Suzanne Livingston, SDM ’13: Standing at the Intersection of Engineering and Business

Suzanne Livingston February 5, 2013

Named one of Mass High Tech’s Women to Watch in 2011 and recognized that same year as a Social Media Star by the Boston Social Media Society, SDM ’13 Suzanne Livingston is senior product manager for IBM Connections, the company’s enterprise social networking platform. Despite her professional honors and the fact that International Data Corporation named IBM Connections the #1 enterprise social networking software platform for the past three years, Livingston is far from complacent.

"To continue to exceed the expectations of the ever-changing software market, I need a deeper and more critical perspective on developing innovative products," said Livingston, who holds an MBA with a focus on Human Factors in Information Design from Bentley University. She learned about SDM from colleagues who worked across the functional boundaries of software engineering and product management.

"When they told me about SDM’s interdisciplinary curriculum and what they gained from being in the program, I decided that SDM was the right fit for me. I’m excited to be learning from others working in technology, from people who have studied best practices, and from those who have implemented product development processes in other industries," she said.

There are several reasons Livingston was attracted to SDM. "I’ve always been at the intersection of business and technology," said Livingston. "In my experience, some of our most innovative solutions emerged from business challenges that can be solved with technology, and in turn technology decisions that are influenced by business. I am intrigued by that cycle, and my work revolves around connecting both."

"With regard to software products," she continued, "a product leader needs to balance a three-legged stool—product management, user experience, and engineering. If the product supports a wide variety of capabilities but performs poorly, we haven’t met our overall goal. On the other hand, if a product focuses only on technical metrics yet doesn’t meet the market demand, we again haven’t met our overall goal. You can’t lead a team unless you understand how the entire system works together."

Livingston started her IBM career with the Collaborative User Experience Research Group where she worked as a researcher evaluating the impact social technology could have in the enterprise. "At the time, social profiles, bookmarking, blogging, among others, were gaining traction on the consumer web. We asked the question of how relevant these technologies were to businesses. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to bring some of my research into the market as a new product," Livingston stated. Her mentors encouraged her transition to product development. In turn, Livingston now mentors several product managers in and outside of IBM.

The biggest challenge facing Livingston is balancing her time. As the mother of 20-month old twins with a fast-paced career, Livingston needs to know exactly what she wants from SDM, and she does. "I want to strengthen and deepen my leadership skills in technology and business," she concluded, "but I also want to take it to another level and understand the entire system, including its technical and managerial components, so that we continue provide value to our customers while being on the cutting edge of technology innovation."

Suzanne Livingston
Photo by Dave Schultz