The International Technical Support Organization (ITSO), best known for its signature IBM Redbooks brand, is one of the most enduring organizations in IBM at 40 years old. It started as the World Trade Systems Center (WTSC) in 1968 and has been publishing the popular technical “how-to” guides known as IBM Redbooks ever since.
The Birth of IBM Redbooks
The WTSC’s original function was to distribute documents from the IBM development labs in the U.S. to international locations.
“The country organizations did not have very close ties to the development labs and, therefore, sometimes found it difficult to gain access to key information about products,” said Bart Jacob, an ITSO Project Leader. “To help remedy this, we created support centers at key IBM development sites in the U.S.”
The WTSC also created technical documents of its own, which became known as IBM Redbooks. The first technical document was published in 1969, but the first official IBM Redbooks document was published in 1973. In the early years of the WTSC, several U.S. centers wrote similar documents but gave them different colored covers. For example, the Raleigh center wrote Greenbooks, and the Dallas center wrote Bluebooks.
Prior to the Internet, the WTSC copied thousands of pages and mailed them every month to the various international divisions of IBM. Because of the expense, delay, and inefficiency of physically mailing these thousands of pages, the WTSC invented Info/Sys, which was a primary vehicle for delivering technical information to larger customers for several years before online methods were available.
The WTSC went through various organizational and title changes—eventually settling on the ITSO—throughout the 1980s and 90s, but one constant was expansion. By 1993, it had 225 employees, including 35 managers and 12 departments around the world. The role of providing direct field support by answering usage questions was removed, and the focus changed almost exclusively to creating IBM Redbooks.
IBM Redbooks Today
IBM Redbooks are developed through an industry unique “residency” process that uses subject matter experts (SMEs) from around the world. IBMers, business partners, and customers spend 4-6 weeks together sharing their experiences and perspectives on the IBM Redbooks topic in one of the ITSO centers. They utilize products as they would be applied in actual client environments and document their findings to create helpful guides “by practitioners, for practitioners”.
For IBMers, participating in a residency is a great way to give back to the technical community while enhancing their technical skills, networking with other SMEs, and gaining a global perspective on how clients employ IBM products to build business solutions.
IBM Redbooks cover all of the IBM brands. Over the years, the portfolio of material has grown to cover topics that are not product focused, such as grid computing, automotive solutions, healthcare solutions, and Linux and branch banking.
The ITSO is also looking at ways to tap additional resources in the creation of materials and new material types by embracing Web 2.0 technologies. For instance, the ITSO has been using wiki technologies to allow SMEs with time and travel restrictions to contribute to Redbooks content. In addition, the ITSO has recently launched IBM RedWikis as a way of allowing internal readers to contribute to and enhance existing Redbooks content.
The ITSO, as an organization, is relatively self-sufficient. Aside from a world-class technical staff that drives the projects resulting in Redbooks and other deliverables, they have a support organization including IT staff to help manage their extensive lab environments and servers that host the publications. They also have a staff of editors who help review the content written by technical residents from around the world and ensure a quality and readable document is produced.
IBM Redbooks and other materials produced by the ITSO continue to be the benchmark for quality technical content that enables IBM clients to take full advantage of their investment in IBM products and technologies. It has been for the last 40 years and will likely be for next 40 years and beyond.
- Every month over 500,000 IBM Redbooks are downloaded
- Over 100,000 Redpapers are downloaded per month
- 320+ Redbooks materials were published in 2007 - over 400 by year end 2008
- Over 4,800 IBM Redbooks have been published
- Over 1,100 residents participate in the program per year
- In 2007, there were 287 workshops with almost 6,000 students
- 80,000+ technical professionals subscribe to the IBM Redbooks Weekly Newsletter