Wednesday, September 12, 2012

IBM Connections 4 - Two Words that Make the Difference

IBM has announced Connections 4, the latest release of its flagship social software.  Now, I could quote a flock of analysts/pundits who toss around a bunch of buzzwords (and, if you like that sort of thing, you can see those reports on the IBM Connections page - click the image to the right), but here's the real question - what can Connections do for your enterprise, your users and your customers?

Well, if you'll indulge me, I think we should start with this video of "What it Means to Become a Social Business" (don't worry, it's only 1:30 in length).  Most of you know that I'm borderline-allergic to marketingspeak, so here's my take on that video; once you strip away the flash and the buzzwords, it all boils down to two verbs - "provide" and "anticipate".  Everything else, from "empower" and "simplify" to "enable" and "leverage", stems from those two capabilities.  I think that Connections shines on both counts, and here's why.

"Provide" sounds simple enough, but the onslaught of social media services has complicated matters in the Internet age.  Right now, your employees and customers are scattered across the Internet; they're on Twitter, using Facebook, pinning to Pinterest, blogging over here, and on and on and on.  The questions are these - do you know what's being said? Are you getting usable information, or are you just in "reaction mode"? Is there consistency across their efforts?  Is your audience bouncing from service to service as needs or issues evolve, as in "let's take that to email" or "put a screenshot on Twitter"?  (Yes, I've been asked to do the "screenshot on Twitter" thing...) Well, the Connections toolbox--Files, individual social networks, Blogs, Activities, Communities and more--gives your audience (employees AND customers) a one-stop "right tool for the right job" environment that simply cannot be matched by a patchwork quilt of services and/or a desktop full of disjoint clients.

At this point, someone is thinking, "Man, this guy is either a hypocrite or a shill - criticizing all those services while telling us to add yet another one to the mix!"  That might be a fair criticism, if Connections 4 didn't open up to the rest of the collaborative world as it does.  With open-standard facilities like, OpenSocial and OAuth2 available under Connections 4, you have the baseline capabilities of integration with other collaborative services; with integration points for Twitter and Facebook, you can cross-pollinate those services and your Connections environment.  Where the client deployments of Connections is concerned, the new native clients for iOS, Blackberry and Android line up alongside the plugins for Lotus Notes, Microsoft Office, and Windows Explorer to fit Connections into whatever MDM/BYOD/desktop environments you might have while preserving the browser-only functionality for those who need it.  (Here's the technical "What's New in V4.0" page.)

"Anticipate" is the much tougher nut to crack.  In the long-term strategic view, businesses rise (or fall) on their ability to anticipate their audience, but we rarely see discussion of anticipation as a tactical process.  That's where analytics come into play, and Connections 4 delivers over 100 new reporting facilities, from community-manager numbers to overall system-wide usage metrics and trending analysis.  To me, the ability to take those metrics and migrate a idea/problem/brainstorm from status update to blog post to forum discussion to working community--all within the same framework--allows a degree of responsiveness and--here's that word--anticipation that, again, cannot be matched by hand-stitching communication lines among "all those services."

If you're looking for that online umbrella--that "home base" for collaboration that can be the destination for the audience you've built via Twitter, Facebook, or the company blog--take a look at Connections, starting with @IBMSocialBiz and the "IBM Connections 4.0 Overview" on YouTube.  It's well worth your time.

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