Attending Lotusphere (or any other big vendor event) is kind of like getting soaked with a fire hose. So instead of providing overall highlights (here’s a 60-second video that does this quite well, FYI), I’m dialing the nozzle to focus on LotusLive news at Lotusphere 2012, and my perspective on it relative to the SMB market.
Perhaps the news that garnered the most attention is that IBM is renaming its cloud-based LotusLive collaboration suite to IBM SmartCloud for Social Business. The move is designed to give the offering, which provides business-grade file sharing, communities, Web meetings, instant messaging, mail and calendaring, some new cachet in the non-Lotus market. IBM is putting Smart Cloud for Social Business squarely under IBM’s SmartCloud umbrella. By making all of its cloud offerings available in one place, IBM intends to make it for clients and partners to find and use it’s open-standards based cloud services .
Fortunately, IBM SmartCloud for Social Business (which is 34 characters, or 25% of a tweet long!) is the category name for IBM’s cloud-based social solution family. IBM will offer more succinctly branded offerings, such as SmartCloud Engage, which replaces LotusLive Engage, and ala carte services such as SmartCloud Connections.
IBM also plans to debut a dramatically simplified web site to make it easier for visitors to zero in on the most relevant solutions and information.
IBM’s announcements in this area went beyond style to also include significant substance, for instance;
- IBM Docs, formerly IBM LotusLive Symphony, will be included in IBM SmartCloud for Social Business. Currently in public beta with availability planned for later this year, IBM Docs is akin to Google Docs. The cloud-based service enables people inside and outside an organization’s firewall, to simultaneously collaborate on word processing, spreadsheet and presentation documents. Users can store, co-edit and share documents in IBM SmartCloud for Social Business.
- Social Business Toolkit for LotusLive, available now, which enables customers and business partners to integrate custom applications with LotusLive–now SmartCloud for Social Business–services. Using OpenSocial APIs, developers can access profile contacts, meetings, files and communities data. Companies can add unique custom actions to their SmartCloud for Social Business experience, and deliver everything via a unified user interface that leverages IBM standards-based extension points, authentication and encryption APIs. And, customers will only need to pay one bill for all of their Smart Cloud for Social Business services.
- An updated Partner Online Guided Selling Tool, a dashboard to help resellers and distributors create and manage sales quotes and orders is slated for availability in the first quarter on 2012. It will give resellers and distributors an automated collaborative tool to build quotes, place special bids, place orders, track service activation, manage customer billing, etc. to create customer-ready sales quotes for cloud services. For instance, using the tool, partners will be able to calculate ROI, meter usage, create flexible term lengths, or ramp up customers to the full offering on a predetermined schedule.
- New partner incentives. For instance, partners can get at 15% to 20% boost when they get authorized for and sell social business solutions, including IBM Smart Cloud for Social Business, under IBM’s Software Value Initiative (SVI) program. IBM is also giving partners that sell small deals and/or cloud –under $50,000 an additional incentive of up to 20%.
- A new click to buy button so customers can buy IBM Smart Cloud for Social business direct on IBM’s web site.
First, let’s look at the style front:
Lotus Notes, the on-premise ancestor of LotusLive, dominated the email and collaboration market back in the day. But competition from the likes of Microsoft to Google have chipped away at the original Lotus franchise over the years. Even when IBM Lotus out-innovated rivals in this space (for example, with IBM aka Lotus Connections), the perception of Lotus as being dated was hard to shake in the non-Lotus market.
This shift away from the Lotus brand also underscores a cultural shift that has been underway for at least a couple of years–and evidenced by the integration of Lotusphere and IBM Connect conferences. Lotus and collaboration are still a solid, underlying foundation, but social capabilities that help businesses extend beyond internal collaboration and into business workflow are the new mantra–and one more likely to appeal to a new generation of business decision makers.
Meanwhile, the IBM brand has continued to rank as one of the strongest brands in the world. Even as it enters its 101st year, Big Blue continues to buff and polish its brand with a seemingly endless appetite for innovation–as evidenced recently by Watson, atom size chips, not to mention selling 1,000+ patents to Google.
The net is that while the rebranding may cause some hiccups in the short-term as people acclimate to it, it makes sense over the long haul. And, who can argue with a simpler, easier to navigate web site?!
Moving on to substance:
Although IBM is very late to the game with click to buy capabilities, and isn’t the first to market with real-time document collaboration, the market is still young–with plenty of headroom. And, as privacy and security practices from other players come under increasing scrutiny, IBM’s measures to build corporate-strength security and privacy measures into SmartCloud for Social Business should give it an edge among organizations that place a premium on these areas.
However, my take is that IBM Docs needs to offer some compelling differentiation vs. the competition to make heads turn. In addition, IBM must go further than a 60-day trial and new click to buy capabilities to smooth the adoption and buying process. To its credit, IBM SmartCloud for Social Business does let companies provide free guest accounts to people outside their organizations. But I think it should take even more friction out of the process to boost viral adoption among SMBs–and compete more effectively with the likes of Google Apps. To that end, IBM should offer SmartCloud for Social Business free to a limited number of users in an organization.
IBM’s new partner programs and incentives are spot on, underscoring its commitment its partners, and respect for the role its partners play, particularly in the SMB market. Just as important, the roster of SmartCloud for Social Business partners has been growing steadily, with a focus on developer partners that add significant value by integrating with the solution I spoke with representatives from both Silanis and SugarCRM, who indicated strong customer growth for their integrated offerings. With the Social Business Toolkit, IBM makes it easier for developers to integrate with SmartCloud for Social Business and provide their joint customers with a unified, collaborative business process experience.
Many SMBs take a fairly ad hoc approach to collaboration and social business. But SMB Group’s 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communications Study and 2011 SMB Social Business Study show that SMBs that take a more strategic approach in these areas not only tend to invest more in relevant solutions, but are also more likely to anticipate revenue growth. To attract more of the types of partners that it needs to more deeply penetrate the SMB market, IBM needs to both educate SMBs about the business benefits a strategic social business approach. It also must help partners identify the more strategic sector of the SMB market that is likely to have more interest in IBM.
Overall, I believe that IBM is moving in the right direction, both in terms of style and substance. If it can create some strong brand awareness, take a bit more of the friction of the user consideration and adoption process, and fuel SMBs’ understanding of how collaboration and social business impact business results, it should make good headway in this market.