One of the items I was hoping to hear at Lotusphere 2009 was outlined in a recent post by Guy Creese, Research Director of our Collaboration And Content Strategies group here at Burton. In his post, "Lotusphere 2009: What Might Have Been", Guy articulates how IBM should have outlined a "surround and integrate" strategy for SharePoint. This is obvious and is something which IBM absolutely must execute on prior to Microsoft's O14 release. In fact, during Lotusphere 2008, I laid out such a scenario as part of the ongoing battle between IBM and Microsoft:
- 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.
This isn't rocket science. If Atlassian, Newsgator, Awareness, Telligent and others can integrate with SharePoint the way Microsoft customers would prefer, so can IBM. Right now, I still see Connections primarily in Lotus Notes or WebSphere shops - SharePoint shops generally first consider one of the "SharePoint partners" or move on to someone like Jive before IBM enters the conversation (not in all cases but many). Connections is still commonly viewed as (1) expensive and (2) a "trojan horse" by IBM to persuade strategists to revisit e-mail or other product debates (e.g., SharePoint vs. Quickr, Office vs. Symphony). Which is unfortunate because the Connections platform does clearly have unique advantages.
How might this be done? Microsoft announced a flurry of partnerships last summer around the time of the Enterprise 2.0 conference. The partnerships illustrated three ways that vendors could integrate with SharePoint
The Enhancement integration model augments SharePoint's basic social computing capabilities but the solution's benefits and capabilities are centric to SharePoint and are not likely to be easily duplicated to work with other vendors. That is, a vendor's Enhancement integration model makes many fundamental assumptions that bind it to SharePoint. There is little chance of the solution acting as a means to mediate interoperability needs between SharePoint and other social computing platforms (e.g., IBM, Jive, Oracle) that might also be deployed within the enterprise.
A Gateway integration model also extends SharePoint's social computing capabilities. The primary difference between a Gateway and Enhancement approach is that the Gateway's focus is primarily on attaining some level of interoperability with SharePoint. That is, the vendor's Gateway solution offers value in both a stand-alone situation as well as with SharePoint if Microsoft's social computing platform is deployed.
The Overlay integration model represents the deepest level of integration to extend SharePoint's social computing capabilities. In essence, a vendor pursuing this approach begins to use SharePoint itself as its base infrastructure platform. That is, the solution essentially "lives within" SharePoint. This integration model differs significantly from the Enhancement and Gateway model since the vendor becomes almost entirely dependent on SharePoint. There may be some distinct functions kept outside SharePoint (e.g., database) to enable the vendor to deliver functions not possible within SharePoint's current set of services.
There is already an example of how IBM might approach such integration in the wild:
Recently, I started working with the CorasWorks team to develop an iWidget for Lotus Connections that would display data from a Microsoft Sharepoint server. If the name CorasWorks sounds familiar, is because I blogged about them a couple months back. They are a Microsoft Gold Certified Business Partner and have created a solution to bring some of the Lotus Connections components into Sharepoint.
What we wanted to do was develop an iWidget for Lotus Connections so that we could surface SharePoint data within Lotus Connections. More specifically, we wanted to show all the sites that a user has access to. Since CorasWorks provides a very nice API on top of Sharepoint this was very easily done.
I think it's also worth noting how this mashup was created:
- The iWidget is running on my domain: blog.lbenitez.com
- Lotus Connections is running on connections.demoibm.com
- Sharepoint is running on corasworks.net
Hopefully IBM will begin to seriously position Connections as a complimentary platform for those organizations that want to maintain some level of commitment to SharePoint. It's nice to compete fiercely but not when customers lose out. The "either/or" perception IBM struggles with now in organizations that consider themselves "SharePoint shops" creates a win/lose decision that is not going to deliver the type of market penetration IBM needs given incremental improvements to social computing Microsoft should deliver in O14, perhaps by the end of the year.
So Guy is right, I think something along the line of "ConnectPoint" (my preferred name) or "SharePoint Connect" (also not bad) might be something customers should push IBM on...