IBM's Charlie Hill on the Social Enterprise
"What's new about social is the way it provides an open and persistent channel for people to communicate, driven by the relationships that you have with your colleagues."
As communications technologies and uses are changing, IBM is making some big bets on social collaboration technologies. Behind some of these technologies is Charlie Hill, IBM's CTO for Social Business.
Charlie is an IBM Distinguished Engineer and played a pivotal role in starting IBM's social networking software, called Connections. He is the product designer for Lotus QuickPlace and a member of the Lotus Design Council and the Lotus Architecture Board. He previously worked on a number of early web collaboration applications such as Instant!Teamroom and QuickPlace. Prior to joining IBM, Charlie was a member of the Human Interface Group at Apple Computer in the mid 90s working on next generation personal computing environments. .
Born and raised in England, Charlie was a researcher and visiting tutor at the Royal College of Art in London where he designed a workspace for fashion designers. Before that he spent "way too long" at various educational institutions in the UK, studying engineering and design. Charlie lives with his wife and daughter near Boston.
DM: As CTO for IBM Collaboration Solutions, what products or technologies fall into your purview?
CH: IBM Connections, our enterprise social networking product, IBM Sametime, our unified communications and collaboration product family, the IBM Customer Experience Suite for building web and mobile portals, and Lotus Notes.
DM: How do you see social tools fundamentally altering the adoption and use of collaboration technologies?
CH: What's new about social is the way it provides an open and persistent channel for people to communicate, driven by the relationships that you have with your colleagues. This use of your social network ultimately results in a more efficient distribution of content and conversations, making it much easier for people to stay current, and also establishing a rapid feedback loop as people join the conversation--it's much more interactive. This is particularly relevant as enterprises increasingly need to operate on a global basis, where purely local interactions are insufficient to get business done. By putting employees online with the ability to share and connect very efficiently both person-to-person and in communities, businesses can adopt a more agile management style and empower their employees to take the initiative and take full advantage of the expertise of their peers.
DM: How will social-based collaboration tools impact traditional communications-centric UC offerings?
CH: Social is being used as a new kind of communication channel. What social brings is increased ability to reach and discover people and information as well as a notion of persistent contexts around which you can interact. UC brings real-time interaction channels that provide the ability to collaborate and get things done, with stronger engagement around a shared goal and a higher quality of interaction that helps drive commitment and accountability. So yes, we see UC and social converging into a unified platform over time as very complementary capabilities that you are really going to want to use together for maximum effect.
DM: Most UC vendors include voice as a central part of their solution--IBM doesn't offer a core call processing technology. How does IBM address voice?
CH: While voice is an important part of any UC solution, recent trends in virtualization and cloud infrastructure mean that voice is likely to be commoditized over time. What's important is providing a "unified" communications experience that lets the user do their work without ever having to think about the underlying technology. Consider Sametime Unified Telephony. As a middleware layer, it provides advanced UC services to the user through the familiar Sametime interface. It can work with your existing PBXs and handsets, let you switch to other vendors in the future or source your voice from the cloud. Meanwhile your user is never exposed to this complexity. Never has to be retrained or figure out a new system. They can easily start a chat, jump to a meeting, start a call and leverage video as needed.
DM: Are there particular sectors or verticals that seem more open to adopting enterprise social tools?
CH: Enterprise social tools are applicable across virtually every industry and segment. One of our most aggressive adopters has been a cement company. Cement may not be as sexy as healthcare or technology, but they've found they can get new products to market much faster than under the old ways of doing business. Globalization is another huge driver. No one is local in a global economy. But I will say that we were surprised that highly regulated industries--such as financial services and healthcare--have been rapid adopters as well. Given their regulated natures, we expected them to move slowly. But as knowledge-driven businesses, social has had a profound impact.