Leading into this year's Lotusphere conference, Constellation Research Group principal analyst and former IBM employee Alan Lepofsky said IBM will have to approach its new venture in social business by emphasizing the most important factor -- the benefits.
Now, two days into Lotusphere and the inaugural launch of the coinciding Connect conference, IBM can check that off its list.
At this year's Lotusphere conference, IBM made some major fundamental changes in order to get people talking about the tools they use to talk to each other. Alongside Lotusphere, IBM launched its Connect conference this year to instill a line-of-business voice into the traditionally IT-focused Lotusphere conference, specifically with the aim of pushing its next-generation social business products and services. IBM sees social business, which integrates social media tools like microblogging, wikis and instant messaging into enterprise communications tools, as the future of corporate collaboration. With IBM Connect running alongside Lotusphere, the company aimed not only to teach technologists how to implement social business tools, but also to demonstrate to high-level executives why they should be interested in them.
According to Sandy Carter, vice president of Social Business and Collaboration Solutions Sales and Evangelism at IBM, the blending of IT managers and business executives will set this year's gathering at Walt Disney World in Orlando apart from those of the past.
"The thing that I think is very unique about these two events being housed together is the fact that you have business and IT," Carter says. "The Connect event has chief marketing officers, chief HR officers, chief innovation officers. Not IT, but the line of business speaking on what they did, why they did it and how it impacted their business. And then housed right there is the technologist speaking on 'how do I leverage and use this to drive it together for success.'"
R "Ray" Wang, principal analyst and CEO of Constellation Research Group, believes IBM has united the technology and business communities quite successfully at this year's event. With the objective of pushing collaboration within the enterprise, IBM has succeeded in facilitating collaboration among attendees across its two conferences, Wang says.
"The business leader track at IBM Connect is packed and buzzing," Wang says. "There's good crossover with the core Lotusphere attendees who are looking for innovation."
The result, according to Wang, has been exactly what his Constellation Research Group colleague Lepofsky prescribed -- widespread recognition of the advantages of social business among IBM customers. Citing success stories from such large organizations as CEMEX, Electrolux and Children's Hospital of Boston, each of which were presented during the event, Wang says IBM is putting the impetus on attending companies to follow suit.
"The big impact is that customers can see that the early adopters may get ahead of them, creating a corporate digital divide," Wang says.
With Lotusphere, and the launch of its first coinciding business-oriented IBM Connect conference, the company has leveraged growing consumer social media use at the right time, directing employees' naturally developed skills in this field toward a more productive outlet in the enterprise, Wang says.
"The big difference [at this year's event] is that consumerization of IT is in full effect," Wang says. "Customers have seen social in their personal lives and can relate to how this can apply to business. Last year, IBM was forward marketing. This year the products are catching up to the marketing and customers are more receptive."
If IBM can keep the momentum going from its strong first step into the social business field, it may find itself competing in a fast-growing and potentially lucrative market. According to Forrester Research, the social business market is expected to reach $6.4 billion by 2016, up from $600 million in 2011.
Colin Neagle covers Microsoft security and network management for Network World. Keep up with his blog: Rated Critical, follow him on Twitter: @ntwrkwrldneagle. Colin's email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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