Tag Archives: vulcan

Lotusphere 2012: IBM Demonstrates the Power of the Platform, Simplified

This entry was cross-posted from Meanders: The Dow Brook Blog.

Software analysts and buyers have historically favored platforms over application suites and stand-alone applications. Why? Because platforms offer both a rich set of pre-integrated functionality and the ability to add or build new features and applications, some of which may be extensively customized for an organization.

IBM has long been considered a platform provider of enterprise software, particularly in the infrastructure and middleware categories. More recently, IBM has evolved from being a vendor of a collaboration suite (Quickr) to a provider of multiple integrated, extensible offerings for enterprise collaboration, social networking, messaging, content sharing and management, and customer- and employee-facing web experience management. IBM’s vision for for this confederation of offerings, codenamed ‘Project Vulcan’, was first articulated at Lotusphere 2010. Last year’s Lotusphere presented initial, limited evidence that the vision was becoming reality.

Lotusphere 2012, held last week, showcased IBM’s latest efforts at unifying its interaction platform. IBM previewed the upcoming releases of its Connections, Notes/Domino, and Customer and Intranet Web Experience offerings. As one would expect from a platform software provider, each of these products works with the others out of the box. However, IBM, has gone beyond merely providing integration between the separate offerings by embedding functionality from each into the others. For example, IBM customers who have licensed both Connections and Notes will soon be able to send and receive email from within Connections, and, conversely, consumers will be able to view and interact with the Connections activity stream from within Notes.

The increasing power of the IBM interaction platform was further underscored by demonstrations of related, integrated and embedded functional services from its Quickr collaboration, Content Manager and FileNet enterprise content management, and Cognos analytics offerings. This extended scope of the Project Vulcan vision is what sets IBM apart from other platform software vendors, and it was good to see IBM articulating and demonstrating that differentiation at Lotusphere.

Death of a Tradeoff

We, as an industry, have assumed the existence of a tradeoff between rich functionality and simple, intuitive user experiences. Conventional wisdom says that as more features are added, the resulting complexity degrades the user experience, forcing software architects and designers to find an optimal balance between functionality and usability. The tradeoff has traditionally been managed in one of two ways: 1) by creating simple, single-purpose applications that are not overloaded with functionality, or 2) by partitioning functionality into multiple, related applications in a suite. Platforms have largely not attempted to manage this tradeoff at all for developers/designers, administrators, or consumers. Not only is the platform’s complexity on full display; it is generally promoted as a benefit.

IBM’s implementation of its Project Vulcan vision has, for perhaps the first time, obviated the long-held tradeoff between functionality and ease-of-use at the platform level. The versions of Connections, Notes/Domino, and the Web Experience offerings that where announced and demonstrated at Lotusphere 2012 (and will be released over the course of this year) are both feature-rich and highly usable. Each offering has had its user interface redesigned, yielding a cleaner look that is more consistent across the interaction platform. Additionally, the new user interface designs are simpler than their predecessors and, in effect, minimize the complexity created by IBM’s extended integration and embedding of functionality from related software offerings.

This harmonious co-existence of broad, advanced functionality and a consumer-friendly computing experience is what makes IBM’s interaction platform really different and powerful. The first public glimpse of this next-generation enterprise software came during the Lotusphere 2012 Opening General Session, when Connections Next was demonstrated by its Lead Project Manager, Suzanne Livingston. My reaction, a tweet that was later displayed before the beginning of the Closing General Session, sums up the impact of IBM’s work on its interaction platform over the last year:

Dow Brook’s Point-Of-View

While there is more work to be done, IBM should be proud of the next-generation interaction platform it is bringing to market. Lotusphere 2012 demonstrated that IBM is in good position to be a provider of choice for social business software. The work that they’ve done over the last year strongly differentiates their interaction platform and should positively affect its adoption by customers. IBM’s refusal to acknowledge the old, limiting tradeoff between platform complexity and user experience should accelerate the consolidation of the Enterprise Social Software market in the second half of 2012. It may also more firmly establish IBM as a leader in the Web Experience software category and spark renewed interest in its Notes/Domino messaging and Sametime unified communications offerings.

Disclosure: IBM is a client of Dow Brook’s Insight OnDemand subscription advisory service and paid the author’s registration and hotel expenses related to Lotusphere 2012 attendance.

Lotusphere 2011: IBM at a Crossroads

This entry was cross-posted from Meanders: The Dow Brook Blog

I was fortunate to attend Lotusphere 2011 (#ls11) last week in its entirety, quite by accident. I was scheduled to leave after the official program for analysts ended at Noon on Wednesday, but Mother Nature buried Massachusetts in about 18 inches of snow that day. My flight home was canceled, and I was rebooked on another one leaving Friday night. As a result, I was able to have some additional meetings with IBM executives and other attendees, and to soak in more conference sessions.

Attending the entire conference enriched me with perspective on several areas of both Lotus’ and IBM’s larger business strategy and offerings. I will summarize what I learned in this post, with the goal of perhaps exploring some of the individual topics further in subsequent posts.

IBM and Social Business

To the surprise of many in attendance, a strong, vocal embrace of the concept of social business came not only from all the Lotus Vice Presidents, but from a senior corporate-level IBM executive as well. SVP of Marketing Jon Iwata spoke at a keynote session entitled “Becoming a Social Business”. While he eloquently  and passionately spoke about how IBM is rapidly becoming a social business itself, he also told a story that revealed a strong, and nearly unanimous, level of initial resistance from the company’s senior leadership team.

Another conflicting signal was the marketing strategy revelation that the Social Business positioning (and budget) is buried inside of IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative, which will potentially minimize the impact of the social business message to IBM customers and the broader market. The nested positioning suggests to me that there are still those among IBM’s leadership that are not ready bet the company on social business.

Lotus Software Portfolio Integration

The Lotus division has executed very well to make parts of the Project Vulcan vision introduced last year at Lotusphere real and available to customers. The general session presentations made it clear that Lotus Notes is intended to be the primary interface through which IBM’s integrated collaboration and social functionality will be exposed. However, IBM also articulated and demonstrated that its “Social Everywhere” strategy, which was presented at Lotusphere 2010, is very much alive and well. That was done by talking about and showing the following integrated solutions.

Exceptional Web Experience

The Exceptional Web Experience solution is made tangible in software through the Customer Experience Suite (CES), which was launched in November 2010. The CES combines portal, content management, commerce, forms, analytics, and other software assets from multiple IBM brands into an offering that enables the rapid design, monitoring, and customization of customer-facing websites.

At Lotusphere, IBM demonstrated momentum for this young initiative by featuring customer testimonials as a key piece of a general session entitled “Client Panel – Exceptional Web Experience”, as well as in individual breakout sessions. These customer presentations communicated specific business performance and ROI results attributable to CES use. This data was great to see, and it made a compelling argument for the CES. It also left me wishing that we had comparable data regarding the use of IBM social software inside of organizations.

Exceptional Work Experience

IBM does have a parallel initiative to the Exceptional Web Experience in the works, but has not yet announced a solution bundle for it. The Exceptional Work Experience initiative will focus on enabling social collaboration within organizations. It most likely will feature software assets from various IBM brands, including Lotus (Connections and Quickr) Enterprise Content Management (Content Manager and FileNet), Websphere (Portal), SPSS, Cognos, and Coremetrics.

At Lotusphere 2011, IBM used the term “Exceptional Work Experience” in session labels and in content presented during sessions, but never defined an offering. As a result, some customers that I spoke with were confused about IBM’s strategy for supporting social business within organizations. IBM will need to quickly clarify that strategy and announce a holistic, enabling solution along the lines of the Customer Experience Suite to better support its customers’ efforts to transform internal operations in line with social business principles.

Social Content Management

IBM sowed confusion in another area as well at Lotusphere 2011. In a breakout session given by IBM employees, entitled “Extending Social Collaboration with Enterprise Content”, IBM introduced a new positioning for its combined enterprise social and content management capabilities – “Social Content Management”. This is a market positioning statement, not a branded solution, that features integration between Lotus social/collaboration applications and technologies from IBM’s Enterprise Content Management group. The presenters defined Social Content Management as seamless content creation and collaboration, in social & ECM environments, supported by open standards.

In reality, there was little new other than the category label, as both the vision and specific technology integrations presented were a rehash of Lotusphere 2010 content. The session presenters articulated and demonstrated how organizations can manage content created in social software (Lotus Quickr and Connections) with the same IBM technologies currently used to manage documents (IBM Content Manager and FileNet).

The one new piece of information in this session was a bit of a shocker – IBM does not believe that CMIS is usable in its current state. The session presenters said that the CMIS standard is not mature enough yet for them to use it to provide the depth of integration they can with proprietary connectors. Therefore, for now, IBM will continue to integrate its social and content management technologies via proprietary code, rather than using the open standard (CMIS) that the company’s own definition of Social Content Management prescribes. This is especially surprising because IBM is one of the founding members of the OASIS CMIS Technical Committee, along with EMC and Microsoft.

Enhancements to Individual Lotus Collaboration Offerings

IBM’s strategy is to create multiple points of integration between its social, collaboration, and content management offerings (among others), but it will continue to sell individual products alongside the solution bundles it is creating. The company announced a number of upcoming functional enhancements to its products at Lotusphere 2011.

Lotus Connections

Lotus Connections 3.0 was released in on November 24, 2010, bringing enhancements in the areas of social analytics, Communities, stand-along Forums, mobility, and cloud delivery. IBM executed well on this release, bringing to market everything it had announced at Lotusphere 2010.

The next release of Connections, due in Q2, will introduce Communities and Forum moderation capabilities, a photo and video gallery with sharing features, idea blogs, and the integration of Communities with ECM repositories. Additional functionality, including an Event Aggregator that brings events from other enterprise applications into Lotus applications’ activity streams, shared walls and calendars in Communities, in-context viewing of documents on the Home page, and improved adoption tracking metrics and reporting, will be released later in 2011 (most likely during Q4.)

The most important announcement concerning Lotus Connections made at Lotusphere was not about home-grown functionality. IBM announced a partnership with Actiance (formerly FaceTime) that will immediately make available to IBM customers the Actiance Compliance Module for IBM Lotus Connections. This module will enable organizations in regulated industries to define and apply social media policies, as well as monitor social content in real-time for compliance with those policies. It was important for IBM to fill this gap in Connections functionality, because Big Blue has many customers in the financial services sector, and other  regulated industries, that have taken a very cautious approach to adopting social software. The Actiance partnership should help increase IBM’s sales of Lotus Connections to marquee customers.

Lotus Quickr

There was relatively little news regarding Lotus Quickr at Lotusphere 2011. It was most often mentioned as an integration point with Lotus Connections, IBM Content Manager, and FileNet. There was a breakout session on “What’s New in Lotus Quickr Domino 8.5″, but it merely rehashed the new features that were made available six months ago (on September 13, 2010.)

No new functional updates were announced for the J2EE version of Quickr either, nor was a product roadmap presented for either Quickr flavor. This heightens my suspicion that Quickr will be rolled into Lotus Connections in the next year or two. I believe IBM would do so sooner, but cannot because too many of it’s current Quickr customers have not yet purchased or deployed Connections.

LotusLive

IBM’s cloud-based collaboration service, LotusLive, gained new functionality in 2010, including iNotes email, the Communities module from Lotus Connections, and integrated third-party applications from Skype, UPS, Tungle, Silanis, and Bricsys. The LotusLive team also created new functional bundles as distinctly-priced offerings.

There were several new announcements regarding LotusLive made at Lotusphere 2011. IBM will be delivering its Symphony suite of office productivity tools as a service in LotusLive. This will enable users to collaboratively create, read, and edit word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation documents across organizational firewalls. Symphony is currently available as a Tech Preview inside of LotusLive Labs and will be made generally available later this year.

There were also several partnerships with third-party vendors announced at Lotusphere that will enable LotusLive users to execute important business processes in the cloud. The most prominent is a partnership with SugarCRM, which will make its sales tracking functionality available via LotusLive by Q2 of this year. A similar partnership with Ariba will allow LotusLive customers to procure and sell goods to other businesses. Finally, a partnership with Expresso immediately enables users to edit both Symphony and Microsoft Office documents within LotusLive, rather than the file’s native application.

The LotusLive team has executed well, delivering functionality promised at Lotusphere 2010. However, adoption of the offering has not reached the scale that IBM had anticipated it would by now. Listening to LotusLive customers speak on two different occasions revealed that smaller enterprises are using the offering to run mission-critical parts of their businesses, while larger enterprises are very cautiously  experimenting at the moment, if they are embracing the offering at all. 2011 will be a make-or-break year for LotusLive in terms of customer adoption.

Conclusion

I left Lotusphere 2011 with mixed feelings. The IBM Corporation has embraced social business, but is still hedging its bet. The Lotus division has executed well on previously announced strategy in the last year, but the impact of its more integrated offerings will be minimal unless other IBM divisions – Global Business Services in particular – step up to help customers become more collaborative, social businesses. The functional build-out of most of the individual Lotus products has continued at a good pace, but the development paths of some those offerings are less than clear to customers.

2011 could be a watershed year in IBM’s century-long history. However, we may ultimately look back and say that it was a year of missed opportunity. The outcome will depend on IBM’s success or failure in becoming a social business itself and aligning its resources to help customers transform as well.