IBM opens door on Bluehouse – a Facebook for business

IBM opened yesterday the online door to a service that merges some of the best features of social networking with business collaboration tools.

A SaaS (software-as-a-service) product, Bluehouse is, for now, free during this public beta release. Once the testing ends sometime in the next few months subscription pricing, which has not yet been detailed, will kick in.

Bluehouse combines a familiar pallet of collaboration tools, including IM (instant messaging), Web conferencing, document sharing, profiles, directory and tools to build business networking communities — all delivered via a cloud platform.

Facebook is used by some firms for business collaboration today. Like Facebook, Bluehouse will allow people to quickly create a collaborative space, but unlike Facebook it has management features to ensure privacy and other controls that businesses want, said Sean Poulley, vice president of IBM’s online collaboration services.

Bluehouse is part of broader cloud services initiative at IBM that includes helping independent software developers turn their applications into SaaS services, which the company can use to help businesses develop internal clouds for their own service delivery.

On a very broad level, IBM has been developing cloud-based and SaaS services, and has been collaborating with Google. In July, Hewlett-Parkard Co., Intel Corp., and Yahoo Inc., announced their own collaboration effort. Poulley said current economic woes may help the adoption of SaaS with its subscription model. “The fact is that cash is starting to get somewhat constrained in the marketplace,” he said.

Adam Burrell, a senior technologist at a financial services firm which he ask not be named, has evaluated Bluehouse. He is already using SaaS tools, in particular Google Apps, and said of Bluehost that he believes it will simplify collaboration with third parties.

“We could rapidly put the team together without having to involve our IT staff,” said Burrell of his experience with Bluehouse. People can search profiles, invite people into projects, and having meetings and file sharing spaces. “It’s very much like Facebook,” he said.

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