From Lotusphere to IBM Connect 2013: Solutions for satisfied customers and motivated workforce

When IBM Connect (previously Lotusphere) took place in Orlando this January, there was no doubt as to the message the conference wanted to convey: IBM is investing in and expanding its Social Business division. Ginni Rometty, IBM’s “Social CEO” and the driving force behind this development, aims to make the company a leading social business. She says she wants to consistently orient IBM towards its customers while also emphasizing that IBM’s success relies on its staff and their skills. Naturally, IBM takes a social approach to internal brainstorming on how to achieve these goals and make improvements.

Rock auf der IBM Connect 2013 - Wachmachergegen 8 Uhr morgens in Orlando

A focus on customers and employees lies at the heart of the restyled Social Business division. Giving up the much-loved brand name Lotus makes logical sense, because the portfolio is now much larger and goes beyond traditional forms of collaboration. The new approach is also reflected in IBM’s acquisition of HR specialist Kenexa, whose expertise and solutions are now being channeled into the division’s Smarter Workforce initiative. Kenexa’s solutions are designed to find the best employees, get them on board, and keep them trained and motivated throughout their careers with the company. Beyond that, Kenexa also conducts surveys on employee satisfaction and has amassed a wealth of expertise and data on human resources, which can be analyzed and put to practical use.

Alistair Rennie, general manager of IBM’s Social Business division, got to the heart of the matter: “A smarter workforce is the single most important investment businesses make.” Among other things, Rennie was referring to the IBM CEO Study, which found that 70 percent of companies see human capital (I don’t like that term) as the single biggest contributor to sustained economic value. That’s why IBM is now bringing Kenexa’s solutions, services and expertise to its Social Business platform.

Speakers at IBM Connect repeatedly stressed how important it is for companies to find a sound way of introducing social software into their operations. This is about much more than just handling the technology. It involves identifying areas that offer promising scope for using social software, overseeing the introduction of the relevant applications, acquainting employees with them, and motivating staff to integrate them into their work. The conference presented various ways of achieving this – they ranged from the well-known Social Business Agenda to services from IBM Global Business Services and new Social Business Centers at Universities.

IBM’s approach sees it splitting its attentions between a Smarter Workforce and the Customer Experience. To give customers the best possible service, IBM offers products that feature the Smarter Commerce and Smarter Analytics tools. IBM has produced these two suites by bundling the technologies that help improve Customer Experience and achieve a Smarter Workforce. Each suite has the same modules: social software, analytics, content management and integration components. The idea is that this will protect companies’ investments because they can use the same modules internally as they can for external contact with customers.

Analytics play a crucial role in both suites. Analysis components allow companies to observe how customers navigate their websites. They can then use the findings to present customers with information and products tailored to their interests. These functions are especially important for marketing departments and their digital strategies. But analytics are also crucial to a Smarter Workforce and set IBM’s products apart from the competition. They help employees do their work, and provide them with the information necessary for completing individual tasks. The next iteration will combine analytics with the data and findings that Kenexa has amassed over the years. This will allow HR departments to target their activities and support employees more effectively. There was more than just a hint of Watson in the air at IBM Connect.

Der Übergang zwischen den beiden Konferenzhotels Swan und Dolphin bei Nacht.Of course, IBM Connect also presented and discussed brand-new products. IBM Notes 9 Social Edition, which will be on the market in a few weeks, is the first major release of the well-known collaboration software in five years. The name Social Edition reflects how the product now integrates social functions like activity streams in IBM Notes. Employees who are already used to working with email and collaboration clients will have all the key social functions at their fingertips. IBM Notes is evolving into social mail (and more). On the other side of the coin, IBM’s flagship product IBM Connections featured email functions when it was released as V4.0. The Facebook generation can work in IBM Connections, a kind of Facebook for business, while the Email generation is at home in IBM Notes (or Microsoft Outlook). But both groups work with the same information.

IBM Connections 4.5 was announced in Orlando. The product integrates IBM’s content management products so that Connections users can benefit from IBM’s powerful ECM backend and its functions. The product that got most people talking and that received the most praise at IBM Connect was probably IBM Docs. This new online collaboration tool allows users to work together on producing and editing documents, spreadsheets and presentations. While it is likely to be a worthy competitor for similar offerings from Google and Microsoft, its integration into IBM Connections shows that its focus is firmly on social working. You can view IBM Docs live in the IBM Greenhouse. A prototype iPad version was also shown in Orlando – and if the comments on Twitter are anything to go by, it was a big hit.

There were also a host of innovations designed to improve customer experience. Alongside the Kenexa products and the rebranded IBM Employee Experience Suite, there was also the new IBM WCM Social Media Publisher, which audiences loved. It allows users to simultaneously publish content on company websites and on major social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and IBM Connections. That will make it especially attractive to marketing departments. It’s also likely that we’ll soon see extensions to IBM’s Portal and WCM products for digital assets and rich media.

IBM Connect marked a milestone in the history of its social business (née Lotus) division – partly because it was the 20th “Lotusphere”, and the first year the event had run under a different name. But those weren’t the only reasons why Orlando was special, as it also signaled a move away from the traditional Lotusphere only focus on IT departments and CIOs. While IBM Connect 2013 still provided a wide range of talks and workshops to keep the techies happy, the conference also made a massive effort to open itself up to line of business – especially to HR, Marketing and Sales, which saw their needs reflected in the focus on a Smarter Workforce and Customer Experience. You only have to look at the content and the visitor numbers and distribution to see that IBM did a really good job. It would, however, be nice if IT, HR, Marketing and Sales spent more time communicating and inspiring one another. At the conference, it sometimes seemed like the Lotus crowd and the new kids were shying away from making contact across the divide. But the way I see it, the most important message from Orlando is that IBM is investing massively in its Social Business division. That’s clear from its new-and-improved products, from the way it has beefed up the range of solutions it offers for HR, marketing and sales, and from its acquisition of Kenexa. IBM’s focus on employees and customers is encouraging. I’m curious to see what the company will be bringing our way in the next few months.

Interested in the goings-on at IBM Connect?

Click here to watch recordings of selected IBM Connect 2013 sessions.

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