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Lotus Shows off its Social Software and Services

IBM seems to be ahead of most of its competitors in the area of social software. The company introduced several products last year, and at Lotusphere 2008 announced new products and enhancements to existing products.

Mike Rhodin, General Manager, Lotus Software, IBM, referred to social software as Community-Centric collaboration, which makes good sense. The goal of the new social software is to foster creation, new alliances, and insights, letting people optimize themselves organically. As IBM customer Mitch Cohen of Colgate Palmolive noted, social software and collaboration facilitates decentralized innovation, increases speed to market, and enables knowledge sharing and retention, letting people work faster and smarter, while helping companies attract and retain a talented workforce. Jeff Schick, VP Social Software, Lotus Software, noted that workers using social software can become superheroes - they can work faster with greater control, contribute to communities of interest and work on issues where you have something to add, all without being constrained by geography or time. Enterprises can empower their employees with more control of their work, and partners can use information to make better buying decisions. Communities become an extension of enterprises' marketing and support teams. As I mention in my blog on IBM's social software products and announcements, I have a hard time seeing how some of the social software and Web 2.0 capabilities will fit in an enterprise, but there are definitely areas where I can see it being a communication and productivity boost (although I also believe that it can be a productivity drain).

So how are companies actually using this stuff? Rheinmetall, a German defense and automotive company that was built through mergers and acquisitions, uses Lotus Quickr, Connections, and Sametime 7.5. The company notes that content, collaboration, and innovation are the key benefits, and the social software makes it easier to find the right person, at the right time, making workers more productive (sounds a bit like unified communications, doesn't it?). By having central and collaborative data management, Quickr provides better version control, which improves worker efficiency. The company also found increased innovation via the ability to share knowledge through these tools.

A non-profit organization called TeachForAmerica has the noble mission of enlisting the most promising leaders in the U.S. in the movement to eliminate educational inequality. Noting that to fight educational inequality, you have to find people with the right skill set, TeachForAmerica uses a national corps of recent college grads who commit to two years of teaching in rural and urban schools. Most of the staff members are under the age of 30, and expect to work in an environment that provides the tools to make it easy to connect with people, including wiki sites, blogging, and social networking. Using Lotus Websphere Portal, Quickr, OmniFind, Lotus Connections, and several other IBM products, TeachForAmerica is able to "foster greater collaboration among corps members and alumni" in order to share information and expertise. Corps members can easily search, find, evaluate, tag and recommend teaching tools and resources, while leveraging the collective knowledge of alumni, corps members and staff experts. Having better aligned resources and the ability to quickly share wisdom makes the staff more productive, while having these tools available makes it easier to recruit tech-savvy staff.

Another customer, Bank of New York Mellon, created from the merger of the Bank of New York and Mellon Bank, needed to integrate 23,000 employees with another 17,000 when the merger happened. In addition, the bank needs to attract and retain top talent, noting that the next generation of employees has different ideas about how they want to work. The bank standardized on Lotus Notes 8, and quickly moved to articulate a vision of communication, collaboration and innovation - based on Lotus Connections and Quickr. Instead of having several versions of documents with differing revisions, Quickr provides the bank workers with "one golden copy of content," which is the most current and up-to-date version. The bank developed an internal lab to test everything, and deployed Quickr and Connections using a phased pilot implementation approach. The benefits expected include a greater ability to grow, increased agility, the retention of intellectual capital, "wisdom of the crowd," and the ability to attract top talent.

While measuring the benefits of social software can be tricky, I expect to see different ways of measuring success appear in the near future. Socialtext, which uses many of these social software capabilities, noted that its call center-developed knowledge base support wikis with tags decreased call time by 10-20%. I find it interesting how the metrics that are being used relate to the call center. We've been saying for a while that UC customers will learn from many of the lessons of call centers (including how to measure the value and return of applications and technologies), and it looks like the same holds true for social software customers as well. We're at the early stages of social software in the enterprise, but it will be exciting to see how this all shakes out.