Social Business – What Belongs Together is now Growing Together: The E-mail and Facebook Generations

Although there is meanwhile high acceptance of social software, it’s not unusual to come up against skepticism – people are just much more familiar with using email. They don’t want to use social software; they want their information to go to their local mail address – and not outside the inbox – and to store it in their own folders. In contrast, advocates of social software say that Generation Y (a.k.a. digital natives) is particularly keen to use Facebook-style communication functions in the workplace. They’ve already shifted away from e-mail in their private lives and hang out on Facebook instead, sending messages or chatting in real time there. And of course they’re happiest if they can do it on their smartphone or tablet. If you want to be an attractive employer and win young talent for your business, you have to be prepared to introduce the forms of communication young people use in their private lives to the workplace.

But what does the demographic reality actually look like? Let us take Germany as an example. The TNS Infratest study entitled Die Digitale Gesellschaft 2011 (The Digital Society in 2011) analyzed the segmentation of Germany’s digital society:

According to the study, it looks like the digital society is a divided one. On the one hand we have the Digital Outsiders and Casual Users. They either haven’t yet entered the world of social media, or they only visit it sporadically. The study found that these two user types make up a hefty 52% of the society. Then on the other hand we have the Business Users, Trend Users, Digital Pros and Digital Avant-garde. The Trends, Pros and Avant-gardes are highly active in social networks and often access them on mobile devices.

Both user types – that is, the e-mail generation and the Facebook generation – come into contact in the workplace. This means there is a generation gap to bridge, as companies will benefit if they can get the two sides working together as closely and as efficiently as possible. The latest product developments from IBM have put it in an ideal position to address this situation. IBM Connections is a kind of “Facebook for business” and the ideal working environment for digital natives. It includes all the key features that are already part of the social media world (not just Facebook). There are profiles like on Facebook and LinkedIn, Delicious-style bookmarks, wikis, blogs, communities and much more – all on a single, integrated platform.

IBM Connections V4.0 recently launched with a new addition: Connections Mail. This allows the Facebook generation to manage their e-mails in Connections without leaving the system – just like they can in other social networks. Of course, this doesn’t involve introducing a brand-new e-mail system. Instead, IBM integrates the popular business mail solutions Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange. That means it builds on existing environments and gives Exchange users the powerful social platform they have been looking for. IBM Connections thus becomes the central working environment where staff can carry out the majority of their day-to-day tasks.

This capability is also supported by the new Activity Streams, which also launched with IBM Connections V4.0. Activity Streams display the information and processes that are relevant to a given employee.

This doesn’t just apply to information and events from IBM Connections. It’s possible to integrate results from all systems that support the Activity Streams standard. Alongside the systems we’re familiar with from our private use of Web 2.0, these include – and this is crucial for a business platform like IBM Connections – enterprise applications from SAP, Microsoft and other professional software providers.

At first glance, Activity Streams might look like a Facebook wall, or the flow of information that LinkedIn users receive. But it’s actually capable of far more. As well as integrating company applications, an Activity Stream allows users to directly process the results flowing into it. For instance, you can authorize an SAP expense claim in an Activity Stream without having to switch to SAP itself. IBM Connections gives businesses a central working environment that can directly integrate results from other systems.

The system therefore appeals to members of the Facebook generation by reproducing their networked approach to working. But that’s not the only thing the digital natives are looking for. Rather than be chained to their desk and desktop computer all day, they want their professional lives to mirror their private ones – where they can read, share and manage information on their smartphones and tablets while on the go. IBM has responded to this demand and has made IBM Connections available on all major mobile platforms. It has just launched Version 4.0 of the app, which lets users run Activity Streams on iPhones, iPads and Android devices. Other platforms are in the pipeline.

All that should make the Facebook generation happy. But IBM has also never forgotten the e-mail generation – even the third versions of IBM Connections integrated Microsoft tools and Lotus Notes. Particularly worthy of mention is the software’s full support of tools like Microsoft Outlook, Office, SharePoint and Windows Explorer. This – as well as the support for all major mobile systems – shows that IBM is committed to openness and that it has responded to the desire, expressed by many Microsoft users, to work “socially”. IBM’s integrations fulfill this wish, and have thus helped it succeed – beyond the usual discussions of Exchange versus Notes – with customers who use Microsoft products. CIOs like Kurt De Ruwe of Bayer Material Science have good reason for stressing that social software is important for much more than just file sharing.

Meanwhile, work on integrating Notes and IBM Connections is continuing. The next version of Notes, the Social Edition, will significantly expand on the existing integration points. For instance, Activity Streams will be available. This means that users who prefer to work in the Notes environment will have the same access as Connections users to the functions mentioned above. They will be able to follow and directly process results in the Streams. With the Social Edition, IBM is sending a clear signal to existing Notes customers that it is dedicated to continually developing and improving the platform.

IBM Connections V4.0 and the upcoming Notes Social Edition build a bridge between the Facebook and e-mail generations by letting them collaborate without having to leave their preferred environment. Those who have to work together are growing together. On the go, users can choose any mobile device and will have access to e-mail and all the important collaborative functions – from social networking and Activity Streams to chatting and online meetings. Users who work with Microsoft tools also won’t be left out in the cold. IBM remains dedicated to openness in this area. By integrating social functions into Microsoft tools, it is providing a targeted response to the needs of customers who do not currently use IBM software. We are now no longer concerned with discussions of e-mail platforms. We have entered a “social era” where social business is the order of the day, and IBM is setting the pace – as Experton analyst Axel Oppermann put it so well and as IDC market figures show.

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