Move Over Facebook, IBM Goes Social for Business

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2011-02-02

Move Over Facebook, IBM Goes Social for Business

ORLANDO, Fla. - Move over Facebook, you might know consumers, but IBM knows business. And Big Blue has made a big push to define and capitalize on the market for "social business."

Indeed, not only has IBM made social business the thrust of its new strategy to help its customers and partners leverage social networking and social paradigms to their benefit, but IBM itself has become a social business, in that it eats its own dog food of social solutions coming out of its Lotus division.

In an interview with eWEEK at the Lotusphere 2011 conference here, Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of IBM's Software Solutions Group, said, "We've all seen the Facebook effect, even before the movie. But think of that situation at work for a community or a business as opposed to an individual."

Rhodin said just as in the early days of the Internet when companies were trying to figure out how to take advantage of the opportunity and to leverage content to do business, today IBM and others are trying to figure out how to leverage social networking and collaboration to become better social businesses.

"We're going to follow the same pattern and this will change the way people operate," Rhodin said. Jon Iwata, senior vice president of IBM marketing and communications, echoed Rhodin's sentiments.

"Back in 1995 when the World Wide Web burst on the scene; in the early days the Internet was about owning content" Iwata said. "Then we declared the Internet would be ready for business. We made a market - e-business. Today we have another opportunity to lead."

"This will give way to a new class of global opportunities that allows organizations to flatten and people to share responsibilities," Rhodin said. "It enables companies to globalize innovation. Product designers are collaborating globally to do new products and designs."

Rhodin said hardly any of IBM's products are built by developers or talent in fewer than three geographies working together, so the ability to collaborate and work socially is even more important. It also has an impact on the so-called "talent war" and competition for knowledge workers, because rather than allowing departing workers to "walk out the door with IP between their ears, if we're using social networking technologies the IP can be part of a social network."

At Lotusphere, IBM announced a new initiative to help organizations bring social business to the broadest support for smart phones and through flexible cloud delivery models. IBM also introduced new software and services that will help global organizations integrate social collaboration into their business processes to accelerate collaboration, deepen customer relationships, generate new ideas faster, and enable a more effective workforce. 

"We're a big company; we don't do consumer," Rhodin said. "We do enterprise plays. This is about social business for the enterprise. But there are things in Lotus for the consumer space."

Moreover, Rhodin said, "It's not about going out and doing your business on Facebook. Facebook is just a tool. This is a new way to engage your employees, customers and partners."

IBM Pulling the Pieces Together


Larry Augustin, CEO of SugarCRM, which has recently done a deal to integrate its Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution with IBM's LotusLive collaboration suite, spoke with eWEEK at Lotusphere and said, "IBM has done a great job of putting all the pieces together for social business - not just internal, but for reaching out to your customers and partners. If you want to interact with customers, you want to interact with the new mechanisms that people are using every day. The majority of Internet time spent by users has switched into social networking, like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. IBM is pulling these pieces together. It's simply recognizing the way people want to interact and providing tools to do it."

James Governor, principal analyst and founder of the RedMonk market research firm, told eWEEK of IBM's move: "They've realized there's actually a market out there for what they're calling social business. Three years ago there were a few outliers out there talking about Enterprise 2.0, and the fact is there is a market emerging."

Speaking at the Lotusphere event, Governor said IBM's new social software offerings are "nice, but this is transformative. Lotus has some cool technology, but it's the services component that makes this an IBM play. IBM has everything. They have enterprise Facebook and enterprise Delicious. IBM's focusing on integration of social services. And they're opening up RESTful interfaces across the portfolio, which will make it easy for developers to buy in and deliver applications."

IBM also unveiled a new framework  -- the Social Business Framework -- to support how the next generation of socially enabled applications will be developed, and introduced new software to make that vision a reality. For example, IBM is reinventing the inbox with "Activity Steam" -- a single location that allows users to view and interact with content from Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, SAP and other third parties alongside their company's content. IBM is looking to integrate the Activity Stream into a future release of IBM's social collaboration portfolio accessible from all market leading mobile devices including tablets.

Meanwhile, the issue of buy in is not the easiest part for companies looking to implement social business scenarios. Buy-in from management, that is. IBM's own Iwata said he faced intense questioning and pushback from high-ranking C-level executives within IBM when he initially broached the subject of social business. But ultimately they saw the potential benefits, he said. Now not only Lotus, but IBM's Enterprise Content Management products, Cognos analytics software and Rational developer tools also feature social and collaborative elements, Rhodin said.

"If you want to be part of a Smarter Planet, I think you have to be part of a social business," said Alistair Rennie, general manager of IBM Collaboration Solutions. "Outliers are more engaged, more nimble. This community has already put in the time; they have the experience. It's about rethinking the outcomes in the context of social business."

Meanwhile, Rhodin said IBM is applying its vast reserve of analytics technologies to analyze what goes on in the social networks. "One of the key elements of this strategy is the application of analytics," he said. Also, standards will be important, he added. And IBM will be at the forefront in complying with and even helping to formulate new standards as needed in the social business space.

Moreover, one by-product of the move to social business is that it is another in a series of new computing paradigms that make data "sexy" or important again.

"We're looking at a massive explosion of data," Rhodin said. "A lot of this is about the integration of data. This social networking thing is based on the concept of discovery as opposed to search. Discovery is really the answer here. And these social networks are how we discover and find things that can really help the business."

Finally, Rhodin said, "We're going to be looking at 2011 as the year we saw the integration of social business concepts into business processes."

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