IBM Goes Social at Lotusphere
While they have been challenged in moving forward in UC, IBM may have hit on a real opportunity to get back into the game with social networking.
Last week I got to attend IBM's annual Lotusphere Conference in Orlando. The first-time attendees who accompanied me were absolutely blown away by the sheer scale of the event that attracts thousands of Lotus customers and developers from around the world. As always, the IBM team did a superb job of putting on an event that is truly world class both in terms of content and execution.
Alistair Rennie, IBM's General Manager for Lotus Software and Collaborative Solutions kicked off the event with the theme "Get Social. Do Business", which got me thinking that IBM could be grabbing the inside track on the next major development in enterprise networking. It all started when Nortel and Rolm (once an IBM company) took us from analog to digital technology and then Cisco moved the game from TDM to VoIP. Microsoft burst onto the scene with the advent of unified communications, but IBM now seems to be taking that to the next step by capitalizing on social networking.
The social theme was carried forward by a bevy of IBM execs, customers, and partners. Mike Rhodin, Senior VP of IBM Software Solutions Group, talked about the challenges businesses face and the solutions social network offers. For businesses looking to improve customer service, a social solution can help build trusted relationships and brand advocacy. In product and service development, a social solution allows associates to share insights, generate breakthrough ideas, and speed time to market. Even human resources can incorporate social networking in reaching out to professional networks.
IBM has been doing research in social networking for over a decade, and in 2005, they published their Social Computing Guidelines (recently updated). Jon Iwata, Senior VP for Marketing and Communication and one of the drivers for IBM's own use of social networking pointed out that IBM set out to make all 400,000 IBMers better at social business. He also described the challenges he faced when trying to push the idea to others in IBM's senior management whose concerns centered on the risks involved. Eventually he came to realize the solution to successfully moving to social networking was "to socialize it".
The key Mr. Iwata described was that you have to do it together. The CFO, security, regulatory compliance, and the other key stakeholders have to engage on the issues and come to a consensus. His biggest eye-opener came when discussing the risks with the CFO and he asked him what his biggest worry was. The CFO's surprising answer was that "worry" was not the appropriate response. In the end he said, "measuring and managing risk is what we’re paid to do".
Mr. Iwata then joined a panel with executives from social network users Cemex and State Street Bank. Cemex is a worldwide manufacturer of cement products which has 20,000 active users (90% of their workforce) involved in over 500 communities. Where Cemex’s efforts were focused primarily inwards, State Street Bank incorporated social networking as a key element in their rebranding strategy that encompassed human resources, brand management, and marketing.
When you see the passion which both the IBMers and their customers display when they talk about how they have used social networking to reshape their companies, it’s hard not to be impressed.
One of the highlights of Lotusphere is always the "mystery speaker" whose identity is a closely guarded secret. The delightful surprise this year was actor Kevin Spacey, executive producer of the blockbuster hit, "The Social Network" (how apropos). Spacey turned out to be a lot more than a pretty face however, and proceeded to describe how he and his partner founded the website TriggerStreet.com in 2001 to help discover young talented writers whose work might be missed by the bigger studios.
While they have been challenged in moving forward in UC, IBM may have hit on a real opportunity to get back into the game with social networking. Whether you focus internally to connect your organization's hidden talents, or externally to improve your overall brand image, I've come away convinced that social networking will play a big role in business going forward.