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IBM Verse: Can It Trump Google Inbox?

Cloud-based IBM Verse blends email, collaboration, and social intelligence to show what's relevant. Main rivals: Microsoft Clutter and Google Inbox.
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IBM on Tuesday introduced a new cloud-based service called IBM Verse that the company said will "reinvent enterprise email" by blending it with collaboration tools and social smarts to help users quickly find and focus on their most critical tasks and communications.

"We've applied analytics to enterprise email in an innovative way," said Bob Picciano, senior VP for IBM Information and Analytics Group, at a launch event in New York. "It's about engaging with people, driving relationships, and highlighting important tasks, not managing messages."

IBM contrasted Verse with free Internet mail services that "mine a user's inbox to increase advertising and monetize data." But it's clear that IBM Verse is going after the corporate email and collaboration market served by Microsoft, Google, and others.

[Want more on taming email? Read Microsoft's Answer To Death By Email: Meet Clutter.]

IBM Notes (formerly Lotus Notes) and Domino gave up messaging market leadership to Microsoft Outlook and Exchange more than a decade ago. But IBM remains a leader in social collaboration tools with its IBM Connections Suite. IBM Verse is a stab at snatching more messaging and collaboration deployments as the market heads into the cloud.

Hoping to be a disruptor, IBM is blending email, meeting, calendar, file sharing, instant messaging, social update, and video chat capabilities in a single environment. To this it's adding faceted search, for quickly finding content by type and topic, as well as personalization and social behavioral analysis capabilities to reduce the time and effort required to manage email and collaboration tasks.

"IBM is trying to deliver a better way of dealing with the symptoms of the email problem rather than making email work better," said Matt Mullen, senior analyst, social business, at 451 Research, in a phone interview.

Rival efforts to streamline email management include the recently announced Microsoft Clutter and Google Inbox, but IBM is promising to do more than declutter the email inbox. By analyzing each user's social connections, activities, correspondence patterns, and how they use the tools, IBM said it can personalize the experience of each user and surface their most important tasks and correspondence.

"The big problem with email is not clutter," said Mullen. "Microsoft Clutter and Google Inbox may be very useful, but IBM is going a level deeper, to look at the things that users are planning and who they're planning them with, which is something that IBM Connections has a better handle on than, say, Google."

IBM Verse is being introduced with a freemium model on IBM's cloud, taking on the likes of Microsoft Office 365, Google, and other cloud-based messaging and collaboration service providers. But analysts briefed on the product said it won't be long before IBM adds on-premises software aimed at maintaining existing on-premises IBM Notes/Domino messaging deployments that aren't headed into the cloud.

"IBM would like to get new [on-premises] enterprise customers, but I don't believe that's the goal," said Alan Lepofsky, a VP and principal analyst at Constellation Research, in an email interview with InformationWeek. "Because Verse is going to be available very easily in the cloud, it puts IBM into the SMB battle with Google Apps and Office 365. They are even going to price it similarly."

Pricing details weren't available at the launch event. Customers can sign up for the IBM Verse beta release immediately. General availability is anticipated in early 2015.

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