Information on Lotusphere IBM conference shows positive results

The new competition among the giants of enterprise software: Who is building the most social software? This week, the round goes to IBM.

Big Blue is this week hosting a worldwide customer meeting in Orlando, at which it will show its latest social software for mobile business. The key announcements include collaboration software for smartphones and tablets, including iPads and iPhones, devices using Google’s Android, RIM’s Blackberry, and several Nokia devices. There will also be a preview of IBM’s office productivity suite offering for the cloud — in essence, data center-based Lotus, with collaboration tools accessible by remote devices. Tools and initiatives for external developers will also be announced.

“Tablets are a new design point,” said Alistair Rennie, General Manager of social business and collaboration initiatives at IBM. “You can’t just (build corporate software) starting at the desktop — you have to go to the devices and work back in.”

Social software is more than just the latest buzzword for IBM. It is both a recognition that workers are used to it at home, and thus bringing it into the office. Over the past couple of years, IBM has been working on technology for collaboration that include not just email but instant messaging, web meetings, blogs, wikis, Facebook-type communities and Twitter-like activity streams. The promise is that big companies can become more collaborative environments, where ideas will pop faster, productivity grows, and there are better customer and client relations.

The company says that 57% of companies that invest in social business outperform their peers. As well, collaboration touches all parts of business, from manufacturing and research, to customer service and human resources — for a goliath like IBM, it’s great for big-ticket projects for huge companies. The number Big Blue quotes is a $2 billion market for social business platforms in 2014.

“We have one client, with a few hundred thousand employees,” Rennie said, “they figure this can lead to retaining 1% more top talent — but that is worth $53 million.”

There will be some customers onstage — General Motors and insurer Zurich North America are among those using the products. Zurich, for example, has collaboration software on an iPad for 60,000 mobile workers.
RIM, that mainstay of business will likely talk about building communities, blogs and activities in a secure network or for external networks, in partnership with IBM.

IBM is hardly alone in the push into building a more collaborative enterprise. The work on Lotus, which is compatible with Microsoft’s Sharepoint, seems like a fancier version of many of the key elements of Google Apps, allowing real-time collaboration among global teams. The use of status updates and steams is also a feature in new products by Cisco.

Rennie, not surprisingly, was bullish on IBM’s chances. “You’ll see people with bits of this here and there,” he said. “We’re seeing the business leaders who will drive this. They’re looking at business outcome metrics — can they shorten the time to deliver a new product? Can they more accurately spend the monthly marketing money?” IBM, he said, uniquely has the scale “to do that with business processes, analytics, and with security and compliance to regulations.”

Maybe, but this is still and early round, with a few billion in spending to go before we even see the real leaders.