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Tuesday, November 16, 2010 by Angela Ashenden
Later this month, IBM is releasing the next version of its social collaboration product, Lotus Connections. When it was first launched in June 2007, Connections provided a sort of electric shock for the enterprise collaboration software market, showing that an industry giant can indeed be innovative and market defining, and of course in the three years that have followed we have seen the social collaboration market explode around it with small, medium and large players keen to get in on the action.
With its combination of communities, social networking and task-based activities, as well as a host of supporting social capabilities, Lotus Connections is unusual in that it spans both the people-centric, social side of collaboration and the (currently less fashionable, and yet perhaps more valuable from a business justification viewpoint) project-centric side which is more commonly associated with document-focused team workspaces. With the latest version, which was announced last week, IBM has added yet more strings to its bow. New features and enhancements include:
- Greater flexibility in the community model, with the ability to create sub-communities, and more contextual use of features such as activities and file sharing within the community environment
- Improved navigation, support for easing new users’ experiences, and more flexibility in how users can receive notifications and updates
- Forums delivered as a Connections component in their own right, rather than just as part of a community
- Additional mobile device support (including iPad and Android)
- New widgets for delivering Connections status updates within Lotus Notes, and for delivering Microsoft SharePoint content within Connections.
However, to my mind, the most significant enhancements are these:
- Recommendations – by using social analytics focused on users’ tags, social networks and actions within the system, Connections can now recommend both people and content that may be relevant to the user. For example, it might highlight a community which is similar to one you are already a member of, or a person who shares contacts and/or tags with you. Think LinkedIn’s “People you may know” feature, but in a more practical, business-focused context.
- Compliance and auditability – all activity within Connections, including every item created, updated and deleted, is now logged, with the resulting data available for export to third party archiving, compliance and e-discovery applications. IBM has developed new API’s to support this process, and is working with vendors of compliance-based systems with a view to developing better integration going forward.
These last two are important for several reasons. In the case of recommendations, the area of social analytics is a major innovation and differentiation area at present, and in a market where there is so much competition, it’s important that IBM is not seen as lagging behind, particularly given the wealth of development resource it has at its fingertips in the form of IBM Research Labs. That’s not to say that it’s got this area licked now – recommendations are really only the tip of the iceberg, and there is much more that IBM can do to enable trend analysis using social analytics. In the case of compliance and auditability, it’s staggering that this is only being introduced now – given the nature of IBM’s customer base, support for compliance is a no-brainer, and Connections was really starting to stand out among IBM’s portfolio for its lack of capability here. Still, it suggests that the product has now reached a level of importance within the customer base that means that IBM has had to prioritise this capability, which only says good things about how Connections’ traction is progressing.
Overall, with this latest release Lotus Connections seems to be moving out of that “new product” phase, and into a more mature stage of its lifecycle. It’s not perfect, but those kinks are becoming much harder to spot.