IBM will launch before mid-year several new and improved collaboration and communication products, including a new suite for human resources tasks and a major upgrade of its Connections enterprise social networking product.
The company, which will unveil the products at its Connect 2013 conference in Orlando on Monday, will also announce improvements to its enterprise social suite for marketers.
The upgrade to its IBM Connections enterprise social networking platform will feature new analytics features so that administrators can monitor usage, such as collaboration trends among employees and engagement with customers in social media services like Twitter and Facebook.
IBM Connections 4.5, which will be available in March, will also feature new document and content management capabilities, as well as an "ideation" tool to manage brainstorming processes. This new version will also feature deeper integration with Microsoft Outlook, so that users can access IBM Connections features within their Outlook interface.
"This 4.5 version is a momentum announcement," said Rob Koplowitz, a Forrester Research analyst. "IBM continues to grow, add functionality to and improve Connections."
The content management functionality makes Connections a stronger competitor to Microsoft's SharePoint, which in turn is encroaching further into the Connections territory with its upcoming integration with the Yammer enterprise social networking software.
The suites for human resources and marketing departments are designed to give employees collaboration tools like microblogging, IM, video conferencing, activity streams, employee profiles, document sharing, content rating, wikis and discussion forums.
The new IBM Employee Experience Suite will include existing IBM enterprise social and communication software along with human resources management applications from Kenexa, a company IBM acquired in December for US$1.3 billion. This new suite will be available in this year's first half.
Meanwhile, the existing IBM Customer Experience Suite, designed for marketing departments, will gain a new capability to let marketers push content, like ads and promotions, to social networks "with one simple click" and without requiring IT involvement.
IBM also plans to ship in March an upgrade of its Notes-Domino email and collaboration software, called IBM Notes and Domino Social Edition 9.
"We have an enterprise social business platform that is for social networking, content management, analytics, and can be leveraged across all business departments," said Jeff Schick, vice president of social software at IBM.
During the opening session of the conference, Jeff Bowman, global e-business manager at Caterpillar, the maker of heavy machinery equipment and industrial engines, said that his company is using IBM enterprise social products to extend its traditional face-to-face interactions with customers into the online realm.
"We're funding e-business at an unprecedented rate at Caterpillar," he said, adding that the efforts are at an early stage, but driven by a sense of urgency prompted by competitive pressure.
The online effort attempts to fine-tune the entire "customer experience lifecycle," including being where current and prospective clients are, such as in search results and social media channels, and delivering a "virtual" sales representative experience that manages "to make tractors sexy online," he said.
Caterpillar is also sharpening its online support capabilities and launching a new e-commerce platform that makes it faster and easier to purchase parts online, Bowman said.
Meanwhile, Ross Grossman, vice president of human resources at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, said the company has been using Kenexa software and services since 2007 to improve recruitment, training and hiring, and increase employee engagement and retention, all of which have played a big part in the company's ability to grow fast and compete against bigger rivals.
"In HR, we want to have a meaningful impact on the business," he said, adding that his department now plays a critically important role in the company's operations and performance.
At a press conference after the session, Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of IBM's Software Solutions Group, said that the impact of enterprise social technologies in collaboration and front-office business processes like HR and marketing amounts to a "generational shift" that is transforming how companies function, and will do so for the next two decades.