IBM – Pioneering Digital Credential Application: Part 2


Susan Manning: Welcome to the Credly podcast where we touch base with our issuers, earners and partners and explore themes of interest in digital credentialing. I’m Susan Manning.
Earlier I spoke with David Leaser, the senior program executive for Innovation and Growth Initiatives at IBM. And I’m going to continue that conversation. So welcome back, David.

David Leaser: Thank you for having me.

Susan Manning: So, the first time we spoke about how you started the program from a team of two with seven badges. And it’s grown exponentially and now you have thousands. You had to bring others into the mix and I’d like to focus on how you manage a growing badge program.

David Leaser: You know, it’s a really good point. We started with a small pilot and it was so successful that it gave us permission to expand the program. It started literally with a business problem. Getting people up to [inaudible 00:01:03]and then based on that success, we expanded it to our entire external ecosystem. We have a large training and skills business for our customers. And then also internally, among our employee base. Which is, you know, numbers in the couple hundred thousand. And in order to do that, we had to really think like a start up. And I think one of the key design points on this was we thought of ourself always in an agile development cycle. Always ready to shift and change. And build a program that made it very flexible to fit the changing business.

Now when it came to expanding the program passed the two pieces that literally were [inaudible 00:01:43]on this program on our kitchen tables, we had to bring in a level of governance behind this. So we started a small governance team, internally and externally and we meet regularly on the governance of the program to decide the direction. And that governance group had set up the tools to make it very easy to inform the badge issuers on what type of badges that would be resume worthy to fit into the program.

Susan Manning: Okay. So right there you said something important. The badges need to be resume worthy. What were some of the other criteria that you set for badge development?

David Leaser: Well a number of things. Resume worthy is a big point. And the reason is, if it wasn’t resume [inaudible 00:02:28] … First of all, we didn’t want to diminish our brand. But second, we realized that if it’s not resume worthy, who’s going to want to share it on their resume? And that’s the whole point, right? Is we want people sharing these badges on Linked In and Facebook and Twitter and we want them to inform our internal systems. So if it doesn’t have value, people won’t even claim it. So that was a very big design point.

From a badge issuer perspective, some of the governance we’ve put behind that were the different types of badge designs and the different types of badge levels. Early on, we set up an architecture that we would badge based on kind of a [inaudible 00:03:04]model. That we would have knowledge badges, you know, people can read the book and take the assessment or the exam and they can get a badge. Or a skills badge, where you have to demonstrate that you have real skills, be assessed on that. Then we have more of an achievement badge or a higher level badge for competency. You know, that’s a person that really could invent something. Then we also have badges for our certification program that we can badge on top of our existing structured, psychometrically sound, proctored exams.

And then a program that may also fit into this would be something like our internship programs or deep blue programs. So they’re kind of membership badges as well. So that was the architecture for the program.

Susan Manning: Can I ask more about the skill and the competency levels? How are those assessed?

David Leaser: Well, one thing we included … Like I said, with an assessment, it depends. And what we decided to do early on was badge on top of existing activities. And a lot of people I think are confused by badges and they kind of conflate them to a mini certification. But a badge is nothing more than a digital representation of an existing activity. And so we looked at those existing activities that we had and we made sure that the metadata that’s inside the badge was very clear, very transparent on what transpired to get that badge. So we didn’t try to set this unusual bar that everything had to fit a certain type of construct. You might go up to cognitive class and take a course for two hours and get a knowledge badge. Or you might go to a two day course and get a knowledge badge. It has to be very clear inside the metadata what was achieved to earn that badge.

Susan Manning: How many different departments are now clamoring to be involved in your badge program?

David Leaser: Well, it’s expanded dramatically. Every single division in the IBM company now is issuing badges. And they’re doing it for a lot of different reasons. Some of them are doing it for internal development. So we have a very robust career and skills group and they’re focused on making sure that IBM has the most current skills for our clients. And they’ve done an excellent job developing a program around that. We also have consultants that are outside, you know, helping our clients. And we want to make sure that our consultants have the skills that our clients need so they can create great solutions for them. And then we also need to create programs for our customers and our business partners. We need to make sure that our customers and our business partners have the skills that they need-
Susan Manning: So do you actually have badges for customers?

David Leaser: Oh yeah. Absolutely. And in fact, our customers take training. We probably deliver more than a million student days worth of training every single year to our clients. And when you think about our clients, our clients have developers on staff. They have administrators on staff. We need to make sure that they have the latest skills. And that they have a recognition for that.

Susan Manning: I did not know that. Although I will tell you, I did earn a badge from IBM. I’m pretty proud of that.
David Leaser: You’re now a customer.

Susan Manning: I didn’t know that.
So as you look back over this journey what surprised you the most? And what would you do differently?

David Leaser: Well I think what surprised me the most, I came in to develop the program after working on an acquisition we had for developing what we called the smarter workforce. So I was very focused on the marketing aspects. And I really thought the real benefit was to these badge issuers. And being able to get these programs badged. And also to badge earners being able to share them on social media. I thought there was tremendous value in the social media. The unexpected benefit is in the data on the back end for the consumer. The employer or whomever it is. And the value of that data cannot be understated. I mean, it’s enormously valuable. And I think that was a real unintended benefit. Is the type of insight you can get from that data. And that has gone to the point now, where we can connect our badges with college systems. Because our badges now create a mini-transcript that can be used as college credit.

And we have, by the way, a pilot that we created with Northeastern University. They looked at courses on cognitive class and they said, “If somebody earns these badges and passes these assessments at this rate, we’ll give them college credit.” So to be able to take the knowledge that you’ve learned on the job was really what was the big surprise for me.
Susan Manning: Yeah. And thank you for bringing that up. Because that whole idea of badging for credit is an area that is yet to really be explored fully. I think some institutions are still holding back a little bit on that.

David Leaser: Yep.

Susan Manning: This has been wonderful unpacking the IBM badge story. I have a feeling we’re going to get great response from our listeners and you might be back for a round three, David.

David Leaser: Thank you so much.

Susan Manning: Thank you, listeners, for joining us.

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