IBM unveils social networking tools for businesses


Social networking so far has been mainly a consumer-driven phenomenon. That may have started to change Monday, when IBM Corp. unveiled what it called the first social software offerings appropriate for business.

The announcement, made at Lotusphere 2007 in Orlando, focused particularly on three offerings:

• IBM Lotus Connections – A collection of integrated blogging, social networking and other tools due to ship in the second quarter.

• Quickr – Big Blue’s new content sharing and management software that will also be rolled out in the second quarter. Quickr Personal Edition will enable businesses to securely store and swap content much like the way consumers swap songs and videos; and,

• Lotus Sametime 7.51 – this latest release of IBM’s enterprise instant messaging and Web conferencing application is due sometime in April. New features include point-to-point video, tabbed chat, and integration with Microsoft Office and Outlook.

At least one Canadian analyst believes IBM’s announcement heralds a new phase of business-appropriate social networking – one that will spawn a new set of tools and processes.

The new offerings announced Monday represent just the tip of the iceberg, according to Carmi Levy, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research in London, Ont.

He says the announcement signals to us that social networking tools are becoming “enterprise-aware, enterprise-friendly, more robust, and ready for deployment in a corporate context.”

And IBM executives, speaking at the event, conveyed a similar message. They explained that the new tools would offer corporate employees new ways of sharing information and collaborating.

For instance, they said Lotus Connections would allow workers to meet and interact in a virtual space, much like people do in online communities such as MySpace.

The offering – that includes social bookmarking tools, profiles and blogs – could foster the organic formation of teams with common interests, and could provide a context to share and discuss issues, according to Ken Bisconti, vice-president workplace, portal, and collaboration products at IBM.

“The application is focused on unlocking the creative potential of organizations, and driving innovation into action,” Bisconti says. Likewise, he says, employees can use the collaborative capabilities provided by Lotus Quickr to meet and interact in teams.

Another IBM executive noted that collaborative functionality is vital – but not enough in a corporate context.

A social software tool intended for business must respond to business issues, says Michael Rhodin, general manager at IBM Lotus. “With the Lotus application, you can dial into a live chat and pull data out of the ERP system, format it directly in the chat so you can have a multi-lane conversation with people on seven continents looking at real-life business data and doing real work.”

With new workplace demands, and the fact that most employees are familiar with consumer-focused social networking tools, its inevitable that social networking applications will show up at work, says Levy. “The people who go to work everyday are the same people who go home at night and use those social networking tools.”

He says employees will want these applications to have a similar look and feel when used in a business context – as they have when used at home. In addition to social software applications, IBM announced new features to its Lotus Notes and Domino 8 e-mail offering.

These include the open beta program starting next month, major upgrades to core applications, and expanded integration with Lotus Connections, Lotus Quickr and Lotus Sametime 7.5.1.

The company also announced Websphere Portal Express that offers collaboration, document management, Web content management, presence awareness and instant messaging to small and medium businesses.

With files from Joaquim P. Menezes

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