There's no business like social business, says IBM

'Social' was the buzzword at the 19th annual IBM Lotusphere conference in Florida. Sim Ahmed reports

At the IBM's Lotusphere conference in Florida last month, Big Blue made several announcements on the future of its enterprise collaboration software.

The theme was social business, and it was evident from the number of sessions with the word "social" in the agenda, that IBM is banking on it to drive growth in businesses (including its own) in the future.

"Ultimately, social business is a competitive differentiator," says Alistair Rennie, GM of collaboration solutions at IBM.

Speaking at the opening general session, Rennie says businesses can profit from harnessing the knowledge and skills of its employees by implementing social networking functions into their IT. He says current collaboration tools, like email, are being misused, and companies should focus on a unified and integrated communications platform.

"I would shut off my own email if it wasn't running on Lotus Notes," jokes Rennie.

IBM says it is ready to provide the social business platform of the future, and announced a host of collaboration-orientated changes to its Lotus software to meet that demand.

IBM demonstrated its much-anticipated cloud-based document collaboration tool, IBM Docs. The software, formerly known as LotusLive Symphony, lets users edit and manage documents with real-time collaboration, and has many of the same features found in competing products such as Google Docs and Office 365.

Docs is currently in closed beta, but IBM says it will be available later this year as a part of its new SmartCloud for Business product.

IBM's Sametime also received new features this year. The telephony and communications software will see deeper integration into different Lotus systems, including the ability to start video conferencing from within emails and instant messages -- using Polycom's RealPresence technology.

Collaboration software

IBM's social business platform will be tied together with its Connections collaboration software, which IBM says also supports Notes and Domino, Exchange, and Sharepoint software.

Children's Hospital Boston is currently using the Connections software to help staff collaborate on cases within the hospital, and also externally through what it calls 'telemedicine'.

The system lets doctors compare notes on similar cases, and provide their expertise on different diseases. Several hospitals are connected, so knowledge from multiple institutions can be pooled into one accessible resource, which Children's Hospital Boston hopes will benefit hospitals in poorer areas.

"Ten million children die every year of preventable diseases," says Jeffrey Burns, chief of critical care at Children's Hospital Boston.

"There just aren't enough trained doctors and nurses to take care of all the critically ill children. We need a solution that works as well in resource-constrained environments as well as it does in resource-advantaged ones."

Burns spoke about a case in Guatemala where he was able to assist local doctors in treating a six year old girl through their Connections-enabled system. He said he was astonished by the benefits of such collaboration online.

"I thought, my God, we did this over the internet," marvelled Burns.

Burns implored the audience of technologists to continue developing enterprise collaboration tools, so the benefits can be harnessed in the medical sector.

Father of the web speaks out

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who in the 1980s helped create web specifications such as HTTP, HTML, and URLs, was at this year's Lotusphere conference to speak on the topic of the semantic web. However, when asked about challenges technologists face online today, Berners-Lee took the opportunity to protest about legislation that could potentially harm the web he helped create.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), are two pieces of copyright legislation before the US Congress and Senate respectively. The two bills caused controversy in the technology community for their potential use in censorship, and the difficulty in due process it poses for accused infringers. These concerns were brought to mainstream attention when prominent organisations like Wikipedia and Google blacked out parts of their sites for 24 hours in protest.

Berners-Lee says he opposes the bills because they contradict the democratic principles of a country like the US, and implored the audience to vocalise their complaints to their local government representatives

"These are basically just United States censorship bills," says Berners-Lee.

"They have not been put together to respect human rights as is appropriate in a democratic country like this."

He told the cheering crowd that the web in its nature is open, and attempts to close it off could significantly harm it.

"All this stuff depends on the internet working, and you being able to connect to the stuff that you want to," says Berners-Lee.

"The neutrality of the network and its openness is really important."

Kiwis head to Lotusphere

Attending and exhibiting at a conference half way across the world is an expensive business, but is an investment which Crossware says important to Kiwi businesses looking to make a splash overseas.

Crossware is a third party software developer and an IBM reseller in New Zealand. The company was established in 1999 when founder Per Andersen first moved to New Zealand from Denmark.

The company initially developed a CRM system for Lotus deployments, but now also develop an email marketing and signature system for Domino servers, which Andersen says is half of the company's revenue.

Andersen says Crossware have been attending Lotusphere since 2008, and the presence has helped his business grow.

"It costs us around $30,000 for the whole thing, but we've just got to do it," says Andersen.

"Unless you're from Ireland or the UK, there is a lot of hesitancy from large corporations to buy software from New Zealand. Attending these conferences gets us infront of a lot of people and legitimises us."

Andersen says this year around 5000 people attended Lotusphere, from which Crossware managed to receive around 1000 business leads.

He admits that the Lotus brand and suite is coming out of popularity in enterprise, but says Crossware will be ready to

"Lotusphere is getting smaller, and the number of companies using Lotus will diminish significantly with the popularity of Microsoft and cloud products," says Andersen.

"That's why we're working on solutions for both, and we will attend the necessary conferences for either eventuality."

• Sim Ahmed travelled to the Lotusphere conference as a guest of IBM New Zealand.

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