My focus next week at IBM's Lotusphere event will concentrate on two areas: social computing and unified communications. Below is a rough sketch of what I will be looking for and an outline of a "report card" of sorts to guide my blog posts during the event.
Here's the five "report card' areas I'll be assessing IBM on regarding its Lotus Connections solution:
Refining the message
I'm hoping to hear a transformed message from IBM on the importance of social computing from a variety of perspectives: the need to have a more adaptive workforce (talent, shifting workforce demographics), the need for "new ways to work" (more edge-centric, networked and emergent), the need to re-tool the enterprise to catalyze informal interactions, the long-standing need for KM and how we might finally be getting it right - and how these viewpoints become part of formal business structures that help improve the performance and productivity (not just internal processes but external re: customers, partners and suppliers). To-date, I have not been all that satisfied with the top-line messaging around Lotus Connections - I think it relied to much on the "expertise" card and was overly pitched to a CXO level audience.
Filling in the gaps
While Lotus Connections is the most complete social computing platform from a major vendor re: BEA, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle (as of right now), it has gaps - there is no wiki component unless you use other Lotus products and the product itself lacks a feed syndication platform. The community feature is also not strong. Hopefully, IBM will present its vision on how these social computing gaps will be filled.
Building out the ecosystem
If you're a vendor with a platform that's not quite a platform (yet), then you would probably be all that much more aggressive when it came to building out a partner ecosystem. Unfortunately we have not seen the type of third-party portfolio of solutions emerge yet around Lotus Connections. I'm hoping to hear how this story is changing. It would be nice to hear how other Web 2.0 / Enterprise 2.0 vendors become part of a broader Connections platform environment - wouldn't it be great to have Moveable Type of WordPress as blogging options - or to have Confluence or Socialtext as wiki options - or to have Attensa, KnowNow or NewsGator as feed syndication platform options?
Heading them off at the pass
Microsoft. How will IBM use social computing as an insertion strategy to relegates Microsoft's Office SharePoint Server 2007 to collaboration and content management solutions while Lotus Connections becomes the social computing platform for the enterprise? IBM has a window of opportunity between now and the next major release of SharePoint from Microsoft to present its case that social computing is too important to wait and that real business value can be delivered via Connections.
Opening the enterprise social graph
Relationships don't stop at the firewall. For all the messaging from IBM that they focus on the enterprise, they absence of any consumer aspect of Connections mystifies me. I am hoping to hear some vision at least, on the need to federate enterprise and consumer social networks. What is IBM's take on Open Social, on data portability? Will IBM work with Facebook (as well as others such as LinkedIn and Xing for instance) to federate that platform with Lotus Connections?
Here's the five "report card' areas I'll be assessing IBM on regarding its Lotus Sametime solution:
Putting on the final touches
Sametime has progressed rapidly over the last 12-18 months. After putting the product on the back-burner for several years, IBM deserves a great deal of credit for putting in place an exceptionally strong team with solid management focus on unified communications and collaboration. By the end of 2008, I expect IBM to have reached a level of parity with Microsoft when you consider the business and technology model that it has defined (i.e., there are certain areas IBM will leave to its partners and will not itself become a complete communications system on-par with Avaya, Cisco, etc.). That said - market forces will continue to erode product boundaries so at some point, IBM will end up looking a lot like Microsoft when it comes to UC (circa 2010-ish). Other areas included in this category: where IBM is heading with unified messaging, speech and backend modernization.
IBM needs to clarify where it is heading in terms of a hosted solution for unified communications. It needs to paint a bigger picture - will it just be another hosted web conferencing provider - or will there be a greater vision (similar to what Cisco has with its WebEx Connection efforts)? Is there a possible Saleforce or Skype relationship to build on?
Finding the next UC idol
Enough about the vendor platforms. The entire UC movement will go bust without UC-enabled business applications. IBM has some advantages in this particular area versus Microsoft so I'm looking forward to see how the storyline for application development and delivery is evolving - including integration with desktop applications and back-end systems. IBM needs to show examples (such as Carestream Health) of solutions that demonstrate why UC is important beyond the traditional productivity and work model (e.g., mobile) examples.
And then there was one
With Unyte, IBM now has two web conferencing engines. This needs to be made more clear to the market - which one is the strategic bet? Will IBM hide behind "use Unyte for hosted and Sametime for on-premises"? If so - how do the two solutions interoperate (and why would you want to focus on two different technical roadmaps)? Will Sametime conferencing slowly be phased out over time?
In this post (which points to the original), I outlined a change in my position on presence - basically, that UC vendors are now in the backseat and should no longer be considered the primary engine for presence within the enterprise. I'll be interested to hear from IBM on where they see presence heading and how it becomes more of a continuous social feed rather than a buddy list with rich profiles.