Lotusphere: IBM Puts Meat on the Bones of Its Social Strategy
IBM seems to have pulled together the pieces to tell a credible story with real, specific product offerings.
For at least the past couple of years, IBM has made "Social Business" the catch phrase and hype-center of its Lotusphere event, and of the brand in general But what "Social Business" actually meant has been hard to pin down. IBM talked about how important social media was becoming, how important it would be for business, and how IBM was going to be a leader in this area--but there wasn't much that was too specific about how IBM products would really enable you to implement a truly Social Business.
Today at Lotusphere 2012, IBM went a long way toward fleshing out this idea, and towards showing its customers, partners, and the marketplace what it means by Social Business, and what it has to offer. The centerpiece of the rollout was the IBM Connections Next client, an interface that looks a lot like Facebook, but that provides what I'd call Social-Enabled Business Processes.
That term takes off from one that we've become familiar with in the enterprise communications world: Communications-Enabled Business Processes, or CEBP. Communications vendors talk about CEBP as a way to make communications capabilities an integral part of business applications, and/or as a way to embed productivity capabilities within communications portal clients like Avaya Flare, Cisco Jabber and Microsoft Lync.
What IBM is proposing is something different but potentially more appealing, at least for a certain class of knowledge workers. You start with the Connections Next interface, which for all practical purposes is Facebook for business (I'm sure IBM would find various reasons to resist that comparison, but trust me, you have to squint to see any significant look-and-feel differences--see the screen shot at the end of this post.) Connections Next then uses the Open Social set of standards to create something called an Activity Stream that integrates the foundational set of knowledge-worker functions:
* Social Updates: You're notified when your Friends or Circle or whatever (IBM didn't make a big deal about what you call the people you're connected to) have an update to a document or other item to which you subscribe, or any other sort of update like you'd see on Facebook.
* Document Management/Collaboration: The Connections Next Activity Stream integrates with IBM Docs, basically IBM's answer to Google Docs. But when your co-workers update a document to which you subscribe, you can open that document within your Activity Stream, edit it and automatically have notification of your update sent out to the other subscribers--without leaving Connections Next. Your edit will show up as the update in the others' news feed, or if you assign work on the document to someone, that assignment will show up in that person's Activity Stream.
* Business Applications: Line-of-business and other applications can also write to the Activity Stream, and the user can work in those applications within Connections Next.
* E-mail and Calendar: These are also displayed via drop-down menus within the Activity Stream. Connections Mail integrates with both Domino and Microsoft Exchange, "a strategy that will outlast Outlook," proclaimed Jeff Schick, IBM VP for Social Business.
* Communications: The interface also lets you open a group video conference with up to 9 colleagues via integration with a Polycom client.
The bottom line, Schick said in the keynote session, is that, "You do not have to go somewhere else" to do your work. At the post-keynote press conference, Schick called Connections Next, "The destination for all your work."
It seems to me that the Connections Next strategy tries to do for Social Networking what enterprise IM systems tried to do for instant messaging, back when workers were using AIM and Yahoo for functionality that they couldn't get internally--the tradeoff being a lack of enterprise-caliber features and security. Mike Rhodin, senior VP, IBM Software Solutions Group, hammered this point home in the press conference following the keynote session.
"Business decisions made in social networks are still business decisions," he said, meaning these decisions are still subject to all the same governance and security requirements--archiving, saving, securing--as documents worked on the old-fashioned way.
As always with a major vendor's major conference, the keynote included many other announcements and customer validation, but it was striking to me how focused this session was in comparison to past Lotusphere keynotes: Connections Next appears to be the fruition of IBM's Social Business strategy. Even the demo of the core Notes platform--which audience response showed to be still the clear focus of the attendees--built on the same ideas as Connections Next.
The Notes release, dubbed Notes Next, provides the ability to incorporate the Activity Stream, and lets the user work in embedded applications and interact with messaging contacts within the Notes interface. Suggesting that the audience may be more focused on near-term additions, the biggest applause of the session came with the announcement that IBM would release a browser-based version of the Notes client, with Sametime IM client integration.
The other big focus here at Lotusphere is obviously going to be mobility; I'll cover that in a subsequent post. As with Social Business (which mobility overlaps as a subject), IBM seems to have pulled together the pieces to tell a credible story with real, specific product offerings.
Here's the screen shot for Connections Next Activity Stream. It's kind of unfortunate that it highlights somebody sharing their cookie recipe; the live keynote demo at Lotusphere made a much more compelling show of how you use the interface to work on business documents and collaborate: