IBM Sees Social Business as Untapped Big Blue Opportunity

At its IBM Connect 2013 conference, IBM continues its transformation into a social business as it helps its customers move in the same direction.

ORLANDO, Fla. – IBM’s Lotus legacy has evolved into a new company focus on delivering software that helps organizations better collaborate and become more social enterprises.

At the IBM Connect 2013 conference here, IBM pulled off the transformation from using its Lotus brand to herald its set of technologies that enable enterprise users to better work together and innovate based on that collaborative process.

The transformation away from the Lotus branding and the focus on products alone began some years ago in the 20-year history of Lotus. But the 2013 “Lotusphere” event marks the first year IBM introduced products without the Lotus brand.

However, this is more evolutionary than anything else, said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of the IBM Software Solutions Group. In an exclusive interview with eWEEK, Rhodin said one of the primary forces behind the Lotus transformation was transformation of the front office -- the industry move from a system of records to a system of engagement.

“We had established the Solutions Group because of this and began a focus on solutions because our clients were looking for that from us,” Rhodin said.

Meanwhile, the location, history, early-in-the-year timing and mix of technologies of the Lotusphere conference made it central to IBM as a bellwether event to make change.

Rhodin said IBM saw as early as the '90s when Lotus not only offered popular enterprise productivity tools, but also content management, learning tools and a lot more. Yet the tools needed more integration.

“There was a natural value in the technologies and collaboration holds it all together,” Rhodin said. “That seamlessly led to the social business. For instance, Ginni Rometty [IBM chairman and CEO] has got this social business focus across the board and has established it at the CEO level. Now the next generation of workers is coming into the workplace with social as an expectation of how work gets done.”

Smart business leaders are recognizing this and are adapting to it, he said. They also are calling on IBM for help. “The list of things customers want us to do, faster, is more than I can do right now,” Rhodin said. “And that’s a good problem to have, as we prepare to put the pedal on the gas with social. I don’t have any trouble getting meetings anymore. People realize this is the future role of information technology."

IBM’s social business front man said adoption on social business technology has been good. At the IBM Connect conference established companies like Bosch and Caterpillar talked about establishing social business strategies, as did Australian retailer David Jones, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and the City of Dubuque, Iowa.

During a keynote presentation at the conference, Gerd Friedrich, CIO of information systems and services at Bosch, said Bosch has implemented a social network inside the company based on IBM software to help with collaboration, communication and ideation. The vision for the project is to also feature and external focus with customers and partners, he said.

Jeff Bowman, head of global e-business at Caterpillar, said his company is just getting started with e-business and social media.

“We’re using it because we’re focused on growing loyalty in the customers that we have,” Bowman said.

Craig Hayman, general manager of industry solutions at IBM Software said one of his key goals in this social strategy is to enable both IBM and its customers to have better relationships with customers.

“Providing an effective customer experience is all about perception – from awareness to customer loyalty,” he said. “Customer experience is more important today than ever before.”

Ross Grossman, vice president of human resources at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, which also uses IBM’s social software, said his company uses the social stack to help find the best candidates for jobs at the drug maker.

“We’ve been able to establish HR as strategically important and integral to business success, and the social platform has been key to that,” Grossman said.

Meanwhile, Rhodin said he has addressed the Lotusphere event on 11 different occasions over its 20 years in existence. His most fond memory is welcoming former astronaut, moon walker and American hero, Neil Armstrong, to the conference as a keynote speaker, he said.

He also recalls when IBM introduced its first enterprise-grade social platform at a Lotusphere show.

“We’ve gone from sending emails to today where our CEO communicates with the more that 400,000 IBMers as a social enterprise,” Rhodin said. “Empowered consumers are reshaping our organization," he added.