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IBM Connects Social

IBM held it's 20th annual collaboration conference last week. In the culmination of its gradual retirement of the Lotus brand, IBM changed the name of the event from Lotusphere to IBM Connect.

The new name is highly appropriate, as it has multiple layers of meaning. IBM's social software, packaged and sold as IBM Connections, is focused on connecting people with others and with information. The Connect event branding also captures the essence of IBM's market strategy, which is to join its social software with other categories of enterprise software, including content management, human resource management, marketing and customer relationship management applications. More importantly, the new conference name also reflects the effort IBM is making to strengthen relationships and cooperation between its own internal organizational units, most notably the Software Group and Global Business Services (GBS), to better serve its customers.


The News

On the purely social front, IBM announced the upcoming (expected in March) release of IBM Connections 4.5. This version of Connections will add native document management (formerly provided by integration with Quickr), file syncronization and enhanced ideation capabilities, among other, smaller improvements.
While the new IBM Connections features should be welcomed by customers, the bigger news is the continued and accelerated decomposition of the suite's functionality into services that can be integrated in other applications. At IBM Connect 2013, the company demoed Connections functionality embedded in several other IBM applications, including Notes, Sametime, Docs, WebSphere Portal, FileNet and Cognos. Functionality from those applications and other IBM branded software assets have been combined into the IBM Platform for Social Business, a coherent base from which multiple web and mobile applications, supporting specific use cases and business outcomes, may be built.
IBM also announced the intended integration of the IBM Employee Experience Suite with the Kenexa talent management software it just acquired in December, 2012. The upcoming offering will combine IBM's social, unified communications, portal, content management and analytics technologies with Kenexa's recruiting, on-boarding, learning and performance management solutions. This work is being done and will be offered in the context of IBM's Smarter Workforce solution area.
Another example of the increased integration across IBM's own software portfolio is the addition of a Social Media Publisher to the IBM Customer Experience Suite. This new capability, which incorporates IBM web content management, social and analytics technologies in a portal framework, will let marketers create, push, monitor, measure, and adapt campaigns and promotions to Facebook, Twitter and other public social networks. The Customer Experience Suite will also benefit from enhanced e-commerce capabilities, which are critical to its positioning in the IBM Smarter Commerce solution area.
IBM is not solely focused on integrating social with its own software assets. At IBM Connect 2013, the company announced or featured several integrations of Connections with third-party applications. IBM announced an enhanced integration with Microsoft Outlook that will be available in Connections 4.5. The new integration exposes Connections' Profiles, Files and Communities components in the Outlook client.
IBM business partners also demoed integrations that they had written between IBM Connections and third-party applications, including SugarCRM, Atlassian Confluence and JIRA, and Wrike. Virtually all of those integrations leveraged the OpenSocial standard to expose events from the third-party applications in the Connections activity stream and vice versa. 
On another level of integration around social, IBM launched three new service offerings aimed at increasing adoption of social software within customers' organizations. The most important is IBM's Social Business Adoption Model (SBAM), an actionable framework that was assembled under the direction of Sandy Carter, Vice President, Social Business Evangelism and Sales. The SBAM will be a key part of future GBS social business engagements. IBM also announced the formation of its Social Business Customer Council that will provide a peer community within which organizations deploying IBM Connections and socially-enabled applications can compare and discuss their plans and experiences. Finally, the exposition hall at IBM Connect 2013 included a Social Business Adoption Exhibition (SBAE), where customers could speak with IBM subject matter experts. It is assumed that the SBAE will appear at other major IBM events in the future.

Dow Brook's Perspective

On a technical basis, stand-alone enterprise social software has become a mature market category. The sparse amount of new, native social functionality in the upcoming Connections 4.5 release announced at IBM Connect 2013 is convincing evidence of that. IBM and other vendors of enterprise social software will not be able to effectively compete or serve their customers based on breadth and depth of functionality in their social suite. Instead, success will be gained by those that focus on deploying social technologies in the context of work processes to affect specific, measurable business outcomes, as well as higher level organizational transformation goals.
The IBM Connect 2013 keynote presentations and breakout sessions demonstrated that IBM continues to disrupt the prevailing notion of the 'social layer' in the enterprise by integrating social functionality directly into other categories of software, both its own and that of third parties. IBM's success to-date with this 'Social Everywhere' strategy, which was first articulated at Lotusphere 2010, validates Dow Brook's view that the Enterprise Social Software market will soon consolidate into a platform play dominated by large vendors of enterprise software. IBM is well-positioned to not only survive that consolidation, but to lead it as well.
While IBM is making strides to do more than just sell software to enable social business, it is still not doing enough.  Following Lotusphere 2011, Dow Brook criticized IBM for not offering relevant consulting services alongside its social software offerings. The adoption services announced at IBM Connect 2013 begin to address that void, but need to move beyond adoption to focus on organizational transformation. None of the other enterprise social software vendors have the in-house change management consultants, methodologies and other resources of IBM. If IBM is to best serve its customers (and be the leading provider of comprehensive social business solutions), it must do much more to help them transform their organizational structures, processes and cultures. Failure to do so will likely see the social business movement end with a whimper, not a bang.
Disclosure: IBM is a Dow Brook client and paid some of the author's expenses related to his IBM Connect 2013 attendance.


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