IBM Lotusphere 2012 – Socializing 'Social Business’
Went to Lotusphere 2012 this week. My pre-travel tweet was: “IBM Lotusphere 2012 -- All about social business. Goal: Dig out the evidence and metrics for social; relate to UC. #ibmsocialbiz.” Happily, was able to achieve most of this goal. Here are some highlights.
There is no doubt that IBM is "all in" on Social Business. It seems IBM has a vision of a new type of business that will live in a "new normal" (they used that phrase a lot) of social network interactions. Certainly, they did not argue that business was not social in the past – far from that. But, they describe a new model for work that is based on the connectedness of social interactions. The IBM model includes revisions to processes, workflow and organizational structure. Any one of these would be major, but taken all together, it is an entirely new model.
IBM described the social organization as “engaged, nimble, and transparent.” The defined social business as being built on “social networking tools and systems to improve roles, processes and outcomes.” Social business, they say, will have the value of interactions persist, will deliver insights in context, and will take advantage of collective intelligence. They emphasize this picture includes employees as well as customers, partners and suppliers. (It is irresistible to note how closely this aligns with UCStrategies’ five-year definition of Unified Communications as, “communications integrated to optimize business processes.” I certainly think of "social" as an evolution of communications.)
IBM describes platforms for social business as needing to support four action elements:
- Reach – supported by social networking
- Engage – through use of dynamic "content in motion"
- Discover – by applying analytics as a "fabric" to the connections and the content
- Act – by applying all of this to process improvements and innovation
Of course, IBM presented their solution to meet these requirements. The heart of the solution is IBM Connections which they demonstrated as bringing "everything you need for your work" into one place. Connections has the social networking tools you would expect – profiles, presence, instant messaging, search, posts, and even e-mail – as well as activity feeds which were shown to deliver both social information from other people’s activities as well as feeds from business applications such as SAP and others. Connections now even includes a new tool set known as IBM Docs to process documents, spreadsheets and presentations directly within the Connections environment (IBM says this is new software, not based on Symposium or OpenOffice). Real-time communications was also shown as accessible from Connections; in the demo, the user joined a group video session running on a Polycom video bridge and accessed through a Sametime server. As with documents, the communications was invoked directly from Connections – the user did not have to change programs to communicate. Analytic tools were emphasized throughout the presentations as supporting the effectiveness of the work flows, both by managing the flood of activity feeds and by finding the talent and the information needed for any specific situation.
The point was really obvious – IBM has reassembled and augmented their existing assets to create an enterprise-class social environment built for business (and public sector) processes that they believe will enable a totally new future for work and organizations. To emphasize this theme, the presentation said, “Technology does matter, though it is not the only thing that matters.”
So, IBM clearly presented the evidence of what they see social to be and how they are delivering on that vision. And they did it in a way that really favors IBM (well, of course – that’s what a strategy does). While some competitors have social-oriented software and some other competitors have analytic engines and some other competitors have the professional services needed to execute on the vision, it’s hard to find a competitor who has the entire package. So, if IBM is right that the market will be driven by and to social business, they are on a winning strategic path.
But, how about the metrics and proof points? IBM did their best on both of these, but my conclusion is that it is very early in this evolution. IBM made a big point of inviting their customers for social business solutions to present in both the general sessions and in multiple breakout sessions. We heard from enterprises in finance, healthcare, manufacturing, and other vertical markets. The two main messages were:
- Social business adds another tool for business innovation, especially by enabling and capturing the benefits of employee creativity and feedback. This is the basis for the "engaged, nimble and transparent" characterization of social business. Yet the metrics are still evolving. The customers at Lotusphere primarily described increased levels of participation and contribution, but had not yet translated that into increased market share, faster revenue growth, differentiating cost structures or dramatic changes in profitability.
- Social business changes the structure and dynamic of an organization. Management has to relearn their roles to be listeners to the social network who can aggregate, assimilate, and incorporate the network feedback into their decisions and their leadership. Also, social networks seem to be rebalancing organization dynamics as younger employees with social networking skills are recruited and incorporated into the workflows. Some points were made that this more open structure may also be redefining organization size and shape as social business can more easily use the resources of external parties, customers, partners and suppliers.
IBM presenters in the opening general session tried to anchor the social business value claims with information from the Institute for Business Value (an IBM information research organization), saying that social tools will help business to discover and share ideas, to augment skills and distribute workload, and to improve forecasting effectiveness. Also, IBM quoted McKinsey & Co. who stated there is a positive correlation between increased margins and social business. However, these still are not quantitative results, and the positive correlation may just reflect the value that any business can create by constant attention to efficiency and innovation.
IBM also described their own use of IBM Connections as a social platform including use by 600,000 IBMers, partners and contractors who participate in 105,000 blogs, 74,800 communities and have shared 475,000 files with 9.5 million downloads. Beyond that IBM reported 400,000 Sametime users who send 50 million Instant Messages a day. Impressive, though still not directly connected to profits.
Well, there it is, my report on two and a half days at Lotusphere. There may be more coming in future posts and in the UCStrategies.com podcast on Tuesday, January 24. My closing summary is that while IBM’s "Business. Made Social." certainly could be seen as only a major branding play, their combination of supporting technology (infrastructure, communications, information management, and analytics) with their depth in consulting and professional services in both horizontal and vertical industry sectors makes their ‘Social Business’ strategy an important force in the market and one to watch closely.