Some Thoughts on IBM Connect

This was my tenth IBM Lotusphere/ConnectED/Connect and, arguably, one of the best. A somewhat new focus, a new venue and a substantial number of people (2,400?) made for a very good event. The expo floor continues to shrink each year, but was still fairly busy most of the times I was there or passed by. Plus, holding the event in a new venue helps to minimize comparisons with past events that had 10,000 or more attendees.

IBM is pushing hard on its social message, integrating social collaboration across every aspect of its offerings: Notes, Domino, Verse, Connections, et al. Even more pronounced was the “cognitive” message – namely applying Watson technology to just about every aspect of the user experience, from identifying those emails that users need to address first to simplifying the calendar experience.

What was interesting is that the keynotes stressed capabilities – communicating more effectively, setting up meetings, and having better access to files – not product names. For example, while I would have expected Verse to take center stage as the hub of the user experience, the name “Verse” was surprisingly underemphasized (at least in the keynotes, although not so much in the breakout sessions). Apparently, according to the IBMers with whom I spoke about this, it was by design. IBM wants to emphasize what people can do, not the tools they use to do it. For example, the company emphasized its dashboard that is automatically populated for each user with content from Verse, Connections and other tools depending on how people work, but minimizes the identity of the specific platforms that host this information.

While I understand the capabilities-not-products approach, I’m not sure the market will agree. Microsoft’s success in the business communication space is attributable, in part, to the fact that it pushes hard on product identity: Exchange, Outlook, Office 365, Yammer and, more recently, Skype for Business. For example, there are many non-IT decision makers that tell IT they want “Outlook” as their corporate email system (when they really mean Exchange), not “the ability to manage email, calendars and tasks from a single thick or thin client interface”. I could be wrong and IBM’s research may indicate that people think in terms of capabilities and not products, but I don’t think so.

Moreover, when comparing Verse to Exchange Online or Gmail, Verse wins hands down in my opinion. The interface in Verse is cleaner, and the integration with Watson to apply analytics to email makes it the superior offering. Yet, many – even in the analyst community – have never heard of Verse. I don’t believe a strategy that deemphasizes the identity of this very good email platform is the right choice.

With regard to Verse, IBM is making headway here, although the company’s policy is not to reveal numbers from its customer base. All of IBM’s several hundred thousand users have been migrated to Verse and there are some useful new features and functions coming down the road. For example, an offline capability will be available at the end of March that will allow access to five days of email and 30 days of calendar (a future version will permit users to adjust the amount of content available offline). Two hundred IBMers are already using offline Verse. Given that the offline version using HTML 5 will suffice for the non-connected experience, there will not be a Verse client anytime soon, if ever. An on-premises version of Verse will be coming later this year. There are other developments to be made available soon, such as the ability to use Gmail and Verse simultaneously in trial accounts, that I will write about when they’re ready.

With regard to other vendors at Connect, I was quite impressed with Trustsphere’s LinksWithin offering that enables analysis of relationships within email, as well as Riva International’s server-side CRM integration capabilities that allow CRM data from a variety of leading platforms to be accessed within Notes, Exchange and other email clients and Webmail.

What Can You Do With Archived Data?

Archiving as a defensive tool is well-trod ground: it’s an important best practice for eDiscovery, litigation hold, regulatory compliance, storage management, and end-user access to content. Every organization should archive their employees’ data to ensure they can meet these defensive uses of archiving – what we call Archiving 1.0.

But what about Archiving 2.0, or a more proactive use of archived data? Here are some things you can do with your archives:

  • Investigations: The ability to extract intelligence from the content within email archives can significantly reduce the amount of time spent on investigations, such as early case assessments in advance of an anticipated legal action, an investigation about inappropriate employee activity, or an investigation about why a key customer account was lost.
  • Sales support: Communications with customers independent of a CRM system can be used to determine how sales, support and other staff members’ emails correlate with customer retention and follow-on sales. Similarly, the speed and quality of responses to customer inquiries can be correlated to sales in order to determine how best to respond to inquiries in the future.
  • Risk mitigation: Archived data can be used to mitigate risks from data breaches, employee fraud and related types of threats. Senior managers can look for employees who are more likely to commit fraud by looking for managers who are treating their employees badly, they can find employees who are communicating with an organization’s competitors, transferring sensitive files to a personal email address, or running a personal business on company time.
  • Customer service: Archived data can be useful in determining who in an organization is talking with specific customers, to whom in the customer organization they are speaking, the content of their conversations, and other relevant information.
  • Supply chain management: Another application is analyzing messaging and relationship intelligence to visualize employee communication with unauthorized parties.
  • Litigation management: Legal can use messaging and relationship intelligence to zero in on individuals or domains to understand communication trends and which individual(s) or domain(s) needs to be investigated further, enabling useful pre-trial or pre-litigation discovery information.
  • IT support: Help desks can become more proactive by conducting ongoing investigations into what employees are saying about particular applications, the goal of which is to address problems as early as possible.
  • Human capital management: An archive can be used to determine when employees are going to leave an organization and thereby minimize the impact of an employee departure.

We have written a white paper that focuses on Archiving 2.0 – please feel free to download it here.