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Like Marty Parker, I too spent a good part of last week at Lotusphere in Orlando, where “Business. Made Social” was the central theme, and I could not help but be impressed with the range and depth of IBM’s vision on the importance of social networking in business. While everyone else in the UC space has recently “discovered” collaboration and is busily realigning their marketing along those lines, IBM was touting UC2 (for “unified communications and collaboration”) years ago, and has now moved past that. So while UC2 on the Sametime platform is still is the picture, Connections, IBM’s social business platform, took center stage.
My colleague Marty Parker covered the essentials IBM's social networking tools in his post, so I won’t bother to retread the same ground, but rather look at the broader picture. Mike Rhodin, SVP for IBM’s Software Solutions Group led off the event and shared the stage with Michael Chui, Senior Fellow at the McKinsey Global Institute. The exchange wasn’t about “collaboration tools,” but about the changing nature of work. The goals they discussed were business goals like speeding access to expertise, decreasing time to market, and multiplying customer touch points.
Chui talked about “learning enterprises,” and the role that social tools can play in bringing them about. He noted that some social initiatives in business had launched with a burst of enthusiasm followed by a quick drop-off in emphasis. The key he noted is that social initiatives are not a “fire-and-forget” program, but an initiative that requires ongoing work with a focus on integrating social into business processes – a theme we regularly strike here at UCStrategies.
In that session and a follow-on meeting with industry analysts, Mr. Rhodin admitted that there are a growing number of examples customers who have adopted social strategies, and most are far too early in the process to have seen major returns. However, he emphasized that IBM is working with line of business managers on many of their social networking initiatives rather than with the traditional IT buyers in bringing those ideas to life.
That “big picture” view was also on display in the presentation by Manoj Saxena, General Manager for the Watson Solutions Group. Following Watson’s tour de force on Jeopardy last February, the Solutions Group was formed in August to commercialize the technology. In his presentation, Mr. Saxena pointed out that 80% of the data being produced today is unstructured, and that data can only be put to good use with the type of probabilistic computing that Watson is built on. I got the chance to talk to Mr. Saxena after his presentation and he was absolutely passionate about the potential for computer technology to solve problems beyond ERP, CRM, and the traditional focal points of IT. For one of the first Watson initiatives, IBM has partnered with Wellpoint insurance and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Lotusphere also featured a number of customer cases that validated the impact. Wendy Arnott, VP of Social Media and Digital Communications at TD Bank Group took the stage to describe how her organization adopted social business with the goals of aligning with core values and delivering real returns while acknowledging the risks. Working in a highly regulated environment, the adoption of social media does involve risks, but she identified TD Bank Group’s philosophy as “Believe in the value, not in the problems.”
Ms. Arnott also gave the five big lessons she and her organization learned for their foray into social networking:
1. Support from the company’s leadership is essential
2. You need a dedicated social business team
3. Great partnerships with Legal, HR, Marketing, and IT are essential to success
4. You have to devote resources to develop support with line-of-business managers. You have to “get down in the weeds” with regard to business process integration was they way she put it.
5. Lastly, you have to engage employees and use those very social tools to elicit their inputs.
As is typical at these events, I was focused on the mobility angle, and IBM had a lot to say. I described many of those initiatives in a piece titled “IBM Goes Wide and Deep in Mobility” that I posted on NoJitter.com. I won’t rehash it all here, but I was surprised to find that besides the Sametime Mobile UC client, IBM has launched or is preparing to launch a bevy of products for mobile security, device management, applications management, and applications development. After looking at IBM’s line up, I determined that the only company that has a similar breadth of market coverage in mobility is Sybase – none of the other “UC” vendors even come close.
The key for IBM is to come up with a go-to-market strategy that allows them to profit from this vision. Despite widespread praise for their UC offerings, the UC conversation continues to be dominated by Microsoft and the IP PBX vendors. In a recent survey I helped develop for Information Week Analytics on the “State of Unified Communications,” when buyers were asked “Who are the top three providers of UC?” Cisco, Microsoft, and Avaya topped the list with 51%, 24% and 13% of the first-place votes; IBM got 5%.
To truly profit from what it has, IBM will have to come up with a better way to get its message through to buyers and develop either a direct or channel based strategy to get their solutions into the customers’ hands; given IBM’s legacy, attacking the SMB space will clearly call for a channel driven strategy. Product and vision IBM has in abundance, but it will be the go to market plan and its execution that tells the tale.
IBM has been successful in that environment in the past – maybe it should bring back the Charlie Chaplin character.
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Communications Integrated to Optimize Business Processes.
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