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3/30/2011
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IBM Connects With Social Software

Jeff Schick, IBM's vice president of social software, gives a tour of the company's various social media applications and how he uses activity streams and communities throughout the day.

Inside Watson, IBM's Jeopardy Computer
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Slideshow: Inside Watson, IBM's Jeopardy Computer
When Schick signs on each morning, he checks the activity stream of notes from his contacts and adds his own update on his plans for the day. Sometimes, that simple action can be surprisingly productive, he said. For example, when IBM salespeople see that he will be traveling to their area, they often rope him in on a meeting with a hot prospect. "I've closed deals, some of them multi-million dollar opportunities, that I might not have had the chance to get involved in otherwise," he said.

Everywhere within the portal that an employee is represented as the author of a document or a note, Schick can get a pop-up "business card" profile by hovering his mouse over the name or photo. Emailing, instant messaging, calling, or setting up a video call are just a couple of clicks away. Through integration with IBM's human resources systems, he can also see where the contact is in the organizational hierarchy, including reporting relationships. Those contacts are also available through a searchable directory, and IBM processes about 6 million lookups every day from employees trying to find and contact each other, Schick said.

Schick uses the Connections home page to get an overview of everything he needs to know to start his day, but he also maintains a separate information dashboard he has customized to show the news and activities he needs to track most closely.

For more structured work, Connections offers an Activities tab. For example, all the planning for the recent Lotusphere conference was plotted out as an activity with sub-tasks for the opening ceremony, the media plan for the event, and so on, and each of those tasks could have other documents, notes, questions, and answers attached to it. After running a successful event, the team behind it can then take the structure of that activity and turn it into a template so next year's event planners will have a thorough outline of all the tasks to be completed.

Another way IBM organizes its collaboration is through communities -- more than 23,000 of them "for every science we do, every industry we serve, every product we build," Schick said.

Again, the idea of forming communities of interest within an organization is a concept with roots in many early groupware, collaboration, and knowledge management efforts, but the proliferation and usage of these communities has exploded with the latest generation of technologies. "Now, I think the growth we're seeing in communities both large and small is that this is so darn easy," Schick said.

At the same time it supports ad hoc creation of communities and tagging of content, IBM does have an administrative team that tries to keep it under control. The tagging system was seeded in the first place with established taxonomies IBM had developed, and community managers do police the overall organization of the environment.

However, keeping everything tidy isn't the most important thing, Schick said. "The secret ingredient to having a successful community is that it's vibrant, and that it's the place to go on a particular topic."

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