Social networking for the enterprise

Well – have just returned from Lotusphere in Orlando which is IBM’s conference for customers and partners for its collaboration software. I must admit I was a little apprehensive about the content – when I worked for IBM Lotus was exclusively (and somewhat obsessively) focused on what seemed to be a doomed struggle between Notes/Domino and Outlook/Exchange.

However, I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, there were announcements around and a focus on the Notes/Domino platform but the attention was very heavily centred around Web 2.0. Not only have IBM announced new versions of Connections and Quickr, but also new products – Lotus Mashups for line of business users to build mashup applications and also a software as a service offering called Bluehouse which is a software-as-a-service collaboration suite for small companies (aimed at 500 employees or less). It was certainly exciting to see IBM embrace social software and software-as-a-service so overtly and as a core piece of their strategy.

Even more heartening was to hear large organisations who have adopted social software discuss their experiences. It was summed up best by a speaker from the Bank of New York Mellon who said that after the merger of Bank of New York and Mellon Financial Corporation their biggest problems was having “17,000 employees over here and 23,000 employees over there who didn’t know each other.” IBM Connections is a centrepiece of their strategy to fix this problem.

Of wider interest was the behavioural observations I came away with. I was fortunate enough to talk to IBM employees, business partners and customers about their experience of selling, building, delivering and using social software platforms exclusively within companies, and what drove their success or failure. The following themes re-occured constantly:

  • You must distinguish between team collaboration and community networking. They are different business problems which require different tools
  • Those who contribute to social networks and those who seek content have different motivations and must be catered for accordingly
  • Adoption will speed up if there is value in using the tools for their own sake, ie even if no-one else uses them

Given the amount of customer interest and resources that IBM are putting into their offerings I left convinced that Social Networking does have a place in the enterprise (even if the name does not do it much justice) and that our offerings of strategy analysis to find how social software will best help your organisation, and a 12 month adoption plan to ensure value is gained from any investment will be vital tools to help companies on this path.

What I would really be interested now is hearing from Microsoft or any Microsoft oriented partners who can enlighten us on their position in the world. I have read several articles regarding Sharepoint as a theoretical social networking platform, or whether their investment in Facebook will lead to a Microsoft/Facebook enterprise social networking offering but would love to hear more details.

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