IBM's Lotusphere 2012 was held January 15-19, in Orlando. In this Industry Buzz podcast, the UCStrategies Experts who were in attendance offer their opinions on the event and IBM's strategy. Several others were not in attendance, and have questions.
Transcript for IBM's LotuSocialSphere
Dave Michels: Hi, this is Dave Michels and welcome to the UCStrategies podcast. This week we’re going to be talking about Lotusphere. It's an amazingly big conference that takes place once a year. I was there last year but I was not there this year, so I’m going to rely on some UC experts who were there to hear their perspectives and thoughts on the event. One thing that I noticed from watching the coverage of event was that the theme was clearly around social, and I thought that was interesting because we’ve seen the themes move from telecommunications, obviously, to unified communications, to collaboration. Now IBM is really pushing this social agenda. Marty, can you help clarify what they mean by social business and what their agenda or vision looks like?
Marty Parker (:50): I hope so, Dave. They have clearly gone, in poker terms, “all in” on social. They think that social is redefining how businesses work. They talked about business processes as part of it. They talked about improving roles, processes, and outcomes. In other words, how the people work, how the processes work, and what you can produce. And they were all over that in terms of how it has worked within IBM and how it was working for their clients, and they had customer after customer after customer up on stage – both in the opening general session and in a number of follow-on breakouts and in the general sessions on the second day as well. They really were emphasizing that this was a new way of thinking. Interestingly, in the opening general session where they always have entertainment to kick it off, and a keynote speaker from outside the company, the entertainment was a fabulous rock band who posts a lot of their stuff up on YouTube. You can now watch the opening general session, by the way, online if you go search for it. Also, they had Michael J. Fox, which really – the crowd went wild, and that’s great because here’s a guy who has overcome some serious difficulties in life and he was there talking to the audience about what’s possible if you can focus on it.
He also talked about, from an actor's perspective, not playing to the result. In other words, not just organizing your behavior around what you think is going to happen, you know, the outcome of the play. You’ve got to play in the moment. You’ve got to be active at the current time, and that seems to match back to IBM’s social agenda, because they’re clearly not playing to the result of consolidating communications. Some people think of unified communications as all the technologies coming together. IBM isn’t playing that one. Cisco and a few others have used the word collaboration to try to brand what’s happening. IBM’s not doing that one either, because they think social is bigger than that. So they are playing social and they’re playing it, I’d say, pretty aggressively. They’ve been at it for two or three Lotuspheres now, but this time it was the whole program. They described what social meant in terms of a platform. The platform needs to support reach through social networking engagement, through dynamic content in motion. They talked about content being dynamic, not just static and stored away in databases. They talked about discover; the platform has to help you discover what’s going on by applying analytics, and then enable action by integration into the processes.
I had three senses from what they said. One was that social is a big branding play. And it clearly is a big branding play and IBM is playing that as hard as they can. The second is that social is the repackaging of a lot of existing technology, and they used the term “service oriented architecture” and “web services architecture’” multiple times in the opening general session and in others, making it clear that they felt that social was going to be the enterprise 2.0, web 2.0 packaging of business and communications, and it doesn’t require a lot of reinvention, but there were spots of innovation in there.
Dave Michels (4:27): So Marty…what I’m confused about is they made a big deal about IBM Connections as the central point of their social strategy. Can you clarify where Notes and Domino and Sametime and Symphony and the new IBM Docs and Quicker – do those products work with Connections or instead of Connections?
Marty Parker (4:49): It's exactly working with Connections. That's exactly the point – Connections is the innovative layer on top of these things. So IBM Connections – notice they left out the word “Lotus” when they named it because they were trying to move even beyond the Lotus brand. IBM Connections, when I saw it in action here at Lotusphere 2012, I thought, “this is a personal portal,” and that’s how IBM presented it. They didn’t use the word “portal” very much, but it’s getting everything you need for your work into one place. That’s how they presented it. So underneath, and they talked about this from a services architecture, like I said, Connections is consuming the services of Sametime, of Quicker, of, it used to be Symphony, but now they’ve got a new product IBM Docs, which they say not adapted from Symposium or Open Office. It's a new IBM Docs, I’d say, to compete with Microsoft Office and with Google Docs. But basically you invoke documents right in that portal workspace, so you don’t leave the portal and go work in Word, for example. You stay right in the portal, and the document opens up and you can edit it there in the portal. So they’ve got that, real time communication was accessible from the portal consuming Sametime tools, but you didn’t see the Sametime client. So the users will still have to have these tools; Quicker you mentioned, yes, and File Net and those kinds of tools will still be installed and licensed within the enterprise, but the users will consume them within this social oriented workspace called IBM Connections.
Dave Michels (6:29): What about Sametime?
Marty Parker (6:31): Well, Sametime is underneath this and when you need to communicate with someone, of course, the social portal includes Profiles, that’s the big darn deal, but Profiles include presence and instant messaging, as well as skills search and even posts on the portal and micro blogging and email. Although, they talked about email dying out and email being dead, because the social messaging would overcome that, would displace that.
They also talked about the activity feed. They have an activity feed into the portal and that was flowing in from other people’s activities and from other people’s posts, anyone you’re following, as well as you can get activity feeds – you can follow feeds from, say, SAP, your transaction-based systems. Or your other business systems can be providing feeds into your environment, which is where the analytics come in because if you’re having that much information flowing into one place you’re going to need tools to analyze it and organize it. So they had this big grand idea about how people are going to work and that they have figured out how that needs to be positioned as a user interface, namely IBM Connections. With all of their recent acquisitions and their brilliant work with things like the Watson product, they would have the analytics there to make this usable by human beings and make, back to the point, the roles, the processes, and the outcomes better than ever through IBM. So that was their message. It's a big, big bet. If they can make it happen, that’ll be great. I think there are a lot of things they have to do to make it happen that are certainly still in doubt, and I’ll leave that to others to comment.
Dave Michels (8:17): Well, let me just ask you one more thing. I’m still a little confused about the difference in boundaries between social versus collaboration. So many other venders in our space are focusing on collaboration and they’re doing that mainly with document sharing and conferencing services. IBM Docs – is that the collaboration component? Is it replacing Symphony? You said it's a brand new, first-generation product. Can you elaborate a little more around collaboration versus social?
Marty Parker (8:45): You asked two questions. First, collaboration versus social: they view collaboration as one of the things you do inside a social environment. So they’re saying basically all business is social, and it’s a networking of people that does business and that network will extend outside your enterprise. So collaboration is just one of the things you can do in a social workspace. My view of it, they position collaboration as a subset of social, not a superset. They say if I’m going to collaborate, yes collaboration does include communication through posts and IM and that sort of thing, and activity feeds. It can include processing documents. Now they acknowledge that people will still be using Exchange and Microsoft Office, and so they’ve got connectors into Exchange and Office – they made that point loud and clear. They don’t want people to dismiss them just because they don’t want to shift to IBM Docs, but IBM is saying, “we now have document processing and you don’t have to buy that from Microsoft.”
I think behind the screen, I think, IBM account executives are saying, “hey we can help you get out of your Microsoft Enterprise license. Why don’t you let me show you how to do that?” I mean, they’re trying to capture that – this is their new battle against Microsoft, is my opinion. I don’t know much more about IBM Docs except they described and gave examples of opening up Word documents and spreadsheets right in the portal using IBM docs and who knows how much functionality. They didn’t do anything fancy that would tell you how good it is, at say, tables or macros like Excel does. I don’t know. But right now, that’s what they’re presenting – is you can get all your work done in this IBM Connections environment.
Dave Michels: Thank you, Marty. That literally does clarify quite a bit. I did watch some of the opening keynotes. I was hoping to watch some very specific sessions but they only put up some of the video sessions on the web. Moving along, now that that social business vision is perfectly clear, let’s talk a little bit about the channel. Jim Burton, what do you have to say about their channel strategies?
Jim Burton (11:06): Thanks, Dave. One of the things that became very clear, and I wrote an article that was published today in No Jitter that covers a little bit of this. But one of the challenges that they’ve had is that when they got into the UC space they didn’t have a voice element to their solution. And later they came up with SUT, which allowed for an easy integration with an existing PBX, but they didn’t offer call control on their own. So when it came time for someone to look at UC, every major vender out there, the likes of Cisco, Avaya, and even Microsoft were saying “you start your UC solution by buying a new IP PBX.” That, of course, is something that those venders had to do at the time because they didn’t have anything to offer. So if you didn’t buy a new IP PBX it wouldn’t take long for them to be hurting pretty bad financially. So now they’ve kind of moved beyond that and I think we have to wait and see. They have a new person who is going to be responsible for developing some of their channel strategy. They did make it clear that they will be looking for channel to help take some of these new products to market. That, of course, is in a coexistence with the IBM channel itself, which is very large but also focuses on very, very large enterprise customers.
So I think that we will see some changes in their channel strategy but they haven’t solved the voice solution yet. The question is whether they’ll be able to do that or not. There were some hints that they may be coming out with a hosted type of voice solution. I may be reading tea leaves in doing that just based on some conversations that I had about how they are coming out with some hosted collaboration solutions and some hosted social solutions, but we’ll have to wait and see on that. But that is a problem they have, one that they’ve got people looking at, one they know exists and we’ll just see if they can overcome it this time because they haven’t today.
Dave Michels 13:05): You know, I’ve always thought IBM’s approach with Sametime was interesting in that they can create a consistent user experience even though different offices have different kinds of phone systems. But I’ve always wondered about how all these partners that work with Sametime, they all have their own views of collaboration, and in some cases, social as well. That must be creating a lot of conflict in their channel.
Jim Burton (13:26): Well it does. And one of the problems that they have is that they don’t have a good partner in providing those solutions for voice call control to the end user community. So they really never had a good channel strategy on how to overcome it. What was really interesting, though, is if you think about the UCStrategies definition and if you think about how UCStrategies recommends customers look at this, we say, “look at the business process you’re trying to develop or what you’re trying to accomplish, then go back and look at the components that you need.” Oftentimes, if you did that you’d say, “well, my existing PBX would serve me just fine,” which would have worked really well into the IBM strategy with SUT. Unfortunately, the market was stronger than they were. They were able to get their message out and, again, convince people that UC starts with a new phone system even though (at) UCStrategies, that’s certainly not our position.
Dave Michels (14:24): Another thing that made a lot of headlines during the week of Lotusphere was this notion of analytics. Could you address that one?
Jim Burton (14:35): Yeah, well, I was very excited to hear about it, and actually a couple of years ago in 2010, I guess, I started making analytics part of what I saw (as) the evolution of UC: starting off with UC-U, for the user, how you click to communicate; then followed by UC-B, which is the business process, communications integration optimized business processes. The third phase, which I discussed at that time, was how analytics and metrics would be such an important part of UC going forward. It was interesting to see that over this period of time IBM has made lots of investments in analytics and that that is where they see the real value going forward in a lot of the things that they have to offer. I think if we sit back and think about it, it makes a lot of sense. If you could be in the middle of a call like this, and if this was a business call, and we’re talking about some issues with getting components to a factory line, and then all of a sudden an agent came on to say, “you should probably bring in someone that’s in our process to have a discussion about that, or even bring the vender in where the problem or the components that need to come from resides...” So it's these types of things... you could just go on and on about some things you can get out of analytics. We see them in contact centers today quite a bit. You start thinking about bringing them into day-to-day business processes and that’s where IBM has done well.
Mike Roden, who runs the application software group for all of IBM, made a comment that they started making these investments some time ago and they have now got a good, wide portfolio. Now that other venders are figuring it out, the cost of some of these solutions have gone skyrocketing. They believe they picked the very best to acquire, and now the ones that are left over are higher cost because of the idea that IBM’s made the great acquisitions. So if one of their competitors wants to jump in they’ll have to pay more. Now, of course, we know that’s not a big deal for a Cisco or a Microsoft because they’ve got pretty deep pockets. They’re willing to be able to pay for that if that’s what it's going to take.
But I think that they are in a position to do some game changing with analytics and also just some game changing because of the components that they can pull together. Marty did a great job of describing this dashboard that you can have, that would allow you access to everything. I must tell you I thought it was extremely compelling. Even though we know today we can move from app-to-app just by a single click, but there’s a process that’s involved there. And they have theirs all under one dashboard where you can get to everything that you do on a daily basis, from looking at a Facebook account from a friend, as Marty mentioned, an SAP update, all of those things are available and then, of course, all your other types of communications and collaborations. So they’ve got a very, very compelling offering. We’re going to have to wait to see how well the market adopts it, and how successful they can be at channel and channel fulfillment.
Dave Michels (17:44): Okay, well, we’ve covered social and collaboration and analytics. I guess there’s just one buzzword left really to get into, which is “mobility.” So I’ll turn to Mr. Finneran. Michael, I saw your post up on No Jitter. I thought that was very interesting. Could you elaborate and clarify a little more about why IBM has six different mobility solutions?
Michael Finneran (18:06): Well, Dave, the answer is that IBM is really addressing every nook and cranny in the mobility market. Let’s start with something like mobile device management. You get basic capabilities inside of Notes Traveler; those functions are much like you get in Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync. So for minimal MDM capability, policy enforcement and remote wipe, you’ve got that option. Of course, they’re also adding MDM now to the Tivoli Endpoint Manager, which will basically put them in competition with companies like Sybase, MobileIron, Zenprise, or AirWatch. Of course, the one it comes closest to is Odyssey. Odyssey builds an MDM capability on top of Microsoft System Center- similar idea here. Tivoli is used to manage software distribution and policies for large networks of laptops and desktops, and now they’re adding mobile devices, much the way Odyssey adds that capability to Microsoft System Center.
Of course, they’re also into security. They have wireless security capability in Lotus Mobile Connect, but they also have tools for mobile application development, which would put them up against the likes of Antenna and Rho Mobile. Of course, IBM’s view is that more of these applications are moving to web-based solutions, and they have tools both for developing the interface on the mobile device as well as translating existing web sites so that they work correctly on a mobile devices. By the way, they do have a mobile client, a Sametime mobile client, just like Avaya and Cisco and Siemens and all the other UC competitors. Really, IBM’s picture is looking at something a lot broader than simply having a mobile add-on to an existing UC solution. They’re looking to be a frontline player in the mobility solution across the board.
Dave Michels (19:42): Michael, last year at Lotusphere when I was there, RIM played a pretty major role in the event. The co-CEOs, who of course just stepped down this week, got a lot of presentation time and they had a fairly major presence on the exhibit floor. I’m just curious, a year later, did RIM still have a major presence there?
Michael Finneran (20:00): They had a presence; I wouldn’t call it major any longer. Jim Balsillie, who did speak at the conference last year was not present. Of course, his tenure at RIM ended yesterday. IBM’s focus is really spread out. They recognize where the interest in the mobile space is, and they’re spending a lot more time focusing on iPhone and Android than they are on Blackberry. Of course, to their credit, RIM was there showing off their MDM solution. With the acquisition of Ubitexx last March, RIM is now going to be able to provide MDM capabilities, not just for the Blackberry platform, but for Android and IOS as well. They were actually demonstrating that at the exhibit floor. Blackberry was there and Blackberry is still obviously a partner for IBM. When I was talking to Rob Ingram, who is their senior manager for social business strategy, there was a lot more that he had to say about Android and IOS than about the Blackberry platform.
Dave Michels (21:00)): Did you notice any particular allegiance and what kind of devices the IBM employees were carrying?
Michael Finneran (21:04): No, not really, you had your typical splattering. Of course, that’s one of the advantages IBM has going into the mobile space. I got to spend some time with Bill Bodin who is the CTO for mobility. I don’t know if you caught it, but a couple of months back IBM announced they’re going to be doing a “bring your own device” program for 200,000 IBM employees this year. So a lot of the capabilities that really haven’t been productized by IBM as yet, things like they have an internal app store, those are actually being used and tested by IBM employees before they make it out into the general market. My hope is that Mr. Bodin is actually going to be able to be on one of our panels at Enterprise Connect talking about those BYOD strategies.
Dave Michels (21:48): Very good; thank you Michael. It wouldn’t be a complete UCStrategies podcast unless we talked a little bit about the contact center. Art, did you have any thoughts on that?
Art Rosenberg (21:57): Yeah – the problem with including the contact center as part of the game plan, or whatever you want to call it, social UC and so on, is the fact that the contact center has to really support people over which you have no control. It's not simply BYOD anymore, which is for your employees, they can do what they want. You’re now dealing with customers and you have no control of how or when they need to communicate. The contact center is not just contacting people. It’s access to information and self-service applications and so on. It’s not just inbound, it's outbound in terms of notifications. So it's a spectrum of capability that seems to be, at this point at least, somewhat limited by where IBM is starting with mainly within the organization. Even though they say they’re going to extend it outside the enterprise for collaborative purposes, that still doesn’t really include the consumers who are the customers—that’s where the money comes from. So I just have that kind of question if anybody who was at the show saw any indication of how they’re going to address that particular issue to make it open, and what I call the UC contact center, which handles all forms of contact – inbound, outbound, and not just for people inside the organization, but everybody. They all have to communicate and collaborate and so on. So that’s my question.
Jim Burton (23:32): There are a couple of things. They have partnered with others for a lot of their contact center solutions over the years. Genesis has been a partner for years, Interactive Intelligence is a new partner that’s having really good success working with IBM. Then, of course, some of the resell services where global technology services and global services have been offering total complete solutions they, of course, offer IBM and Avaya who also have contact centers. The one area that was mentioned about contact center solutions, and this was mentioned multiple times, is how they’ve come up with some new web development tools and services where they can provide contact center types of solutions for internal use as well as external use. I don’t know that I would go so far as to really classify these as contact centers as much as ways that people inside and outside can communicate with each other to have access to information. So while we might look at them, in some ways, as contact centers. It’s really another path of communication in setting up your web sites to be able to get information internally and/or externally through what would have been looked in some ways as contact center solution information.
Art Rosenberg (24:54): That addresses one aspect – information access definitely, and self-service applications, and so on. But for everyone who looks at information, there’s always sometimes a need to get assistance of some kind. Internally, they still probably call it the “help desk” for internal users. That is really functionally very similar....it’s just a question of who’s calling about what and who could help provide that kind of assistance. So they’re very similar. I see the two of them coming together, UC being the enabler for that technologically in terms of integrations. It's just a question of time before everything else will fit in especially social because that’s another way of providing input, or commentary or status and so on. So it's really all going to come together in one big pot.
Don Van Doran (25:45): This is Don Van Doran – let me just jump in on this a bit. I think the point that Jim was making about this is really important. We’re seeing a real shift, I think, over the next, oh, half decade or so in terms of how traditional contact centers are going to be migrating to really a very different model. The old telephone-based contact center isn’t going to go away. At the same time I think we’re going to increasingly see situations where the consumers that Art’s talking about are going to be more directly involved or directly connected to other people outside of a formal contact center where they can get their needs met. At the same time we’re seeing a lot of contact center tools that have been developed actually migrating out into other parts of the organization. Clearly some of the things that are happening with web portals and some of those kinds of concepts I think are going to be increasingly important going in that sort of direction. I was not at Lotusphere, but it sounds to me like a lot of what the steps that IBM is taking will certainly provide, let me call it, a supplemental approach to classical contact center technology, sort of along the same lines about them not formally having a telephony solution of their own, but, rather be able to integrate with other partner’s solutions to provide, what I think, is going to become a more holistic solution that we are going to see, not only IBM, but other suppliers moving to in the future as well.
Art Rosenberg (27:21): Don, I certainly agree with that and one of the things that I wanted to point us (to), and the mention of working with Interactive Intelligence. So if you look at where Interactive Intelligence is going, they’re pushing into the hosted, cloud-based services, and then especially their latest offering of a free quick spin for people to test the applications that you could use that support the contact center. So if you look at who the partners are and where they’re going you can tell now where IBM will be going with those partners.
Don Van Doran (27:55): Sure, but I think this is just indicative of a much broader trend too, Art. In other words, what we’ve got is contact centers, you know the traditional telephony-based solution is, as I said, is not fading, but on the other hand it's getting rapidly supplemented by a wide spectrum of due capabilities. Frankly, the concepts that underlie unified communications are really going to be at the heart of, I think, a lot of the ways that we’re going to see this whole customer interaction paradigm shift going forward in the future.
Art Rosenberg: Absolutely.
Dave Michels (28:34): Well, like I said, I wasn’t at Lotusphere but after listening to this I think I wish I had been there. I was very impressed a year ago about the size and scope of this conference. It’s an amazing event and IBM is an amazing company. I think they did something like $20B last year in net profit before taxes and that’s a powerful force and something that we need to be paying attention to, what they’re doing and where they’re driving our technology and the vision. Well, so with that I think we’ll wrap it up. I want to thank all of the experts. I should also mention that I had the chance to have an interview with Charlie Hill, CTO at IBM, just before Lotusphere. I put this up on No Jitter; we talked a lot about their vision around the social tools and social vision. So, again, thank you very much experts and we’ll be back next week with another topic.