A note from GigaOM Pro HQ: We’re launching a new feature on the GigaOM Pro Blog. A few times a month, GigaOM Pro Analysts will weigh in with reports from the field, op-ed pieces and commentary on breaking news items from GigaOM and across the web.
Our first guest blogger is Larry Carvalho, who is attending IBM’s LotuSphere 2012 conference in Orlando, Fla. this week. With that in mind, he takes a quick look at IBM’s entry into the collaboration and social-enterprise space, which is becoming a rapidly developing hot topic among cloud and future of work discussions (a point contested by fellow Pro Analyst David Coleman in his recent research note, “Beyond social: the crowd-based enterprise”)
Notes from LotusSphere: IBM enters the enterprise social software space
With Facebook claiming over 800 million users and Twitter increasingly seen as a source of breaking news, it’s no surprise that social software is now making headway in the enterprise, as employee usage and behavior on mainstream social networks drives a number of enterprises to replicate similar experiences at work.
This week I am attending LotuSphere and there is a lot of buzz around the experiences of early adopters of social enterprise software. Of particular note are new announcements from IBM, especially around upgrades of the company’s existing products. Its new cloud collaboration services (launched as IBM SmartCloud for Social Business) and freshly upgraded versions of its IBM Connections software represent a major investment in cloud-based enterprise collaboration tools that include unified communications, mobile tools, content management, file-sharing, meeting tools and analytics and tracking capabilities.
Here are some observations on the product upgrades that IBM announced at LotuSphere:
- Enterprise-grade social software needs an ecosystem that pulls together structured and unstructured information from both internal and external sources. What I found is that using Open Social Standards allows partners to build capabilities augmenting IBM’s Connections products. The activity stream capability allows a number of applications to be integrated, such as displays of SAP order status.
- Collaborative tools, such as shared documents and features like collaborative editing capabilities, are similar to features found in Google docs. The differentiating factor is that integrating Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems brings in additional check-in/check-out capabilities, which allow users to leverage a larger (maybe legacy) asset base and do work in a collaborative real time manner using connections. This also provides accountability and prevents errors such as multiple versions of the same document; after the real time work is done, a user may check a file back in to the original source without having to account for duplicate versions.
- For enterprises to gain optimum value from a social application, integration with transactional applications is a necessary feature. For IBM, SAP integration and additional capabilities that allow approval of workflow-initiated transactions means that IBM’s new social SaaS could potentially become the primary application for executing daily work tasks and managing productivity.
- With mobile devices becoming standard enterprise and productivity hardware, no vendor can ignore their importance as information access tools — especially in the social domain. Interestingly, IBM is supporting legacy devices (such as the BlackBerry) as well as supporting the new challengers like the Microsoft Windows Phone on Nokia and HTC.
- As with any new software offering, analytics plays a key role. IBM is definitely leveraging the metrics capabilities of some of their other products to support features that will provide insight and data that may help users gain competitive advantage.
IBM’s competitors in the social enterprise space include Microsoft and OpenText; there are also several other players that focus purely on social (such as Jive) or business applications (Salesforce Chatter). With business benefits from social enterprise still not clear, enterprise adoption will possibly be slow for all these vendors.
All in all, the announcement suggested that IBM paid close attention to customer feedback, feature requests and requirements while developing the latest iteration of its social enterprise suite. While the company has many point products in the social enterprise space, its new social business software suite brings all these products under a common platform, making them easier for companies implement. Delivery of this platform both on-premise and on the cloud helps customers pick and choose the appropriate capabilities based on their needs. However, the major barrier to IBM technology adoption is its complexity: whether the company can build a simple framework that can be leveraged through the large number of business partners (including independent software vendors and systems integrators) that IBM has in their go-to-market strategy remains to be seen.