ORLANDO – Building on the momentum of its recent software-as-a-service push, IBM has announced a new enterprise-focused email mail tool with a social networking flavor.
Dubbed Mail Next, it combines IBM’s mail, meetings, chat, content management and office productivity capabilities into IBM Connections, Big Blue’s collection of social networking tools for business.
A beta version of Mail Next is scheduled for the first half of 2014 and actual launch is set for the second half of the year.
It has made some wonder if this means the end of Lotus Notes.
Speaking at the IBM Connect 2014 conference here, Scott Hebner, IBM’s vice-president of social business solutions, said Mail Next is will be available to large enterprise as well as small and medium sized businesses in both cloud and on-premise form. The tool will use analytics to provide users greater inbox management capabilities that will enable users to track messages and information needed to do their tasks.
At a demo of how Mail Next could be used, IBM representatives showed how a company could create a single site where employees can not only send and receive mail but also create “communities” or groups based on shared interests, responsibilities or projects, much like the “circles” feature on Google Plus.
Users also have the ability to “mute” mail that they do not need to attend to immediately. The feature allows users to set aside the mail for later viewing.
This does not mean that IBM is going into the email businesses the way Google or Yahoo has, according to Hebner.
“Our focus remains providing high-end, high-value solutions for businesses, and that means from very large corporations to small operations,” he said.
These features adds a greater degree of control that is not present in many consumer-grade mail services, according to Ronnie Maffa, vice-president of development and support for IBM.
“Mail Next is a broader expansion of how email can be done,” she said. “Mail Next can be integrated to CRM systems, Dominos (Lotus Domino – IBM’s server product that provides enterprise-grade email, collaboration capabilities and custom application platform) or other systems.”
She said Mail Next will help people become more efficient in prioritizing and managing daily task because for instance, the tool has the ability to track request and follow-ups.
Mail Next provides this visibility and control on a simple interface that is more reminiscent of consumer-focused social networking tools.
The release of Mail Next as well as the announcement of new capabilities of IBM Kenexa Talent Suite signifies a sort of rebranding for IBM Connect, according to Mike Karp, vice-president and principal analyst of Ptak Associates, an analyst firm that specializes in vendor and buyer issues.
“With these announcements, IBM is in a way rebranding IBM Connect as an all-in-one source for social, mobile, big data and analytics tools,” he said. “They are filling the gap for high-end value solutions in the market.”
He said IBM [NYSE: IBM] is not the first to offer such tools but it is the only one that is embedding more business-focused capabilities into their offering.
Matt Mullen, senior analyst for 461 Research agrees.
He said other companies are taking the social and analytics approach to email but they tend to focus on specific applications rather that taken a broader approach. For instance, SAP’s solutions focus on human resources while Microsoft’s solutions focus in office productivity.
“Mail Next is implicitly targeted against the likes of Microsoft’s SharePoint and Outlook,” he said. “If you look at Outlook you’ll see it has a definite 1990s approach to email, Mail Next is clearly the next generation of email.”