Day 1 (written by Brian Baldacchino)
After waking up early for a long train journey from Cardiff to Winchester (coincidentally, we were later told that travel is a ‘feature’ of a consulting career), we arrived at 09:30 eager and dressed in business attire, at the reception of IBM Hursley. After briefly getting acquainted with everyone we were led through the site to the Apollo training room and given an introduction to the Experience and the staff leading the scheme.
Following a quick icebreaker exercise, we were shown a form of data analytics; using our personal information in a ‘secret’ mathematical algorithm, designed to ensure an even and diverse mix, we were allocated our teams and ready to start the first challenge.
The first challenge was designed to promote communication. It was a race to complete a numerical and verbal puzzle. However, this seemingly simple task was made harder as each member of the team was given different information that was required to solve the puzzle, and we were not allowed to show each other the information we had. Working together, we eventually reached the correct answer, a feat we were proud of!
We were then given an overview of consulting and working in our groups, had to do our first presentation of the day to present our understanding of the role of a consultant.
After lunch we were given a presentation about IBM, followed by a Q&A session and careers discussion. This was invaluable as we were able to understand what working for IBM and working in consulting would be like. We learnt insights and experiences from consultants at various levels and in different roles in the company.
The rest of the afternoon was designed to improve our presentation skills and knowledge of different technologies. It consisted of timed group exercises that required us to research and present our findings and ideas to the other groups. Armed with flip-charts, sticky notes and board markers, we were introduced to new ways of making presentations more engaging such as storytelling and live drawing, and were required to use these new techniques to deliver our presentations. What was really beneficial was being critiqued on our performance after each presentation and being advised on ways to improve our personal presentation technique.
After finishing at 17:30, we got a taxi back to the hotel. Shortly after checking in, we met at the bar for a drinks reception, followed by a dinner in which we were joined by numerous IBM employees ranging from new graduates to directors. This provided an informal setting to chat to the employees and gain a more personal insight into their individual experiences within the company. After a very long day it was off to bed ready for an early start the following day.
Day 2 (written by Emily Latham)
IBM’s Hursley Smarter Commerce Retail Lab
Day 2 began at 08:15, starting with a recap of what our groups had done the previous day. Each group had to recap in different ways; one had to recap through making a song, one through a poem, one through a Britain’s Got Talent style showcase and one in the style of a news report. We then had to present to the rest of the groups. The whole IBM experience was focused on team collaboration and presentation.
The next scheduled event of the day was the tour of the IBM technical labs. In the different labs we saw some of the equipment that IBM were using with their clients through the different smarter planet initiatives. We went in the Smarter Commerce lab and saw some products that are being used in supermarkets. These included electronic food tags on shelves that automatically reduce food if its sell by date is up.
Next we moved on to a different part of the IBM site where we found out more information about how IBM were working with the automobile industry. This would help us with our team challenge later on in the day.
After lunch, each team was given the same case study based on an automobile company called EMC Motors. Our task was to identify the company’s problems and find solutions to them using technologies we had learnt about so far, for example the different technologies we had learnt about on the tour and also through own innovative ideas.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of working in our teams, brainstorming ideas and putting together a presentation. The following day we would have to present our work to two ‘clients’ from EMC.
Once we got back to the hotel around 17:30, there wasn’t much time to rest. We continued to work in our teams from 18:30 onwards until each team felt they were prepared enough. Each team was given their own conference room to work in. This was to give us a taster of how actual consultants work. The hotel prepared some buffet food which we could take back to our team rooms. My team finished at around 21:30. We delegated each team member’s role for the presentation and then we each went back to our own rooms to prepare by ourselves for the pitch the following morning. Once that was done I was happy to have a rest and sleep after a jam-packed day!
Day 3 (by Brian Baldacchino)
Hursley’s 18th century mansion
After another early 08:15 start, we were each given one hour to work in our groups to put the finishing touches to our presentations we had been working on the night before. The hour seemed to fly by and it was soon time to make our presentations.
With our flip-charts in hand and nerves at an all-time high, we were led to the board room where three high level executives from EMC were waiting for us. The presentation had to be 20 minutes; this seemed long but the time flew by, and fortunately it went smoothly as everyone had prepared and practised their delegated sections. Following the presentation we were asked a few questions on both our strategy and use of technology, which, although challenging, forced us to think dynamically and to give answers we were proud of. To finish off the presentation experience, we were given really useful detailed feedback on our presentations.
After each group had made their presentations, we were given a tour around the IBM Hursley site. We got to see the buildings where the ATM was developed, as well as the statistics software SPSS. With the sun shining, we also got a tour around the grounds of the 18th century mansion in which the IBM Hursley site is based in.
To wrap up the Consulting Experience, after lunch there was an awards ceremony where different prizes were given out including the prize for the best presentation. Although we didn’t win the prize we didn’t feel hard done by as we felt we did a really good job of the presentation and there were lots of positives to take from the feedback.
To sum up our experience
We feel very privileged to have had the chance to take part in the IBM Consulting Experience. It was a challenging three days that really helped develop our team-working and presenting; the continuous feedback provided really helped us work on and improve different areas of our presentation technique.
Throughout the experience, IBM stressed the importance of using LinkedIn, especially for students who will be looking for graduate employment in the near future. They also recommended making contacts with the fellow participants and also the IBM consulting experience ‘tutors’ who led the experience so that our ‘professional networks’ could be enhanced.
It was thanks to the Cardiff Award we got to take part in this, so we would like to personally thank the Cardiff Award and IBM for what was a really worthwhile experience, one we would wholly recommend to anyone interested in a career in consulting.