Some Thoughts on IBM Verse

I returned this week from ConnectED, IBM’s annual conference in Orlando, formerly named Lotusphere. A key emphasis of the conference was IBM Verse, the company’s new business email platform that is designed to go head-to-head with Office 365, Gmail and Amazon’s upcoming WorkMail, among other platforms.

Verse represents a paradigm shift in email. Where Outlook represented a major shift in the way people work with email by integrating calendar, scheduling and task management functions into a single interface, I believe Verse represents the same level of paradigm shift because of its integration with the social aspects of email. Even though a substantial proportion of business email today is application-to-person (newsletters, travel reservations, notifications, etc.), for most business users the primary reason they use email is to send information to other people, to collaborate with them, and to manage projects with employees and others – a concept that Verse’s designers had as their central focus. Verse has a very social feel to it, prominently displaying the individuals with whom you’re communicating and collaborating most often, and making suggestions about who you might want to add to your “A” list across the top of the interface.

Verse makes extensive use of Watson-based analytics to adapt to individual work and collaboration styles and provides useful information about incoming email, users, projects, etc. Watson has the potential to make Verse extraordinarily useful because of its ability to prioritize messages based on a wide variety of parameters and its “knowledge” about senders, content and the like. Verse makes extensive use of social technologies to provide information about others in an organization and your relationship to them, similar to the old Atlas for Lotus Connections. Plus, chat in Verse is powered by Sametime, IBM’s well-established, real-time communication technology.

IBM will be offering an on-premises version of Verse in the second quarter of 2015, but this likely will not include a thick client – Verse is likely to remain a browser-only offering until at least 2016. I’m unconvinced that not offering a Verse thick client is a good idea.

In a significant shift from IBM’s standard delivery model, Verse will be a freemium offering that will include an “ibmverse.com” address and a decent amount of storage. Watson’s capabilities will not be available in the freemium version, but will be in the paid version. IBM will offer the ability to import contact information so that social relationships can be identified and established.

The market for Verse will be varied. Obviously, IBM will be going after its current base of Notes/Domino users, since these companies already have a strong relationship with the IBM brand and represent a logical migration path for existing Notes users. The more difficult avenue for IBM will be Gmail users, a group of at least 500 million, many millions of whom are business users, that represents an enormous potential market for Verse, but one more difficult to crack. However, IBM is smart to go after this group because Verse provides a more elegant, useful and intuitive interface than Gmail; and the addition of Watson analytics and social interaction extend its utility further still.

Will Verse be able to penetrate the Office 365 market? Microsoft currently has more than 9.2 million Office 365 Home and Personal subscribers and in excess of 30 million total users. This is going to be a more difficult market for IBM to penetrate given that Microsoft has done a good job at providing robust functionality in their cloud offering, the fact that they own the desktop for productivity applications, and that email with a large mailbox is already included in the offering.

There are other markets IBM could go after, as well, such as the several million remaining GroupWise users that will be migrating to other platforms; and the tens of millions of Zimbra users.

So, what’s the future of Verse going to look like? I believe Verse could very definitely be a game-changer, albeit with a few “ifs”:

  • If IBM’s marketing can be streamlined to make information and pricing on Verse easily accessible to Gmail and similar types of users. IBM offers excellent technology as exemplified in Verse, but its marketing operation is currently too bureaucratic – the company has become very innovative in its design approach and needs to do the same thing for its marketing.
  • If IBM provides straightforward email migration services that allow existing mailboxes from just about any platform to be easily migrated into Verse.
  • If IBM educates the market sufficiently to help prospective users and decision makers understand the significant benefits from the integration of social, email and real-time communication into a single platform.
  • If IBM can convince business and IT decision makers that making life easier and more productive for their end users is in their best interest (it is, by the way).

The bottom line: Verse is a fantastic, game-changing platform that could significantly alter the business email market if it’s marketed correctly.

Are You Governing Your Information Properly?

What is “information governance”? Here are some definitions:

  • TechTarget: “A holistic approach to managing corporate information by implementing processes, roles, controls and metrics that treat information as a valuable business asset.”
  • Wikipedia: “The set of multi-disciplinary structures, policies, procedures, processes and controls implemented to manage information at an enterprise level, supporting an organization’s immediate and future regulatory, legal, risk, environmental and operational requirements.”
  • The IG Initiative: “The activities and technologies that organizations employ to maximize the value of their information while minimizing associated risks and costs.”

In short, information governance is about getting value out of information and minimizing the risks associated with managing it.

We are just about to publish a white paper focused on the return-on-investment associated with information governance. As part of that effort, we have conducted a survey with mid-sized and large organizations to determine the state of information governance today. Here are some highlights:

  • Only 52% of the organizations surveyed have an information governance program today, but another 20% plan to do so within the next 12 months.
  • The top three drivers used to justify an information governance program are risk avoidance, the risks associated with meeting regulatory obligations, and, somewhat surprisingly, maintaining or improving employee productivity.
  • Despite the fact that most organizations have or will have an information governance program in place within the next 12 months, most organizations do not regulatory dispose of digital information from file share, SharePoint or related systems.
  • Moreover, most organizations do not have in place a defensible disposition program.
  • More than one-third of the organizations surveyed have had sensitive or confidential content stolen from them. This most often occurs from outside parties, but also a sizeable proportion of insider theft has occurred.

Our focus in the white paper will be on a) why information governance is an essential best practice for any organization, but particularly those with large amounts of sensitive, confidential or otherwise valuable information; and b) how to demonstrate the return-on-investment that can be realized by implementing an appropriate information governance program.

If you’d like an advanced copy of the white paper, please let us know.

What About a Morals Clause for Social Media?

USLegal.com defines a “morals clause” as “a contract or official document that prohibits certain behavior in a person’s private life.” Should your company have something like this with regard to what your employees say on social media, even when they’re posting content on their personal, non-company accounts and doing so on their own time?

Consider the following tweets collected late in the afternoon of January 6, 2015:

  • “Clients are always especially stupid their first week back.”
  • “Feels good to give $50 to a small company for something that fits my needs instead of stealing from Adobe!”
  • “My boss is such an idiot. Why is she Fwd’ing me emails that I am copied on”
  • “I have a problem with stupid client. in fact, Clients are all stupid.”
  • “I am sleeping with my boss and I don’t know why.”
  • “My boss wasn’t impressed by my Don Draper impersonation, specifically the drinking and smoking at work and the sleeping with clients.”
  • “This sounds weird but I drive better when I’m drunk. For some reason when I drink I can see better”

There are a couple of risks to your business that you need to consider if even one of your employees is posting this kind of stuff. First, there’s the risk that an employee is revealing that they’re doing something illegal, offensive or inappropriate. Yes, they may not be telling the truth because they’re attempting to be funny or they are simply trying to elicit a reaction, but not everyone will see it that way. An offensive or vulgar tweet, Facebook post, Instagram photo or some other objectionable content could trigger an investigation, such as the just launched police inquiry into a Scottish broadcaster and businesswoman who last week tweeted some offensive comments about Ebola patients.

Second, some of your clients and prospects are aware that these social media users are your employees. Whether these clients and prospects intend to or not, some will inextricably link your company with these employees, and the offensive content will reflect badly on your company. While few clients or prospects would make a decision about your company based solely on a rogue employee’s social media posts, it could be a factor that plays into their overall decision process, even if it’s simply a desire not to have to deal with an employee careless enough to post offensive content.

The bottom line is that you should at least pay attention to what your employees are saying on social media, even when it’s on their own time. Whether you can actually do anything about it through a moral clause in an employment contract or some other means is a matter for others to address.