IBM social tools not meant to replace IM, Twitter

ORLANDO—IBM Corp. doesn’t expect that its collaboration software offerings will outright replace popular user-driven social networking tools like instant messaging and Twitter, said one executive at the Lotusphere 2010 conference. 

IBM’s social software suite – that includes Lotus Connections, Lotus Quickr and Lotus Sametime – provides users with tools like blogs, profiles, communities and instant messaging, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that popular social networking software that made their way virally into the enterprise will be completely replaced, said Peter Van De Graaf, IBM’s program director for social software, in an interview with ComputerWorld Canada.

“If you’re using the micro-blogging (in Lotus), might that reduce some of your usage of instant messaging? Maybe,” said Van De Graaf.

But it really depends on the particular enterprise and the industry it toils in, said Van De Graaf, who still sees many companies using a combination of Lotus social software as well as other tools made popular by the masses.

Instead, Lotus Connections attempts to address IT department headaches like employees using e-mail as a document management tool, such that in theory, e-mail traffic should decrease if these social tools are properly used, said Van De Graaf.

Part of Project Vulcan, IBM’s vision for how collaboration will evolve, is to simplify access to social software through an intuitive user interface and by allowing IT departments to integrate them more closely to the existing infrastructure and business processes, said Van De Graaf.

That will ease adoption not only for end users, but for the IT department who has the ability to tie in collaboration tools with existing standard apps like a customer relationship management software, said Van De Graaf.

Although IBM has embraced open standards like OpenSocial and OpenID and offers Twitter and LinkedIn integration with the Lotus platform, Van De Graaf said there isn’t enough customer demand right now for integrating other popular social networking software.

In the second half of 2010, Lotus Connections will have additional mobile support as IBM partners with various device vendors. “Mobility is very, very central to the overall Project Vulcan strategy and even within the existing project strategy,” said Van De Graaf.

There will also be compliance and auditing capabilities for those enterprises subject to industry requirements. Social analytics will also be part of the new functionality allowing users to be fed recommendations of people, content and communities relevant to them. “There’s a long pipeline of technologies that we will be putting into the product” designed to do some of the work for the user, said Van De Graaf.

For the past year, France-based application management vendor Sogeti has been migrating its global workforce to a collaborative platform using, in part, IBM technologies. Chief technology officer Michiel Boreal told an audience at Lotusphere 2010 that the transition has been “much more than just installing a social software.”

It’s a complex endeavour that is about bottom-up adoption and collective intelligence, to name a few, said Boreal. As an organization, Sogeti holds a plethora of document knowledge but a social platform must be people-centric, not document-centric, so that tacit knowledge can be shared, said Boreal. The key is to identify who knows what and then connect those individuals, he said.

Sogeti’s 20,000 employees scattered across 200 offices in 14 countries certainly added to that complexity. “We are a very decentralized company,” said Boreal. The company piloted the project with employees identified as early adopters, starting with limited functionality and providing the ability to integrate with existing social tools.

Lotusphere 2010 continues through Thursday of this week. Check out Day 1 coverage of the conference.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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