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Making alphaWorks work
Thursday, December 30, 1999

By K C Krishnadas

Country : India
Publication : The Economic Times
Circulation : 270,000

Does AlphaWorks work? “It does”, says Daniel Jue, Global AlphaWorks Emerging Technologies Strategist at IBM. Sure, he hardly is likely to say it doesn’t. But then, AlphaWorks has everything going for it. That’s because, its mission is to provide early adopter developers direct access to IBM’s emerging ‘alpha-code’ technologies. Simply put — IBM puts on the Web the latest software technologies its researchers come up with.

AlphaWorks (www.alphaworks.ibm.com) is IBM’s way of redefining the manner it conducts new product development and what better way than to involve developers outside the IBM world too. While the ‘alpha-code’ technologies are made available for downloads, they are also backed up by discussion forums that the outside developers take part in directly with IBM’s own researchers and developers. Naturally, it influences the earliest phases of IBM’s product development.

IBM’s Vice President of Internet Division, John Patrick, envisioned the program in August 1996 out of IBM’s headquarters in Armonk, NY. Patrick wanted to create a Web site that surfaced IBM’s hot Internet technologies from its labs; in March 1998, that focus was changed a bit to now speeding emerging IBM technology to market.

Jue says there are now about 300,000 downloads each month. “It has been successful in helping IBM establish leadership in new standards and transferring technologies surfaced on our site to IBM products, open-source licenses and OEM license opportunities”, he says. “It is a way for IBM to keep with the market. It helps us to be the first to market and in mindshare. For instance, IBM has already licensed 15 technologies to firms who want to build entire businesses around it. In one case, it is being used for a Java Phone”, says Jue.

AlphaWorks, which is at the pre-product level, is unique to the industry as a concept, he says. Clearly, its most obvious advantage is that of reducing development lifecycles, apart from an additional revenue stream from licensing, not to mention helping IBM itself when outside software developers point out that the software could have problems, like bugs, for instance. “Through AlphaWorks, we get much better”, says Jue.

A reason behind AlphaWorks is that, given the pace of innovation in the industry, this is not certainly a time when anyone, even IBM, can keep too many things to themselves. “It is not the person who makes the killer app, but the killer app that goes into the market that wins”. Everybody wins. Just to be doubly sure, IBM also has contests on the site and hands out prizes too. Anyone can visit the site too. “We get developers to the site. Then the technology gets to them. Then they keep coming back”. Obviously, there is nothing like doing too much.

“In Silicon Valley, the industry changes by the time you take a nap for five hours”, he says. It may be for the fear of being overtaken when you sleep that the AlphaWorks team was moved to Silicon Valley, where it is now based.