IBM Builds Critical Mass at “Mass Lab”; Aims to Mix Acquired Subsidiaries Without Dissolving Them

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“town centers” that function as impromptu meeting places and mini-food courts. (Given the building’s size, the urban metaphor works better than you might think.)

The overall design strives for a balance between cohesiveness and porousness. “We don’t want to strip the acquisitions of their identities—you really want to preserve that, because it’s very powerful,” Friday says. “So we wanted to give them a space where they can have their feeling of community and individuality, but also not be isolated.”

When it’s finished, the Littleton facility will have space for 2,200 employees. Another 1,200 will gather at the Westford facility, where construction crews are putting the finishing touches on a new 16,000-square-foot executive briefing center set to open next week. It’s a place for IBMers to meet with the hundreds of companies each year who send people to Massachusetts for product demonstrations and workshops. Twice the size of IBM’s existing briefing center in Cambridge, the new facility can host up to four customer meetings simultaneously, according to IBM spokesperson Karen Lilla.

A 'Town Center' space at IBM's Littleton FacilityAs it renovates in Westford and Littleon, IBM is also working to minimize the Mass Lab’s overall environmental impact. There will be bike storage for people who bike to work, priority parking for hybrid and car-pool vehicles, low-flow plumbing fixtures, high-efficiency lighting, EnergyStar appliances, zoned heating and air conditioning that work in harmony with the heat from sunlight, and a storm-water capture system to relieve the burden on local storm sewers. The company is also looking into buying electricity for the campuses from suppliers who use solar, wind, or geothermal sources.

One thing that won’t change is workers’ commutes. Ali says IBM did demographic studies before the consolidation began and determined that the overall number of commuter miles driven by IBM employees—who live predominantly in the suburbs along the 495 corridor—probably won’t rise or fall as a result of the consolidation. But to make life easier for the scores of employees who live in Boston proper, Ali says, the company is working with other local technology employers to lobby the MBTA to arrange for more “reverse commute” trains on the Fitchburg-South Acton line, which has a stop at I-495 in Littleton. (Right now the first morning outbound train from North Station doesn’t arrive in Littleton until 9:42 a.m., and there are no evening inbound trains between 3:43 p.m. and 7:05 p.m.)

Friday, who joined IBM in 2003 as part of its acquisition of Rational Software, believes the work IBM is doing to prepare the Mass Lab location won’t just help the company build better software—it will help keep employees happier. “Development is a team sport,” she says. “When you have all of the different functions that come together to get software into the marketplace in the same place, from market research to development to testing, it means a lot more opportunities are available to people, and it makes IBM a much more attractive choice as an employer.”

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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