IBM has just launched Lotus Connections, a suite of collaboration software, with functionality including staff profiles, communities, project spaces, social bookmarking, and blogging. This is a major release, but has long been on the cards. Back in November 2005 I discussed how Lotus executives were seeing the future in terms of social software. At the time blogs, photo sharing, social bookmarks and similar tools for consumers were rapidly emerging. These clearly had massive applicability to large corporations, where the tools and approaches of knowledge management had never fulfilled on their promise. Since then IBM has continued to roll out social software applications inside its own 300,000-strong organization and to select clients. There is no question that IBM sees social software as a key enabler of productivity in large organizations, and will continue to focus on development of the platforms.
There has been an interesting range of responses to the announcement. Steve Borsch says that it “legitimizes the entire category.” It certainly helps to have this major announcement, though the reality is that IBM and Microsoft have been active in this space in various ways for some time. There are a number of smaller companies providing social software for the enterprise, including SocialText, Blogtronix, iUpload, and Traction. All of them are finding that corporations are rapidly becoming receptive to these approaches. No doubt this trend will accelerate, bringing in another wave of corporations after the early adopters.
More intriguingly, the conclusion that Larry Dignan of ZDNet draws from IBM entering the market is that “the social networking run is over, kaput, done, finished.” I can only presume Larry is not familiar with what has been done over the last ten years in enabling collaboration inside the enterprise, what has and hasn’t worked, and how this release relates to previous enterprise collaboration software. This release is by no means a massive change in direction for the industry – much of IBM’s release today has been foreshadowed in enterprise software developments over the last few years. Larry no doubt thinks organizations would perform better if they communicated solely with email.
“Social networks” basically means people are connected and communicate. If you don’t have social networks, you don’t have an organization. We now have better software tools than in the past to enable people to communicate and be productive – it’s that simple. Not liking SecondLife or other applications that are tagged “social networkng” has no bearing on the value of the latest releases that support enterprise collaboration.
On a related note, I’ve just discovered that Ask.com uses what I’ve written on my blog when asked “what is enterprise 2.0?” I’m still planning to do a more lengthy post on enterprise 2.0, what it means, and why it’s important sometime soon.