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Friday, January 20, 2012 by Angela Ashenden
This week, I attended IBM’s Lotusphere 2012, IBM’s annual customer and partner event which showcases the latest products and strategy in the area of collaboration. Like last year, “social business” was squarely at the centre of things, although there was a marked difference between the way the company positioned its social message this time when compared to last year. While Lotusphere 2011′s “Get Social. Do Business.” strapline and general sentiment was very much a call to action, this year I felt an interesting undercurrent of confidence and a sense of “fait accompli” in IBM’s message, reinforced by its new 2012 strapline “Business. Made Social.”
In parallel with the Lotusphere event, IBM hosted IBM Connect 2012, which comprised of a wealth of social business case studies, and was positioned as the event for the senior execs who wanted both ideas for how to take advantage of social business, and tips on best approaches. My personal favourite was Asian Paints, which has leveraged IBM Connections to support both internal collaboration and external customer engagement. Frankly, I was astonished by the sheer number of customers who stood up to share their experiences, although I do think that IBM missed an opportunity by not building in some sort of workshop element to the program to help attendees talk through their ideas and plans in a more structured way than simply over coffee at the event.
As usual, IBM used the Lotusphere platform to announce a number of new product capabilities and offerings, the most notable being these:
- IBM SmartCloud for Social Business – in line with other branding changes, IBM announced that their cloud-based collaboration offering, LotusLive, is being rebranded as IBM SmartCloud for Social Business, leaving Notes/Domino as the only product retaining the Lotus branding. I think the rebranding is a sensible decision; despite efforts to expand the Lotus brand to include IBM’s other collaboration solutions, it is still limited to Notes/Domino in the minds of the majority. That said, the new name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and is likely to be abbreviated in some way which will inherently remove the value of it as a name anyway.
- Connections Mail – a relatively small feature which has had a significant reaction already, Connections Mail allows Connections users to access their Notes or Exchange mail and calendar directly from within Connections. At present, the functionality is deliberately limited, allowing viewing and searching of the inbox, as well as the ability to compose messages. There are no mail handling features (apart from the star or flag feature), but IBM figures that users who leverage the more advanced capabilities of Notes or Exchange will continue to use their mail client for that purpose anyway. I think there is room for a little more functionality than is currently provided though, such as assigning folders to a message and providing access to messages in folders, but to be fair IBM is waiting to see how people use this feature rather than trying to second guess its use. The purpose of Connections Mail is more about enabling Connections to be a hub for accessing all your information, be that mail, social or documents. Kinda in the same way that the Notes client is getting activity streams in its next version (oh yes, that was another announcement – it will be called Notes Social Edition, and is expected later this year).
- IBM Docs - also this week we saw the launch of the public beta of IBM’s cloud-based collaborative editing tool, IBM Docs. The tool, which was previously called LotusLive Symphony and codenamed Project Concorde, is now available through IBM’s hosted trial platform, Lotus Greenhouse, and is expected to finally become generally available later in 2012.
Aside from the key product announcements, what was particularly noticeable this year was the omnipresence of analytics. First introduced at last year’s Lotusphere through the integration of Cognos with Connections, this year pretty much every session referenced analytics in some way or another, emphasizing its important role in deriving ROI from these types of social investments. (While we’re on the topic of analytics, don’t forget to visit our online event focused on social analytics which launched this week – it’s free with no registration required, and it’s on-demand so you can dip in and out as you want.)
All in all, it’s fair to say that Lotusphere has come a long way in just a couple of years: what was once an intensely techy event, focused on product demos and unquestionably the territory of developers, has in the space of a couple of years transformed smoothly into a business-focused event, aimed at engaging with customers and partners at a strategic, enterprise-wide level, to help and support them in bringing about business change enabled by the social revolution. This is a very different approach to IBM’s biggest competitors in this space – Microsoft and Google – which both continue to position at a more technical level. There is still work to be done to tie up IBM’s top level social strategy with its product portfolio, but the company is investing significant resources in this strategy, and is benefiting from its incredible traction with IBM Connections. Big ambitions, but IBM’s looking in good shape to succeed here.
Advisory clients can read our recently published Email strategy profile of IBM here.