naturally, comes a time when those call center assets need to be upgraded in favor of newer more capable CRM platforms. For those critical upgrades, it is essential to carefully develop a switchover strategy that focuses on three main axes: Implementation, Skills, and Data.

Call centers constitute a major customer communication channel for many organizations.  In 2015, 68% of all communications for contact centers was done through the telephone.  In modernizing such an environment it is crucial that these organizations empower their call center agents with the right tools (skills, systems and processes) to provide positive client experiences and drive customer satisfaction.

Before designing CRM process flows, it is important to shadow the call center agents in order to understand how they work on their legacy system. This helps considerably in crafting a solution that fits specific call center agents’ needs and eases their day to day work.  Whilst meeting management expectations is important, it is these frontline staff that make the difference in customer interactions and their expectations should not be taken for granted – no matter how simplistic they may seem.

Different call centers have different preferences when it comes to handling calls, cases and customers. Thus, call center specific preferences and culture are an important factor to be taken into account.  An assumption which may be taken as a given from a consultant’s perspective may be judged obsolete by key stakeholders. Therefore, frequently aligning with stakeholders on requirements and specifications is critical. This is even more pointed for upgrades than for green field CRM implementations.

CRM transactions are repeated hundreds if not thousands of times per day. Thus, after design a projects team must focus on testing.  There are three types of intensive testing to ensure a stable environment after go-live:

  • Test lab simulations
  • Integration tests
  • Stress testing

Test lab simulations involve setting up a dummy call center and serve as an infrastructure base for stress and integration tests. A stable solution is the cornerstone of successful end-user adoption as is properly structured end-user training.

In more than any CRM implementation type, call center agents require carefully designed training sessions to build the necessary to allow them to use the available tools to provide positive customer experiences. Agents must use the system extensively starting at go-live, it is thus necessary to build those skills early.

Training sessions should be designed for small groups of users at a time, scheduling significant hands-on time with applications, and based on the scenarios encountered in their daily work. This would allow customer agents to be ready to use the system independently, reducing the required hand holding time.  In addition, a capable work force mitigates risks that a system upgrade might have on customer satisfaction during the switchover – likely the most delicate phase of the implementation.

Since many call centers commit to 24/7 support to customers, downtime is often not an option. In order to maintain that service level, typical measures taken at switchover include:

  • Switchover during a weekend afternoon where the activity is lowest to minimize impact of an unexpected downtime


  • Gradual switchover from the legacy system to the new CRM solution. Start the switchover with one workstation. After approval from the key stakeholders, gradually switch to the new CRM system on the remaining workstations with the possibility to quickly revert back to the legacy system if needed.


  • If a third party vendor is involved in the implementation, which is often the case for the call handling solution, their presence is a must during the switchover.


  • Finally, continuous 48 hour ground shadowing to ensure the system is running smoothly during which the agent’s questions can be answered.

No matter how successful the switchover, if the data is not properly migrated the agents would not be able to leverage the full benefits of the CRM.  Upgrading a call center solution is frequently an opportunity to engage the business in cleansing years of customer data records, standardizing phone number formats, and cleaning up unusable or unrecognizable customer records.

For a successful CRM system upgrade in a call center, a proper strategy has to be developed around three key focus areas:

  • the implementation that results in a stable system which meets expectations and is easy to use,
  • the skills that empower agents and enable them to make use of the tools developed
  • the underlying CRM data that will support transaction execution and generate meaningful business insights

Statistics show that there is as much as a 60% failure rate for CRM implementations mainly related to user adoption issues. Those who follow a carefully designed execution strategy as outlined will reduce their chances of failure drastically.

– Joseph Khair El Kareh


Public Sector CRM Strategy Considerations

Citizens are expecting more out of their interactions with governmental entities. Advances in the quality of services provided by the competitive private sector has raised expectations when dealing with governmental entities. Service consumers expect to be served through multiple channels with ever-shortening durations. They are expecting private sector like experiences when dealing with the public sector. All too often they are let down by the reality.

Across the globe, in an attempt to bridge the gap between public and private sector customer experiences many public sector entities have resorted to organizational wide CRM implementations. Due to the differences in landscape and scope, there are distinctions that should be accounted for when developing a public sector CRM strategy or CiRM (Citizen Relationship management) as commonly called in the public sector.

Companies using CRM benchmark themselves against industry competitors with the aim of surpassing their competitor in terms of customer satisfaction. In comparison, governmental entities, are monopolies – they are the only player in their sector and they must serve a vast population.

Companies usually deal with thousands or millions of customers in the most extreme cases. A government entities’ activities are not constrained as in the private sector. They serve much larger numbers and have a wider mandate. This subtlety is key when sizing infrastructure, designing services and process flows. Serving millions of customers in a monopoly suppresses the ability to focus on a specific customer segment.

Lack of clearly defined customer segments means that unlike companies, which are able to weed out unprofitable customers, governments have to keep serving every person who interacts with them. Special processes have to be implemented to deal with difficult customers whilst streamlining them within the processes that service the general population. The inability to terminate relations with customers stems from the fundamental nature of the government mandate.

Companies aim to provide their services to maximize revenue and profits, whereas governmental entities are operating out of jurisdiction and duty. They have roles to fulfil in order to ensure function, quality of life and general processes. This affects their operating budget, spend, hiring and ultimately the CRM components selected.

Salaries and compensation offered in the public sector are generally less attractive than those offered in the private sector. This pay disparity leads to low attraction and retention of qualified staff. This leads to operating underperformance and in turn customer experience underperformance. A key consideration when designing a government CiRM system is to design the simplest and easiest to follow process flows covering all business functions needed.

Those who disagree with the distinctions between public and private sector CRM argue that their implementation strategies are similar. This understanding is false. Although their execution may be similar, public and private sector CRM strategies are derived from very different business foundations, operating models, customer segmentation strategies and industry landscapes.

The use of CRM in the public sector is an affordable way to reduce costs, streamline processes, maintain and enrich client centric relationships between governments and citizens.  It is for this reason that CiRM solutions are quickly being adopted as the standard way to interact with citizens.

– Joseph Khair El Kareh