It's been almost exactly 12 months since IBM first announced its social business initiative during Lotusphere 2011. In tech a lot can happen in a year and I have to say the folks at IBM have been quite busy. When IBM set out on this journey it did so with quite a few assets in communications, social software and analytics. While the assets provided a wide range of features and functions they did not provide an "integrated" suite of social tools. The roadmap of course, showed that this was the direction that IBM would take, but it was unproven. Fast forward a year and now we can see just how much integration and improvement IBM could accomplish.
Before I dig into the announcements though, just a short bit about Lotusphere itself. The conference was again held at the Dolphin and the Swan on the Disney Orlando Resort. I look forward to the opening session, IBM usually puts on a great show with some entertainment to wake up the crowd, and a surprise guest celebrity keynote. This year the session was opened by alt rock band OK Go, who put on an excellent multi-media show, something they're known for (actually I should say the music was backed up by an entertaining selection of videos, including OK Go's signature "treadmill" videos). The guest celebrity keynote, actor Michael J Fox, exceeded expectations and provided an interesting look at the power of community and the value that the social web can deliver in connecting people with like causes and issues. The final speaker for the opening session though, Dr Jeffery Burns of Children's Hospital Boston, was the real surprise. The case study he provided might be the best example of the power of the social web and the three C's of social business; content, collaboration and community, that I've heard. Dr Burns, working with IBM, championed and built out a community of experts scattered around the globe, with a method to provide real time collaboration for dealing with unique illnesses and a way to collect content for reuse by other physicians for learning new techniques for treating their patients. The real time community links doctors and hospitals around the world and makes the "right" expertise available at the right place and time, virtually. The end result, saving children's lives by sharing knowledge and skill through community.
Now for the product announcements… The Lotus Connections product, with its activity stream UI, is the center piece of the IBM social business offering and becomes one of the key integration points in its next release, version 4, or Connections Next as it is now called. In Connections Next IBM used the OpenSocial 2.0 standard for integration and provides the capability to pull people, data, content and applications into a single collaboration environment. The ability to integrate Connections with other applications is a key feature that moves Connections to what I'm calling the new UI for the social enterprise, putting a modern UI on aging core systems. Connections Next also ties together other Lotus offerings including email (supporting Lotus Notes of course, but adding MS Exchange support as well, an important addition as, according to IBM, over 60% of its Connections customers use Exchange), calendaring and IM. Also key for adoption and success in today's business environment, Connections adds native support for the major mobile OS's, iOS, Android, and Blackberry and includes both smartphone and tablet support. In fact many of the onstage demos were conducted on an iPad. These new mobile offerings include many business focused features including iOS remote partial wipe and Cloud-based meetings for Android using LotusLive Meeting,
Analytics, or as we like to call it, socialytics, was also featured prominently in the IBM social business story. Building on its acquired portfolio of analytics products that includes Cognos, IBM has embedded a broad range of analytics into IBM Connections Next including social media monitoring. Analytics are a key benefit and driver for companies to adopt social tools, and with these new capabilities IBM is putting a serious stake in the ground.
Lotus Notes, not to be left out, also gets a social facelift. Acknowledging the fact that many employees are more comfortable working in an email client, Notes adds the ability to integrate Connections into the Notes email client including the OpenSocial application integration capability. In effect Notes becomes IBM's second choice for a social business integrated client alongside Connections Next. From a culture standpoint, this is an important capability and should help companies encourage more employees into using and being involved in the internal social collaboration network. It's a well known fact that the more employees you can get actively participating in a social network, the more value everyone gets out of its use, which in turn drives more and broader adoption. Notes also continues its mobile offering with a next release of Lotus Notes Traveler that includes social capabilities. Mobile in general gets more integrated into a unified communications structure through Lotus SameTime, which adds presence, click to call from calendar for Android, Online meeting support for Blackberry, and even text-to-speech for Android.
IBM Symphony also wasn't left out of the social business portfolio. Later this year IBM will offer a cloud version (which also includes an on premise option) of Symphony Docs that provides browser based doc creation and editing features. It appears that IBM is planning this offering as a Google Docs competitor, which will be released as a part of its new IBM Social Cloud offerings.
Not only did IBM announce an abundance of its own social products / solutions, but it also involved several key partner announcements. On the social customer front IBM is continuing to evolve its relationship with SugarCRM as its go to market partner for CRM. The solutions are integrated and the IBM sales force is ramping up on including the SugarCRM products as a part of its own portfolio of offerings. For video collaboration / UC Polycom REalPresence video solutions are now integrated into the IBM SameTime environment. Video is an important enterprise capability and the new offering showed well.
One additional note of IBM's commitment to the social business initiative, IBM Labs. Once again this year I went on a journey into the future through the lens of IBM Labs and a broad range of social projects that ranged from using social data to more effectively assign sales executives to territories (through integration with SugarCRM I should add) to finding the real expert inside companies for knowledge sharing. These projects, a dozen or so on display / demo, are an exciting example of why IBM can provide leading edge social tools now and into the future. The use of analytics on the growing mountain of social data offers a nearly unlimited range of projects that could provide significant benefit to businesses.
All in all it was a busy week between meetings, demos and even presenting a session for IBM on IDC's perspective on social business. Always a fun week, and this year most interesting for its window into the next generation of social business solutions from IBM.