Move Over Facebook, IBM Goes Social for Business

At its Lotusphere 2011 conference IBM's overall theme is Social Business and the systems giant is putting its collective might behind helping businesses get more social.

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."