IBM's Bob Picciano Shows Off IBM's Forward Thinking On Social NetworksIBM's Bob Picciano Shows Off IBM's Forward Thinking On Social Networks
I'm at Interop in NYC on the first day of the exhibition and, to kick the day off, there's a lineup of four keynotes in a row and I've planted myself in the front row of the keynote hall at the Jacob Javits Center to hear what each of the speakers has to say. First on stage was IBM Lotus Software and WebSphere Portal general manager Bob Picciano, who showed how some of IBM's traditional solutions, such as its Sametime unified communications offering, are bridging the gap to social networking tre
September 17, 2008
I'm at Interop in NYC on the first day of the exhibition and, to kick the day off, there's a lineup of four keynotes in a row and I've planted myself in the front row of the keynote hall at the Jacob Javits Center to hear what each of the speakers has to say. First on stage was IBM Lotus Software and WebSphere Portal general manager Bob Picciano, who showed how some of IBM's traditional solutions, such as its Sametime unified communications offering, are bridging the gap to social networking trend and how that can benefit the enterprise.Picciano (pictured below) opened up by establishing what he called "the collaboration agenda," and walked us down the natural progression that organizations have been going through over time. For example, in the name of collaboration, he talked about how companies embraced basic forms of collaborative communications like telephony and email and that over time, they started using other forms of communications like instant messaging, Web, and video conferencing. He mentioned that the more progressive organizations are not only looking to unify these communications, but to make sure they cross organizational boundaries.
It seems like stating the obvious given today's trends. For example, what companies aren't digitally crossing boundaries formally, if not informally through what in some ways should be considered as rogue communications. I, for example, instant message (IM) with a lot of people outside my company for business purposes. I use Yahoo Instant Messenger to reach some people (both inside and outside of my company), AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) to reach other people, Google Talk to reach others, and Skype to reach others (can we have a standard here, please!). But, several problems arise out of that sort of fractured rogue approach that so many people are taking. For example, all of the services have their own sets of metadata for user profiles and ways of of accessing those profiles. Also, the communications are far from secure. Have you ever thrown a network sniffer on an Ethernet segment that has IM traffic crossing it? Most of that traffic is in clear text. But more to the point that Picciano drove to during his presentation, there's no way to contextually embed that functionality into other applications in a way that efficiently draws information workers to the right expertise within a organization. Today, for example, I can't search across all of those instant messaging networks to find the person in my organization (let alone outside of my organization) that's the expert in pasting images into our corporate wiki or the lawyer that can answer a question about trademarking a new brand. In his keynote here, Picciano pitched a blend of unified communications and social networks that, at least from an enterprise perspective, is probably the closest thing I've seen to a cohesive strategy around how the two infrastructures can strip out the inefficiencies in collaborative business process. That's a bit of a mouthful and examples paint a better picture of what I'm talking about. So, imagine a social networking infrastructure that's not unlike Facebook where people (in your organization, out of your organization) are happy to load the same sort of profile information about themselves that they'd load into Facebook. But in this case, the information is more business oriented. For example, the aforementioned trademark attorney may have created a profile that contains her picture and information about her areas of expertise (e.g.: trademark law). She might also program into that profile some links to her internal (or external) blog (another piece of the social network) as well as links (essentially, social bookmarks) to the sort of news and information she tracks that's relevant to the art of trademarking new brands (for example, a news story on how to search both the USPTO for a trademark as well as the WHOIS database for the same Internet domain name). Having this sort of profile information online and accessible to an organization is obviously very useful and it's not like the idea of making such profiles available to organizations wasn't thought of before. It's just that the tools for maintaining that information hindered adoption. Often times, a proprietary client was needed to encode the information as profile data into a corporate directory service. It was all quite yucky. Today, with read/write Web technologies as well as a cultural shift where sharing such information online isn't just permissible, but encouraged, the idea that such information will be online, up-to-date, and easily searchable is a reality as evidenced by the success of MySpace and Facebook. It's where that sort of functionality gets integrated with the unified communications network as well as the directory service that things start to get interesting. Picciano showed how, for example, a health care network could run an online service whereby patients could come in and not only search for doctors with expertise in sports medicine, access a doctor's profile, see his or her blogs, social bookmarks (perhaps to recent articles involving sports medicine), medical certifications, etc., but to also immediately initiate immediate communications with that doctor's clinic by IMing, calling, or e-mailing (the primary communications functions that are integrated into many of today's unified communications platforms) a nurse at that clinic. Alternatively, for appointment setting, the patient and doctor's calendars could be compared to identify mutual free and busy times. Not suprisingly, with Picciano pitching this idea of blending unified communications platforms (which, in and of themselves, are already a bit of blend if you think about it) and social networks, IBM can sell you a portfolio of technology that covers the end-to-end spectrum. That portfolio include Lotus Sametime (unified communications), Lotus Notes (messaging and calendaring), and Lotus Connections, a social networking solution that's a bit like Jive's Clearspace in that it offers blogging, profiles, affinity groups, etc. Perhaps even more interesting is how, according to Picciano, a lot the functionality found in that portfolio can be broken out as discreet software components that could be contextually integrated into other applications. An important part of the Picciano's pitch had to do with the extent to which contextual placement of functionality can grease the wheels of collaboration. For example, after reading a blog entry from someone in the legal department about trademarking (primarily, a social infrastructure experience), being able to initiate a call to that person's cell phone by way of a contextually placed widget that can engage the unified communications infrastructure. He gave a different example that I didn't capture (maybe he can respond to this blog). So, I just made that last example up. I'm sure there are better examples since it makes complete sense to strip out specific features of the social infrastructure or the unified communications infrastructure and, in the name of more efficient collaboration, contextually place that functionality somewhere else. Picciano continued on about delivery mechanisms and talked about how businesses should have a choice of taking the solutions like the blend of collaborative technologies he opened with, and making them available via on-premise hosting (traditional in your data center style), turnkey appliacnces, and from the cloud. He took the opportunity to "pre-announce" that IBM will be offering a hosted version of Lotus Notes. Wrote CRN's Andrew Hickey: Another IBM Web 2.0 project, Project BlueHouse, will go into public beta soon. Project BlueHouse enables collaboration in extranet environments, creating virtual workplaces. Additionally, Picciano said, a hosted Notes offering is coming soon geared toward companies of 1,000 to 10,000 employees for between $8 and $18 per user, per month. The pricing is probably what's news there. Either that, or IBM is finally delivering something it talked about about last year (with a slightly different price tag at $5-$10 per month).
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