Some Thoughts on IBM Verse

There are three ways to view yesterday’s announcement from IBM about Verse (née Mail Next):

  1. IBM is simply too late: Microsoft has the business email market sewn up with Exchange and Office 365 and is advancing on all fronts in the context of social, content management and cloud.
  2. IBM is making a big push into email at a time when email is passé and we’re all moving on to newer and better ways of communicating.
  3. IBM is smart enough to know that email use is actually growing, but email users need a new paradigm, such as melding email with social and analytics that will make the email experience more effective and efficient.

I’m in the last camp. Our research shows that email use is growing and that it’s actually a more important communication medium for information workers today than it was just a year ago. Our research shows that email is the primary tool that individuals use to do their work, accounting for about 160 minutes of time spent during a typical workday. Email has become the de facto file transport system for most users, their contact manager, their task manager, and – in many cases – their personal archive. Finally, our research  shows that email is still the most important single application in the new paradigm of mobility.

Given all of that, I firmly believe that email is here to stay, but it does need a bit of a kick in its paradigm. What IBM brings to the table are a couple of important things:

  • First, Verse represents a new design for email that, at first and second glance, looks as though it contains some elements borrowed from the iOS design team. That may or may not be a coincidence given IBM and Apple recent cozying up to one another.
  • Second, Verse carries with it the promise of a significant focus on enterprise social networking and analytics in an email context that can make the email experience more efficient and that can make users more productive. The new paradigm will be particularly important for mobile workers and those that work on distributed teams – one of the raisons d’etre for enterprise social networking.

Will IBM Verse be successful? That’s hard to say at this point because IBM faces a few headwinds in the email space:

  • Microsoft is continuing to push hard with Office 365 (albeit not with on-premises Exchange). The company has a very solid lead in the business-grade email and cloud markets, they’re the “comfortable” choice for decision makers, and they have solid offerings in social, content management, file sync and share, server and other key markets that fill out the Microsoft ecosystem quite nicely.
  • Outlook is the dominant email client in every business market (small business, mid-market and enterprise). That’s important, since lots of business decision makers still think their corporate email system is “Outlook” even though it’s really Exchange.
  • Microsoft’s marketing engine has more horsepower. That’s not a ding against IBM’s marketing prowess, but Microsoft marketing gets in front of people more effectively.
  • Email is deeply entrenched in virtually every organization. Convincing decision makers to implement a new email system that will benefit primarily users will not be easy.

Personally, I’m looking forward to using Verse as soon as possible. I’d prefer that IBM offer a thick client for Verse (yes, I’m one of those old school dinosaurs that prefers thick clients to the browser experience), but I don’t believe that’s in the offing, at least in the near term.

The bottom line: I think Verse has a decent chance of being quite successful if IBM can appropriately educate a large part of the market that email must be – and can be – more efficient and effective.

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