Last week IBM hosted the annual Lotusphere event at Orlando. Last year, they made a strategic shift and started pushing heavily on the idea of Social Business and followed it up this year by not only brining last year’s announcements into fruition but also moved out of the Lotus brand to remove any legacy tag the name might bring in. Overall it was an impressive show put up by IBM and I will dig in a bit more on what I heard during the show.
First a brief look at the announcements
IBM is moving IBM LotusLive, business collaboration tools that enabled collaboration, into the IBM SmartCloud for Social Business brand. Lotus brand is deeply tied with the legacy applications and IBM hopes that the new brand not only gives them a chance to push hard in the cloud but also helps remove them from the legacy umbrella in the market. However, IBM is still continuing with their legacy products hosted inside the organizations but their next version will bring many of the features in social and mobile that are usually associated with cloud based applications. Most of the announcements made during the conference centered around IBM Connections, their social business platform. Announcements like activity streams, contextual information through OpenSocial, mobile support, integration of connections to notes, etc. brought IBM’s solutions to meet the needs of modern enterprises.
First, why I am excited
As I believe in the great compute convergence of cloud computing, mobile, social and big data, IBM’s strong social push during Lotusphere 2011 excited me. This year they showed the world that their social talk is not talk but they are very serious about it. Their IBM Connections Next platform, even though it will not be generally available till summer, has been architected in a way similar to message bus used in development platforms. While talking about Social as one of the core attributes for an enterprise cloud application, I argued that social features should be deeply integrated to all the dimensions of enterprise cloud applications (applies to all of enterprise software if social is going to be a factor) and it should extend to third party applications in the ecosystem. IBM connections is well architected to meet these needs of modern day enterprise software. Their use of activity streams and OpenSocial standards makes IBM connections truly modern. Even though Lotus Notes is predominantly used by IBM customers, I could see that IBM is taking necessary step to help them move away to modern day social tools. The integration of IBM Connections Next to Notes is the first step in this regard.
IBM also signaled that they see cloud based enterprise applications as the future and they are taking steps to push it hard in the coming years. I see their renaming of LotusLive to IBM SmartCloud for Social Business as a first step in this direction. Their integration of IBM Connections platforms to all the applications in their LotusLive Suite shows seriousness of their social business push. The way they have integrated social to LotusLive Symphony, cloud version of their Lotus Symphony product which I talked about last year, bodes well for their Social Business vision. Their seriousness about betting their future on cloud was evident from the fact that they were pushing their client Newly Wed Foods both on their website and during analyst briefings. I had a chance to talk to the person responsible for Social Business rollout and I will be doing a case study in the future based on what I understood during out conversation. But I have to tell you that their existing clients like Newly Wed Foods who want to take advantage of social and cloud, will help IBM in the cloud based future. Organizations like them want to take advantage of benefits offered by cloud, mobile and social technologies but want the assurance of a company like IBM before they roll out. I will dig more into this point when I do the case study sometime in the near future.
Another interesting aspect of IBM’s announcements is about their plans to tightly integrate analytics on top of social data. While talking about the next iteration of PaaS, I highlighted the importance of a powerful analytics engine in the future PaaS offerings. IBM is approaching PaaS from the applications side by integrating analytics engine tightly with the organization’s data (social and others). If they execute it right, this will be one powerful platform in IBM’s kitty which will keep them as an important player in the years to come.
After talking about why I am excited with the direction IBM is taking, it is time to point out to the hurdles they are facing. As in the case of companies having a baggage from the traditional IT world, IBM is finding it difficult to disrupt themselves even though they show their intent to do so. Their announcements related to Social and Cloud clearly indicate their eagerness to disrupt themselves and be relevant in the future enterprise market. However, the biggest obstacle to such an evolution is going to be their sales team. It is going to be difficult for IBM to convince their sales team that they should sell low margin cloud solutions instead of high margin legacy solutions. Even if they manage to convince their sales side about it, it is going to be difficult for IBM to convince the younger Youtube generation about their services. There are two reasons for this and, in fact, I was highlighting this in my discussions with someone from their Sales team.
- It will be difficult for IBM to change the perception with this generation. Most of them see IBM as a legacy vendor. Their continued push for legacy software (which they have to do till organizations are comfortable with the cloud) will make them attractive for the younger generation
- More importantly, the younger generation don’t want the IT to dictate them on their compute resource consumption. They want to try out the newer solutions first before they can accept IT’s mandate to use any new technologies. Also, in many organizations, IT realizes the value of newer technology (it happened with open source, it happened with social and it also happened with cloud computing) only after many in their organizations use as a part of day to day activities. The reason why modern applications from startups or even infrastructure solutions from Amazon Web Services are famous with this group is because of the ease of access. They could go to their website and try out the services for free or by swiping their credit card and paying much less than their daily coffee consumption. This ease of access helps these modern compute resources get adopted in enterprises against the marketing and sales push by traditional IT vendors. IBM gets a F grade on ease of access and hence they are finding it difficult to get the attention of Youtube generation. I highlighted this fact to the Sales person who asked me how they can get the AWS and Rackspace users for their cloud offering and, also, to the IBM executives whose attention I could grab.
Believe me. IBM has got the technology right. Their social platform is very well architected and they have powerful analytics platform which they can use to build futuristic platforms which developers will use to build self organizing intelligent applications. However, they have a big image problem with the Youtube generation. They need to fix that fast because these are the people who will become decision makers in the coming decade. I am cautiously optimistic about IBM because technology problem is the difficult part and they have managed to get it right. If the top management really focus their energy on fixing this image problem, IBM will stay highly relevant for decades to come (just like how they managed to stay afloat for one century).
Disclaimer: IBM took care of my travel and stay during the conference.
- Lotus Clouds (ibmwhoknew.wordpress.com)
- LotusLive Becomes IBM SmartCloud For Social Business (informationweek.com)
- What might IBM learn from Apple (enterpriseirregulars.com)
- IBM Docs Beta Now Available (arnoldit.com)
- IBM Lotusphere 2012: The Old Lotus Has Wilted (Pretzel Logic)
- Lotusphere 2012 (Michael Fauscette Blog)