As IBM Thrives on E-business, Tech
Alumnus Plays Key Role
E-business is driving IBM's
growth, and as the company's vice president of e-commerce for
IBM Global Services, Virginia Tech alumnus Karl Salnoske (EE,
'76) is responsible for a critical component of that growth.
Salnoske is responsible for IBM's overall e-commerce services
strategy, and for leading the development of capabilities and
offerings in areas such as web selling, e-procurement, security
and privacy, bill presentment, and payments.
He was promoted to the post this summer after a highly successful
stint as general manager of electronic commerce in which he was
responsible for development and marketing of IBM's e-commerce
E-commerce software is critical to IBM's strategy. "For
every dollar of software we sell, there are $10 of hardware and
services that accompany that sale," he explained. The software
component alone is growing two to three times a year.
"We are working to help customers reinvent the way they
do business," Salnoske said. While e-commerce generally
refers to buying and selling over the Internet, e-business is
an IBM term for the larger effort of using Internet technologies
for many key business processes, including distribution, customer
service and support, supply chain management, and internal information,
in addition to buying and selling.
"Basically, we ask how we can use this new connectivity
medium and standard that connects anybody to anybody to change
the way companies do business," Salnoske explained. "We
want to help companies solve business problems and we want to
be able to provide an integrated solution that includes hardware,
software, networking, consulting, and other services."
Salnoske finds that managing growth in e-commerce involves a
variety of development, technical, and marketing issues. However,
a big challenge is tracking innovations within IBM and the industry
at large. "We spend many, many hours with this," he
said. "One of the neat things about the Internet is the
tremendous amount of innovation. Much is happening in IBM's own
research laboratories, but there is also tremendous activity
in garages and warehouses from the Silicon Valley to Haifa, Israel.
"Not only do the suppliers keep innovating, but so do the
customers. They are watching their competition and raising the
bar on their requirements of us," he added
As an electrical engineer, computer technology has always been
a part of Salnoske's life. After earning his BSEE from Tech in
1976, he worked for Xerox Corp. as a member of the field engineering
staff analyzing electronic components. There he was involved
in failure analysis, determining what parts needed redesign and
what parts needed a change in maintenance. He became involved
in an effort to improve the quality of data from field engineers,
and moved into application design and data processing.
"Because the EE program at Tech required us to get programming
experience, I had a solid understanding of software," he
said. Over time, he became more immersed in software than in
After Xerox, Salnoske worked for Exxon, in an office systems
group that manufactured electronic typewriters. "I spent
three years performing software and systems development functions."
However, during that time, the personal computer was introduced,
which destroyed the market for typewriters, and the business
was downsized. Salnoske then moved into telecommunications, working
for Telenet, which was acquired by GTE, then folded into U.S.
Sprint. He was initially involved in revamping the internal business
systems and subsequently took over the network management products.
"That was my foray into the actual software products side
of business," he said.
He then joined a consulting and systems integration startup firm
that was acquired by McKinsey & Company. He spent five years
at McKinsey, involved in strategy consulting. "I came from
the technical world and technical jobs," he said. "Even
though I had management experience, my efforts at McKinsey took
me deep into many strategic business issues. I was dealing with
different strategies and issues where technology played a role,
but was a means to an end, not the end."
One of his last assignments at McKinsey was working with IBM
to develop the strategy that the company soon termed "e-business."
Salnoske said he is thoroughly enjoying the satisfaction of implementing
a strategy that he took part in devising. "I'm happy to
be back in the corporate environment," after several years
Salnoske's electrical engineering education is still benefiting
him today. "One of the skills we learned is all around problem
solving," he explained. "We learned to take complex
problems and break them into component parts and follow one piece
at a time. That method of structured thinking is useful to the
complex area that I'm in now," he said.
"Also, working in a high tech company, my knowledge and
understanding of hardware and software is useful in communicating
and in working with technical and business teams," he added.
"However, it's been a while since I've done a Fourier transform."