Yesterday during the opening session, IBM announced a strategic partnership with both Socialtext and Atlassian to integrate each vendor's wiki technology into Lotus Connections. This represents the opening moves in a chess match between IBM anbd Microsoft that will evolve over the next two years. So far, there are not of lot of details out yet but the social computing keynote is tomorrow morning so I expect more information to come out then. But what does this mean re: Microsoft?
My "thinking out loud" thoughts below:
- Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 is sweeping through the industry like no other software product that I've seen since the early hey-days of Lotus Notes.
- That said, the social computing capabilities within MOSS 2007 out-of-the-box are not comparable with best of breed tools from specialized vendors.
- Microsoft offers extensions to the base product on Codeplex (e.g., Community Development Kit) but those extensions are not supported, do not go through the normal Q&A process and may not be entirely supported in a future release of MOSS.
- Microsoft has recently partnered with NewsGator (for feed syndication) and Atlassian (wikis). Previously, Microsoft had integrated with Socialtext as well.
- IBM is taking it on the chin right now re: SharePoint. Virtually every client I talk to is looking at MOSS as some level. An improved Notes client, new capabilities within Domino, application development advancements, and a maturing Quickr platform will help IBM maintain relevancy within the install base but to me - they are collectively somewhat more of a defensive tactic that will not grow new business and not necessarily be enough to protect the entire install base.
- Which brings us to Lotus Connections. Connections is both a wedge and hammer IBM can use that is unique right now when you line up technology solutions with Microsoft.
- Lotus Connections has a modernized architecture based on expected IBM infrastructure (WebSphere, Tivoli) but the REST-style and Atom/AtomPub implementation is superior (in my opinion) versus where SharePoint is coming from when we talk about social computing (Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0).
- Lotus Connections however is missing some key pieces (e.g., native wiki, feed syndication). Yes, IBM has wiki technology and you can integrate Notes, QuickR and Sametime with Connections - but for purposes of this post, I'm looking at Connections in a turnkey way.
- Given the modern architecture, Connections appears to be very receptive (technically) to third-party partners. IBM should be able to build out a partner guild of best of breed vendors that specialize in different areas of social software and package that into a more diversified environment than what Microsoft can respond with via SharePoint (my opinion). IBM needs to just open things up and not care about a win-win scenario between it and every partner - just let the network effects kick in and let the market drive what packaging makes sense (think of what SpikeSource is doing and how IBM might replicate that in a way that makes sense for Connections).
- So why is this important? IBM can use Connections to compete with Microsoft by changing the focus to social computing rather than collaboration and content. If IBM can achieve that position (social computing as the strategic direction vs. traditional collaboration and content platforms), then it can then work over time to erode a SharePoint collaboration/content commitment by introducing Quickr and Sametime for instance.
- But - that means that IBM needs to let Connections "do its own thing" and not worry about slowing down or try to cross-sell other Lotus products. The build out of a partner ecosystem that is more viral will distinguish Connections from SharePoint (which seems to pick partners more selectively in my opinion). IBM also needs to deliver updates to Connections quickly - remember, IBM has a two year window approx. before the next release of SharePoint.
- IBM has to do superior and native integration between Connections and Microsoft productivity tools and integrate with SharePoint as well.
- If Connections is allowed to run fast and not be overly concerned with bootstrapping other Lotus products - it has the opportunity to get IBM into "Microsoft shops" and go on the offensive rather than merely trying to protect the install base.
- How? First, IBM needs to convince a shop not to not turn on MySite by showing how much better its profile capability is within Connections - that's a critical first step. Then, it needs to sell the enterprise on its blog and wiki tools which SharePoint does offer but they are not all that great - to show that point IBM needs to push best of breed options perhaps more aggressively than its own tools (Atlassian and Socialtext for wikis, hopefully we will see blog partners as well emerge). It needs to also sell the tagging piece which Microsoft does not have right now. IBM does not have a feed syndication platform but can point out deficiencies with SharePoint (e.g., no Atom support) but obviously getting Attensa, KnowNow and NewsGator on board would help a lot.
- If Connections and its extended environment can surround SharePoint (a.k.a. social computing as a solution that augments traditional collaboration and content tools0 - then IBM has a disruptive leverage point to exploit. It can gain a foothold and work on introducing other products in its portfolio (namely Quickr) over time - hoping for some 2010 buyer's remorse on the part of SharePoint shops.
Again, this is a stream of thought... speculation on one possible scenario on my part.