IBM and Microsoft are among a growing number of players looking to introduce technology to link consumer-style Web 2.0 capabilities with enterprise solutions.
At the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston on June 19, IBM is launching its version of collaborative Web-based technology designed to access the individual and collective wisdom of professionals so that it can be shared with others in the enterprise world, the company said.
IBM announced its “Web 2.0 Goes to Work” initiative, which taps the Armonk, N.Y., companys portfolio of services, software and R&D capabilities to help businesses adopt the concepts—and technology—behind Web 2.0, an umbrella term for browser-based social networking and collaboration software like Del.icio.us, a social bookmarks manager, or Flickr, an online photo management and sharing application.
“Weve seen all the things going on in the public Internet—Del.icio.us, Flickr, commerce sites with ratings and reviews—where comments, ratings and feedback become fundamental,” said Carol Jones, an IBM Fellow whose research centers around Web 2.0. “[IBMs goal] is unlocking the knowledge workers have in companies and government institutions. Theres a lot in peoples heads that can be shared.”
To help companies implement their own Web 2.0 technologies, IBM announced four separate technology offerings: Lotus Connections, Lotus Quickr, Info 2.0 and WebSphere Commerce.
Lotus Connections is a suite of five purely Web 2.0 components designed to help companies find experts on topics, bring together teams around a common point and access information. The components enable users to create social bookmarks and tagging and build Web dashboards, blogs, and online communities and profiles, such as whats offered on Facebook or LinkedIn. It forms a set of activity-based tools to help users to get items out of their inboxes and posted to the Web quickly, Jones said. Collectively, she said, the components “are all designed to integrate well with a browser and other tools; theyre very lightweight.”
Lotus Quickr is an open standards-based collaboration tool that enables teams inside and outside a company to work together across different geographies, operating systems and working styles, IBM officials said. Its collaboration capabilities include blogs, wikis—software that enables anyone to input qualified information on a Web page or site—and team space templates that support the processes necessary to get collaboration project up quickly.
Info 2.0 is a set of tools designed to unlock data and enable business users to create mashups—the remix and repurposing of data into a single application or Web site, such as a mix of Google Maps with a real estate site to show where available homes are located. The tools enable users to create rich user interfaces in the client—a personal desktop, laptop or mobile device—to catalog, combine and transform informal data that can be used in applications or processes.
“We try to pull [data] out of enterprise resources where it might be stuck behind some difficult API and make it available as an RSS, basically,” Jones said. “Its a lot more than getting data in a certain format. You want to transform it. If its just one set of data—in a database table available as a feed—thats pretty straightforward. But what happens if you browse around the Internet today to different feeds available? There isnt a lot of consistency; [data] is very ad hoc in the public Internet. Should [users] sort it? Shift it? Validate it? Thats kind of what we are managing to do” with Info 2.0, she said.
IBMs WebSphere Commerce, on the other hand, is more geared toward retailers looking to boost Internet sales by improving their Web sites. The idea is to more closely align with consumers natural shopping experience, and decrease whats known as shopping cart abandonment, where shoppers log on to a retail site, shop around and then click out of the site without buying anything. New features in WebSphere Commerce Web 2.0 Store Solutions include the ability for customers to prioritize and filter specific attributes like price, brand or product characteristics. Shoppers can “mouse over” products for a brief description or more information without requiring a full page refresh to get to new information. Drag-and-drop navigation simplifies product comparisons.
IBMs news is an early step on the path to where it plans to go with newer Web-based technologies, Jones said. “This is a big area and growing [within IBM]. Thats the point of this announcement—to make it clear that we think this is the way of the future. We are eager to adopt Web 2.0 very broadly and in the future with other technologies that would incorporate these technologies.”
Jones pointed to IBM technologies that are producing large amounts of data—Tivolis systems management software, for example—that would be prime targets for Web 2.0 capabilities. “About a year ago we unlocked the data in Domino and we ship that as feeds,” Jones said. “Once we did that, we realized that [data] could be unlocked in a lot of areas.”
James Deters, president of Ascendant Technology, an IBM partner in Austin, Texas, said that as one of the largest integrators for WebSphere Portal, Ascendant is particularly interested in IBMs new Web 2.0 offerings.
“We see consumer Web applications intersecting with enterprise applications from IBM,” Deters said. “And this convergence of bringing more consumer-like applications to the enterprise, like mashups, and also things like Connections and Quickr, provides opportunities for us, not only on the portal side, but also to deliver offerings around the new IBM solutions.”
Deters said Ascendant will deliver some managed solutions that will become available with the general availability of Connections and Quickr. Ascendant has offices in both Serbia and in the United States that “provide 24/7 application support, and well launch these offerings through our distributor, Avnet.”
Meanwhile, in a keynote at the Boston event, Derek Burney, general manager of SharePoint platform and tools at Microsoft, shared insights on how social computing is changing the way businesses work and amplifying the effect people can have within their organizations.
Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., is seeing evidence of this firsthand from customers like The Body Shop, which is using Web 2.0 technology to connect with women 50 and older—the target audience of its new product line. Burney said Microsoft also is seeing evidence of the impact of social computing from its own internal use of tools like blogs, wikis and “My Sites.”
Burney discussed early releases of several editions of Version 2.0 of the Community Kit for SharePoint, particularly the Enhanced Blog, Enhanced Wiki, ChatterBox AJAX and Tag Cloud editions, which are available on Microsofts CodePlex community development site at www.codeplex.com. The SharePoint offerings make it easier for organizations to leverage the power of social computing and to take advantage of the innovations that Microsofts community has developed on top of the SharePoint social computing platform, Burney said.
Burney said Microsofts own adoption of social computing technology includes the companys commitment to build up to 100 next-generation business applications on the SharePoint platform by the end of fiscal year 2008. These applications will include one the company is currently working on called SharePointPedia, which will help make it easier for users to find SharePoint technical and support content from both internal Microsoft and community sources, he said.
“SharePoint has always been the basis for collaboration and its a natural platform for us to enable that collaboration [on], especially with advancements in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server and the growing popularity of SharePoint,” said Elisa Graceffo, group product manager for collaboration and portals marketing at Microsoft. “Our approach is to build Web 2.0 capabilities such as people and expertise search, wikis, blogs and RSS feeds, corporate profiles, and social networking tools, right into our core business productivity offerings such as Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Office Communications Server.”
Asked if Microsofts Popfly mashup-making tool would have a role in the Microsoft Web 2.0 strategy, Graceffo said, “Yes, definitely, especially as consumers and, increasingly, enterprises look to new Web 2.0-style technologies and ways of overlaying data from multiple sources to build mashups and next-generation Internet sites. Popfly is going to be a great tool to help them do that.”
Moreover, she said, Microsoft is seeing employees bringing new Web 2.0 consumer technologies, such as instant messaging, wikis and blogs, into their organizations.
“These consumer technologies have a lot of value for enterprises, particularly when deployed in a secure, managed fashion,” Graceffo said. “In an enterprise context, they can help your organization keep pace with change.”