IBM is delivering Verse as a freemium social collaboration offering that uses built-in analytics to give users a new way to converse, find the right people and information fast and get work done. IBM Verse stems from the company’s $100 million investment in design innovation and brings together its leading platforms to transform the future of work.
“With Verse, we set out to rethink how business people get their work done,” said Carolyn Pampino, IBM’s lead design director on the Verse project, which was formerly known as IBM Mail Next. “We tried to focus on user delight,” she added.
IBM Verse takes a different approach to enterprise email by integrating the many ways employees connect each day–via email, meetings, calendars, file sharing, instant messaging, social updates, video chats and more–through a single collaboration environment. It is the first messaging system to feature “faceted search,” which enables users to pinpoint and retrieve specific information they’re seeking across all the various types of content within their email. Verse’s search capability is based on Apache Solr, Pampino said.
Delivered on the SoftLayer Cloud with enterprise-grade security, IBM Verse gives enterprise customers, small businesses and individuals a scalable, cloud-based social collaboration environment optimized for mobile and Web environments, IBM said. A beta release of the new offering will be available to select clients and partners in November 2014. A freemium version delivered via the IBM Cloud Marketplace will be available in the first quarter of 2015. IBM Verse will also be offered as an app for both iOS and Android to ensure mobile users have the same experiences on the go as they do on their PCs.
Verse’s analytics to provide an “at-a-glance” view that intelligently surfaces an individual’s most critical actions for the day. By learning unique employee preferences and priorities over time, it provides instant context about a given project as well as the people and teams collaborating on it. This is in contrast to most freely available mail services that mine a user’s inbox to increase advertising and monetize that data in other ways, IBM said.
IBM Verse users will have the option to embed a Watson feature into their collaboration environment, which enables users to query Watson on a given topic and receive a direct reply with answers ranked by degree of confidence.
“I believe IBM Verse qualifies as the next stage of a collaboration journey the company began some time ago,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. “The fact is that IBM was one of the first companies to add collaboration features to a productivity suite with Lotus. Adding analytics to the mix is an intriguing feature that should effectively enable systems to be customized for individual users. I was struck by IBM’s emphasis on data security and privacy. Those are certainly buzzwords these days but the company also has deeper insights into and appreciation for the needs of enterprise customers than do many of its competitors. Overall, if IBM can deliver on what it’s promising, Verse could become a powerful, attractive offering for companies hoping to maximally leverage their employees and work groups.”
Pampino said the launch of Verse expands upon recent IBM initiatives to help organizations change the way people work. In July 2014, IBM launched a partnership with Apple to develop a new class of industry-specific business apps to transform enterprise mobility. In September, IBM unveiled Watson Analytics to put powerful yet easy-to-use predictive and visual analytics tools in the palm of your hand, and in October launched Navigator to boost personal and team productivity by allowing users to easily and securely access, edit and share business documents. Most recently, the company formed a global partnership with Twitter to transform how businesses understand customers, markets and trends by using Twitter data to make more informed decisions.
Although email is considered one of the most significant advances in workforce productivity over the past 30 years, today it has become one of the greatest organizational burdens. “Email is a fire-and-forget form of communication,” Pampino said. “The average worker spends 28 percent of their work week managing email. However, up to 30 percent of the time spent on email could be repurposed by adopting social collaboration tools for communication.”
IT industry analysts estimate that 108 billion work emails are sent daily, requiring employees to check their inboxes an average of 36 times an hour. Compounding the problem, it is also estimated that only 14 percent of those emails are of critical importance. At a time when every organization is striving to be more efficient, social and collaborative, this has created a dynamic where the volume of email interaction still outpaces social collaboration by a wide margin. In fact, according to IT industry firm IDC, email remains the single most widely used collaboration tool, with worldwide revenue for enterprise email expected to reach $4.7 billion in 2017.
IBM Verse Brings Social, Analytics to Enterprise Email
“The convergence of analytics, cloud, social and mobile technologies is not just impacting our personal lives, it’s profoundly changing how we work,” said Bob Picciano, senior vice president of IBM’s Information and Analytics Group, in a statement. “These forces are reshaping how people make decisions, create and share new ideas and collaborate across teams to get work done. With IBM Verse, we challenged our design teams to use analytics to completely reimagine the social collaboration experience to focus on engaging people and driving outcomes, not managing messages and inboxes.”
Cemex, a global leader in the building materials industry, is one of the first clients to participate in an early beta of the new offering.
“The overall design and visual interface immediately caught my attention, there is a simplicity and purpose in how information is presented that makes the entire experience very intuitive,” said Gilberto Garcia, CTO of Cemex, in a statement. “I quickly realized just how much was happening beneath the surface. It gives you a seamless blend of email, social and collaboration capabilities that didn’t force me to jump between my inbox, calendar and other apps to share and connect with people. It’s hard to even call this email anymore, that’s just one facet to what they are delivering with IBM Verse.”
Jointly developed in collaboration with more than 50 clients and partners in the IBM Austin Design Studio and other labs around the world, the design of IBM Verse incorporates ongoing feedback from a broad spectrum of business users–from accountants and sales leaders to marketing professionals and software engineers.
The solution features intelligent task prioritization, intuitive collaboration across devices and the ability to engage people, not email, IBM said. IBM Verse quickly finds and prioritizes the tasks that matter most to users. It analyzes and eventually predicts user behaviors and preferences to personalize a user’s unique social mail experience.
Verse also enables users to quickly take action on content and conversations previously scattered across multiple tools such as email, calendar, to-dos, social networks, chats, online meetings and documents. It features one-click ability to share content as a blog post rather than an email and share files through cloud-based communities.
In addition, verse provides deep context around the people and teams involved in a given task or project to drive more valuable employee engagements at the moment of impact. This allows users to visualize employee profiles, understand relationships between individuals and teams, and more effectively track and manage project and task delegation.
“Simply making the Inbox social isn’t enough. Organizations need better tools to support the way real work gets done in today’s modern enterprises,” said Charlene Li, founder and CEO of Altimeter Group, in a statement. “That means keeping the focus centered on people and projects, and using analytics and mobile to make it a seamless experience.”
IBM Verse also enables subject matter experts to share insight in two clicks or less in any social environment inside or outside their organization. Rather than replying to a narrow email distribution, project leaders can share their insights as a blog post for their entire project team, with the ability to delegate and track critical actions across individual team members.
Meanwhile, though IBM represents a significant advance in enterprise collaboration software, some say it may be too much at once.
“I actually think IBM Verse is a better attempt to define a social network than Facebook is, but one that operates inside a company as opposed to publicly,” said Rob Enderle, an industry analyst and founder of the Enderle Group. “This seems to fit better to how we actually behave socially where we share things with real friends but expect those things to remain contained in that group and not broadcast to the world at large. Verse overlays the concepts of social, collaborative, communications with analytics that can be used to optimize the effectiveness of the interaction and create a framework for improving the product over time. However, given this tool is very different from what people are used to using, getting them to use it, let alone use it properly, will be unusually problematic. But the benefits for learning and using this tool properly should easily justify the effort. Unfortunately, this often isn’t enough to drive the needed change because we tend to dislike changing how we do things to a level that makes changes like this nearly impossible to implement.”