SMB Adoption of Unified Communication and Collaboration (UCC) On the Rise

—by Sanjeev Aggarwal and Laurie McCabe

Today’s small businesses need the right mix of collaboration tools to create a productive work environment. SMBs looking for new collaboration solutions that will help them work smarter, and achieve top business goals of attracting new customers, growing revenue and improving customer experience. Flexible solutions that connect employees with each other and with customers and partners from any location, device or network will play a big part in achieving these goals.

But as SMBs increase their reliance on collaboration tools, managing and integrating multiple solutionsincluding email, instant messaging, voice, click-to-dial, presence, videoconferencing, and morecan become difficult. As a result, more SMBs are considering unified communications and collaboration (UCC) solutions to aggregate and integrate these functions and bring some order to collaboration chaos.

Mainstream VoIP Adoption Lays the Foundation for UCC

SMB adoption of voice over IP (VoIP) solutions is already well underway. According to SMB Group’s recently completed 2016 Small and Medium Business Communication, Collaboration and Mobility Study, 53% of small businesses (companies with less than 100 employees) and 68% of medium businesses (companies with 100 to 1,000 employees) are currently using VoIP. In addition, 16% and 10%, respectively, plan to implement VoIP within the  next 12 months.

Figure 1: SMB VoIP and UCC Adoption

b2-picture1-768x383Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

With a VoIP foundation in place, more SMBs are considering deploying UCC solutions. Currently, just 12% of small businesses (companies with less than 100 employees) and 28% of medium businesses (companies with 100 to 1,000 employees) use UCC solutions. But, over the next 12 months, 17% of small and 35% of medium businesses say they plan to deploy a UCC solution, potentially doubling year-over-year penetration.

SMBs Are Split on UCC Implementation Preferences

Our study shows differences in SMBs’ UCC implementation preferences. While small businesses tend to gravitate to cloud-based solutions, medium businesses are more likely to choose on-premises deployments. In addition, 14% of small and 20% of medium businesses favor a hybrid UCC approach.
Figure 2: SMB UCC Implementation Methods

b2-picture2-768x320Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Drivers for UCC Adoption

As shown on Figure 3, SMBs are turning to UCC to:

  • Improve employee productivity from any location, device or network
  • Standardize communication and collaboration tools
  • Increase security
  • Easier to use, monitor and manage
  • Better integration between communication solutions and business applications
  • Lower telecommunication costs
  • Create a more professional image with customers, suppliers and partners

Figure 3: Top Reasons to use UCC

b2-picture3-768x340Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

UCC Solution Purchase Channels

32% of the small businesses and 23% of medium businesses have purchased or plan to buy their UCC solution from their traditional phone carrier (Figure 4). A greater percentage 28% of medium businesses have purchased these solutions from an Online UCC service provider vs. 24% of small businesses. Small businesses prefer to buy from channels they have an existing relationship with. Medium business that have some more IT resources prefer to buy from newer online channels or VARs (if their requirements are more complex).

Figure 4: UCC Solution Purchase Channels

b2-picture4-768x354Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Most Important UCC Features

SMB survey respondents ranked the UCC features that are most important to them (Figure 5), with the following coming out on top:

  • Better security and compliance capabilities
  • Lower cost
  • Easier for end-users to use
  • Easier to integrate with other business applications
  • Easier and flexible to deploy, manage and extend
  • Better voice and video quality and reliability

Figure 5: SMB Rank Importance of UCC Features

b2-picture5-768x378Source: 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Summary and Perspective

The market opportunity for UCC in the U.S. SMB segment is around $4.5B. Adoption among both small business and medium business segments should be continue to rise, as more employees work away from their companies’ main offices. Traveling employees, telecommuters and employees in remote offices represent different types of mobile workers and cloud-based UCC solutions can help keep them connected—both among themselves and with their customers—in a more streamlined and manageable way.

Integrated UCC solutions that also connect easily with key business applications can further fuel adoption. And, UCC solutions can help SMBs gain more control, and as a result—security—when compared to a hodge-podge of disjointed point solutions.

Especially in the resource-constrained small business segment, cloud-based options, which offload deployment and management headaches, and offer more affordable subscription pricing, will continue to help facilitate UCC adoption among SMBs.

However, the concept of UCC as an integrated set of systems and applications is still confusing and complex for SMBs who have yet to adopt these solutions. UCC vendors and their channel partners need to help SMBs better understand benefits and evaluate the best-fit alternatives to best capitalize on the growing interest in UCC.

For a complete table of contents and ordering information for SMB Group’s 2016 Communication, Collaboration and Mobility Study, click here.

Where is SMB Collaboration Headed?

—by Sanjeev Aggarwal and Laurie McCabe

 In today’s digital age, location no longer needs to be a barrier between co-workers. Whether the other person is sitting next to you or on the other side of the world, collaboration solution—such as email, audio and video conferencing, cloud-based file sharing and stream based messaging—make it easier for people to communicate and get their jobs done.

However, the business and technology landscape is always changing. Solutions that may have worked fine in the past may not be the best fit for new requirements. As shown on Figure 1, 34% of SMBs agree that they “spend too much time going back and forth” between solutions, and 42% say employees use collaboration tools without IT approval/support.

Since collaboration solutions are key to improving employee productivity and customer satisfaction, business decision-makers need to periodically reassess their collaboration needs and how they’re filling them to make sure they have the right mix of solutions.

Figure 1: SMB Views On Collaboration Solutions

chart1Source: 2016 SMB Communications, Collaboration and Mobile Study

SMB Group’s 2016 SMB Communication, Collaboration and Mobility Study shows that small and medium businesses are expanding their use of collaboration solutions (Figure 2). While use of more established collaboration solutions, such as file-sharing and instant messaging is pervasive, SMBs are also adding newer solutions, such as video conferencing and stream-based collaboration. This highlights the fact that businesses are looking to create a more social collaborative environment. Interestingly, however, SMBs are not displacing older solutions with newer ones, but instead expanding the types of tools they use to better meet evolving collaboration needs.

Figure 2: SMB Collaboration Solutions Use and Plans

chart2

Source: SMB Group 2016 SMB Unified Communications, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Brands SMBs Use For Collaboration

The good news is that SMBs have a multitude of choices when it comes to collaboration solutions, and the cloud has made them easier and more affordable to access and use. The bad news is that it’s often hard to figure out which ones are the right fit. In fact, 41% of SMBs in our survey say that “figuring out which solutions can best help my business” is one of their top 3 technology challenges.

In our study, we asked business decision-makers what brands they’ve selected in the solution categories used by them. Here’s how the rankings stack up for a few of them.

Email:

Microsoft Office 365 tops the rankings, followed by Microsoft Exchange. Google for Business came in third as the top email solution provider chosen by SMB owners. Microsoft’s two solutions now own more than 50% of the U.S. SMB market, Google is losing momentum and now has about a quarter of Microsoft’s adoption.

File Sharing & Data Storage

DropBox is the top file sharing service used by small businesses (companies with 1-99 employees), followed by Google Drive and then Microsoft OneDrive.

Figure 3: Small business file sharing and storage solutions 

chart3

Source: SMB Group 2016 SMB Unified Communications, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Among medium businesses(companies with 100 – 1,000 employees), Microsoft OneDrive is the top solution, followed by Dropbox, on-premises solutions and Citrix ShareFile.

Figure 4: Medium Business File Sharing and Storage Solutions

chart4

Source: SMB Group 2016 SMB Unified Communications, Collaboration and Mobile Study

Video Conferencing

SMBs are most likely to se Citrix GoToMeeting for video conferencing. Microsoft Skype for Business is number two, Cisco WebEx number third and Google Hangout has the number four spot.

Stream Based Messaging

Although relatively new to the market, SMB adoption of stream based messaging is gaining momentum. SalesForce Chatter and IBM Connections, which were among the first to offer these solutions, lead in adoption, followed by Citrix Podio, Slack and Flow.

Figure 5: Small business stream-based messaging solutions

chart5

Source: SMB Group 2016 SMB Unified Communications, Collaboration and Mobile Study

 

 

Figure 6: Medium business stream-based messaging solutions

chart6

Source: SMB Group 2016 SMB Unified Communications, Collaboration and Mobile Study

 Perspective

As the pace of business accelerates, we all have to operate in and connect with more people and business networks, and connect to and collaborate with people in different locations, in different ways and on different devices. The right collaboration tools can help people more easily share and manage information, get their jobs done and make better business decisions.

With so much of our business work being done today within digital environments, creating an effective digital workplace that empowers people to work more efficiently and effectively should be a top priority.

SMBs that start by reassessing their collaboration requirements and employee preferences will find it easier to sort through the proliferation of available collaboration solutions, and make the necessary adjustments to ensure they have the right tools in their collaboration toolkits.

For a complete table of contents and ordering information for SMB Group’s 2016 Communication, Collaboration and Mobility Study, click here.

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Trends in SMB Collaboration, Communication, and Mobility: What’s Your Strategy?

Almost every employee in every company collaborates and communicates every day. In the past, most businesses relied primarily on email, phone systems and sticky notes to do this, but today’s technology provides us digital solutions that enable us to work anytime, anywhere.

Stream-based messaging and collaboration tools, cloud file sharing, conferencing, smartphones, tables and laptops can help employees and contractors collaborate to get work done more quickly and easily. Companies that use these solutions to automate and streamline collaboration can not only improve productivity, but also give employees more flexibility in terms of how, when, and where people they want to work. As baby boomers retire, these businesses will also be more in tune with and better able to attract and retain millennials as they enter their prime working years.

How are small and medium businesses (SMBs) thinking about and adapting to create a smarter, more agile workforce? At SMB Group, we recently surveyed 730 SMB decision-makers via our 2016 Small and Medium Business Communication, Collaboration & Mobility Study to find out. In our July 26 webinar, sponsored by Citrix, I’ll discuss survey findings that show that while SMBs are progressing well in some areas, there are some that they may not be paying enough attention to.

  • A majority of SMBs say they have a collaborative culture, and are getting productivity value from collaboration and communication solutions. 61% of SMBs agree/strongly agree that their company encourages and rewards collaboration; 70% agree/strongly agree that their communication and collaboration solutions help improve productivity. By incenting employees to work together, and providing them with solutions to empower them to do so more effectively, SMBs can boost productivity, job satisfaction, business outcomes and the bottom line.
  • SMBs are embracing cloud collaboration and communication solutions. A majority of SMBs already supplement staples such as email, on-premises file sharing servers and phone systems with newer, cloud-based tools for file sharing, instant messaging, and web and audio conferencing to aid collaboration. Furthermore, SMB plans to use more of these tools, and newer solutions, including video conferencing and stream-based messaging and collaboration tools, over the next 12 months. However, with so many solutions in the market, many SMBs have a hard time figuring out which ones will work best for the business. In addition, it’s easy for employees to use “unsanctioned” collaboration solutions, which can create support problems and security risks.
  • SMBs may not be making the connection between employee metrics and growth. SMBs are most likely to cite attracting new customers (51%), growing revenue (49%) and maximizing profitability (38%) as their top three business goals (Figure 1). In contrast, attracting and retaining quality employees (28%), improving productivity (19%), and creating a millennial friendly work environment (8%) are much lower down on the list. Yet empowered, productive and satisfied employees are generally a pre-requisite to creating happy customers and growing the business. SMBs can gain a competitive edge by realizing that strong employee metrics are intertwined with sustainable business growth and profitability.
  • SMBs are slow to embrace telecommuting. All SMBs surveyed have some employees that work from home on a regular basis, but telecommuting is not the norm among SMBs, with 59% indicating that 1%-10% of employees work from home regularly, and just 14% saying that more than half of their employees do so. On the bright side, 18% expect the percentage of telecommuters to rise over then next year, and 45% say that their company wants to make it easier for employees to work from home. Of course, not every job lends itself to telecommuting. But, to synch up with changing worker expectations—especially among millennials, who place a premium on flexibility—SMBs need to create a work at home strategy that aligns with both business and employee requirements.
  • More work is getting done on mobile devices, but SMBs face mobile management challenges. 67% of SMBs say that mobile solutions are changing how they communicate and collaborate. While the PC isn’t dead, people are doing more work on mobile devices, especially when it comes to collaboration and social media. For instance, for collaboration apps, 37% say that they’ve decreased their use of traditional PCs and laptops—and 6% say they no longer use PCs at all for collaboration! This swing is due in part to the convenience and portability of mobile devices over traditional desktops and even many laptops, and to increasing preferences for mobile interfaces. However, SMBs face several challenges to taking full advantage of mobile, including effectively securing and managing mobile devices and apps, especially when it comes to supporting bring your own device (BYOD) programs. Since the growing preference for mobile shows no signs of abating, SMBs must update mobile strategy, devices (including laptops), services, apps and policies to create a productive yet secure and manageable mobile work environment.

Figure 1: Top SMB Business Goals Slide1

These are just a few of the findings from the study. Please join our webinar, sponsored by Citrix, where I’ll examine these and other findings about the changing collaboration and communication landscape, and discuss the key pillars to create a strategy to improve communication, collaboration and productivity for your business.

Slide Show Version! SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Tech Trends for 2015

(Originally published on the SMB Group website and available here in .pdf format).

Here are SMB Group’s Top 10 SMB Technology Trends for 2015 in slide show format!

How Scribe Software Solves the Integration Puzzle for SMBs 

This video interview was originally posted on SMB Group Spotlight. 

Laurie: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe here with the SMB Group Spotlight and today I’m talking to Peter Chase, who is the founder and executive Vice President for Business Development at Scribe Software. Scribe specializes in providing integration solutions both in the cloud and on premise to help business integrate and get more value from their business solutions. So Peter, welcome and thanks for joining me today.

Peter: Thanks for having me.

Laurie: Before we get into a lot of detail about what you guys do can you give us a little bit of background on the company?

scribe logoPeter: We’ve been around for 18 years now, so 1996. We are in the same business we started out in, which is helping companies get their business systems to connect with one another. We sell across the globe so we have customers all over the world. We do about 25% of our business in Europe and we have a large partner network that we work with that help us deliver value to customers across that global footprint.

Laurie: Okay, that’s a good introduction, so given that what you do is integration can you tell us a little bit more about the kind of integration solutions that you provide to small and medium businesses?

Peter: Sure. Most small and medium businesses are using multiple systems. There was a recent Venture Beat survey that said small businesses use somewhere between two to five, on average, different marketing systems just to run their different parts of their business as well as now the advent of CRM and other types of system support, your back office systems. None of those applications were really meant to design to communicate well with one another, especially as we’ve added all of these new cloud applications. So how do we as a small business make sure that we have a single view of the truth around a customer, how do we make sure that we have efficient processes so that when, let’s say some marketing activity, say you’ve done a webinar, how do we know when that prospect shows interest that gets followed up by the sales team while they use different systems. We sort of sit in between and it enables companies to be able to define those data exchanges without having to write code in a visual environment, so it really lowers the barrier for small/medium businesses.

puzzleLaurie: So basically you’re helping them integrate those different workflows among the point solutions, which we’ve found in our research is a very big problem. Most small businesses and even medium businesses have barely touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to that kind of integration.

Peter: Exactly, and part of that reason is because the barrier to get that done has been so high. You need programmers, you need large IT staffs, and most organizations don’t have those staffs or those specialized skills to be able to do that effectively.

Laurie: Right, and the promise has been a long time from a lot of vendors is that we’re going to make integration easy. How are you guys trying to do that at Scribe?

Peter: Well, there has been a lot of progress in that area, especially in the cloud-based applications with better application programming interfaces, what they call APIs, which make those applications more open, but companies still have to define how they want that information to be exchanged, when it happens, how it happens, and that information isn’t always compatible so you might have to sort of build some business rules and some data rules around how you exchange that data. We provide this nice visual environment that allows you to be able to do that, and not having to be a programmer, just that you understand your data and how you want to exchange it. That really is critical to enabling small/medium business to affect that.

Laurie: So it sounds like it’s a storyboarding kind of thing almost, a WYSIWYG way of kind of way to say I want to integrate this with this, is that what’s really unique or differentiating or are there other things?

Peter: Well there are other products out there that are beginning to do this, I think probably the most unique differentiator that we have is that we work with so many systems integrators and value added resellers that so many of that and big organizations rely on because they don’t have the ability to have all those skill sets, and one of the things we built right into the product is a social capability where using social media type approaches where companies can collaborate with their systems integrators and their VARs and now whether that VAR, they could even have the VAR sort of manage all of that and do a turnkey, or they could collaborate on it, or they could just bring them in when they need them on specific issues. So that sort of building a technology platform that enables that to be an efficient process is so critical.

Laurie: Well that sounds like it would be a huge help because even if small and medium businesses have IT resources they’re often times generalists, so they’re still looking to the partner to help them.

Peter: Yeah, and there are some products out there that are very sort of simple where I can say if this happens then edit then send it here, but most companies need more than that, their systems are very unique to what they do, and their workflows are unique, so in the past they would have to go to either custom programming or very expensive platforms and tools. We sort of bring enterprise capable quality integration availability to small and medium business and that’s what makes us unique.

Laurie: So where can an SMB that hears about this, that wants to learn more, where can they go to learn more and get some way to evaluate the solution and see if it’s a good fit.

Peter: The simplest thing is to go to scribesoft.com. We have plenty of resources around videos and different information about what types of scenarios they can integrate easily, what applications they can integrate easily, but we also have free trials. Whether you want to trial our on-premise installed software product or you want to trial our cloud-based platform you can trial either one of those. We have a customer success set of resources in our company that will actually work with you through your trial if you have questions or if you’re looking for some best practices they can help provide those best practices and enable you to really prove out that you can do it effectively and get what you want.

Laurie: I’m sure you can also help them connect with a partner, right?

Peter: Oh well that goes without saying. We have hundreds and hundreds of partners across the world and we can connect them with them. If they’re partner is not our partner and they’d like to get enabled we have an on-boarding program for partners that’s very rapid, so we are all about enabling not just the small/medium business but the entire ecosystem that they rely on to be able to help them and collaborate together efficiently.

Laurie: Peter, thanks so much for joining me and it was very informative to learn about Scribe and it sounds like a great way for a lot of SMBs to integrate their business applications, so thanks again.

Peter: Well thank you, and we’re looking forward to helping companies make that happen. Thanks.

Laurie: Great, thanks.

A New Way to Work: IBM Design Thinking Creates Verse Via Storify

My Storify recap of key takeaways from #NewWaytoWork launch of IBM Verse.

  1. Fascinating and fun! In my first @IBM design camp!#NewWayToWork

    ·

    9 DAYS AGO

     Last week, I participated in an IBM Design Thinking boot camp, and the launch of IBM Verse, which was created with Design Thinking methodology.

  2. Phil Gilbert: we have to start with the user, empathy and insight—it has been a missing component from biz software #NewWayToWork< +1
  3. “Folder King” made IBM rethink how to find stuff, both structured and unstructured search #NewWayToWork

    IBM Verse is email reimagined. It’s very visual and intuitive. I love that you can see your calendar on the same dashboard as your email–no more toggling back and forth!

  4. Hi everyone! I'm #IBMVerse. Learn more about me and how I can help you find a #NewWayToWork. http://t.co/2jpsW1bRm7 http://t.co/5HCTM7cL2U

    Hi everyone! I’m #IBMVerse. Learn more about me and how I can help you find a #NewWayToWork. http://ibm.com/verse  pic.twitter.com/5HCTM7cL2U
  5. I like that @IBM Verse provides a visual dashboard view of mail, contacts and calendar all in one place #NewWayToWork
  6. Great question!

  7. .@lauriemccabe is it really a #NewWayToWork or just a new way to look at email?
  8. @lauriemccabe: My thoughts: @IBM Reimagines the Email Story With IBM Verse  http://bit.ly/1xM4Tgg  #NewWayToWork

    7 DAYS AGO

     IBM offered some clues about some of the new capabilities it plans to add to Verse.

  9. RT @lauriemccabe: @IBM Verse will add more messaging sources, e.g. Twitter, texts, etc. #NewWayToWork
  10. @IBMWatson is going to lend its brain to @IBM Verse, that might help me a lot😉 #NewWayToWork

    Another great question!

  11. Hmmm…if @IBM wants viral adoption of Verse, it will need to hook consumers, as Google did, for bottom up adoption#NewWayToWork
  12. @IBM remember a big reason that @google made such big inroads against @Microsoft in biz email-led by viral consumer adoption#NewWayToWork
  13. Verse really looks good, but IBM marketing will need to be just as creative as IBM design to compete for volume against Google and Microsoft.
  14.  Here’s a YouTube video to give you more info on Verse.

  15.  And if you’d like to check it out, you can sign up for a free trial.

  16. I’m using #YourCircuit and saying #GoodbyeEmail How about you? Grab your free trial here  http://bit.ly/1sMAni8  #NewWayToWork

IBM Reimagines the Email Story With IBM Verse

email iconYou’ve got mail! It’s been a long time since most of us have experienced the surge of pleasurable anticipation that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan enjoyed in the 1998 classic, “You’ve Got Mail.”

Instead, if you’re like me and many others, opening your business inbox has become a soul-sucking experience that consumes too much time, distracts you from more important tasks, and leaves you feeling that in spite of all the time you spend in email, you probably missed something important. Yet with all of its flaws, you continue to use email because it has become a seemingly irreplaceable part of the business workflow.

You’ve Got Information Overload!

The feeling of information overload that many of us experience isn’t surprising. According to Osterman Research, most corporate decision makers and influencers view email as the single most important application they have deployed. The typical user spends two hours per day working in the corporate email system and sends or receives a median of 130 emails per day. Email is also the primary method for:

  • Sending an attachment for 94% of users.
  • Sharing files while on a call for 60% of users.
  • Managing a project for 56% of users.

Sadly, much of this time is wasted: According to a 2012 Grossman Group study, middle managers typically spend 100 hours a year on irrelevant email. Many frustrations arise from this sorry state of affairs, including some of my top aggravations:

  • That nagging feeling that I’ve missed something (especially in all of those crazy Google threads!).
  • Spending too much time catching up on email after work hours so I’m not swamped the next day. For better or worse, this is easier than ever because I can do it on my iPhone.
  • Spending too much time searching for that one, elusive email that I really need.
  • Toggling back and forth from my email to calendar to find open time for meetings.
  • Getting back to what I was supposed to be working on after be email distractions.

But, despite these problems—and the emergence of newer digital communications methods (social networking, activity streams, text messages, IM, etc.) touted as email replacements—email is still very much alive and well. While newer methods are making some headway (and in fact, reducing email use in our personal lives), email remains the top form of business communication. In fact, 52% of those surveyed by Osterman Research indicated that their use of email had actually increased over the previous 12 months, while for 44%, use remained the same. Use declined for only 3% of respondents.

Towards A More Intelligent Inbox

To be fair, email has evolved since the first email with an @ sign was sent (reputedly in 1972, by Ray Tomlinson, an ARPANET contractor and Internet pioneer). Commercial developers got in the game, and developed folders to organize email, offline synchronization, standards and protocols, web interfaces, search capabilities, spam filters, ways to pre-sort emails into different buckets and more to make email more user-friendly and usable.

Although these improvements have helped somewhat, the original paradigm of looking at a big long list of stuff—emails, files and folders—remains. We’ve gained more ways to slice and dice our inbox, but it’s still served up to us in pretty much the same way as it has always been, in rows of information.

Newer social and collaborative tools, from activity streams to file sharing apps have been developed to make communication and collaboration easier, and to reduce and/or replace email. But while they are a great fit for certain tasks and activities, they haven’t displaced email to any great extent. Email volumes continue to multiple, and email overload continues to plague us.

You’ve Got Focus!

But what would happen if you began with the premise that email isn’t likely to go away? And that since people spend a lot of time in email, it should be a place where people like working and can be more productive, and that easily integrates with newer social and collaborative tools, instead of competing with them? In other words, how can you have an inbox that works for you, instead of the other way around?

This is the premise that IBM team has zeroed in on with IBM Verse. Verse is designed to help people focus on, find and act on the most important things in their inbox in a more intuitive and integrated fashion. Big Blue has invested $100 million to design the solution, which combines its cloud, analytics, social and security platforms.

Initially announced at IBM’s 2014 Connect conference (under the codename Mail Next), IBM Verse replaces those deadly rows and folders with a fresh, visual mental map to help you make sense of your inbox more quickly and easily (Figure 1). With one look at the IBM Verse dashboard, you can:

  • See what replies and tasks you owe others.
  • View meetings and free time.
  • Identify what’s most important in your inbox.
  • View your activity stream.
  • Move over a face to see that person’s emails, chats, invites and more all in one place.

Figure 1: IBM Verse Screenshot

Mail Next screen shot (9)

Source: IBM

From there, you can drill down to different layers to manage things, take action and stay on top of priorities (Figure 2). For instance, you can:

  •  Pull up and attach links to files and manage version control.
  • “Unlock” emails and turn them into social posts to share with a community.
  • Use team analytics to create social graphs to see how active different people are in a thread.
  • Create rules to sort, filter, mute and hide messages.

Focus on Experience, Not Features

IBM Design Thinking, IBM’s design framework for delivering great user experience to users. Is also taking a different approach to designing IBM Verse. Instead of testing the user interface after some (too often) wonky developers come up with it, product management, development and design all work together equally from the beginning.

Using tools such as IBM Digital Analytics (formerly Coremetrics) and other technologies from its portfolio, IBM can continually personalize and prioritize email and social activities for users and improve search. Over time, according to IBM, Watson will provide much of the analytics behind IBM Verse, with the goal of providing users with more insights and less overload from their email.

Coming Soon…

IBM Verse will debut as a cloud service (but IBM is prepping an on-premises version as well). Key sponsor and design advisory users have been reviewing, testing and helping co-create the solution since August. The solution will officially premiere in November as one of just eight IBM “Signature Moments,” putting IBM Verse on par with the IBM-Apple deal. After that, IBM Verse will enter beta mode, with general availability slated for March 2015.

IBM will provide Notes Domino users with a preview and transition to IBM Verse. Notes Domino users will be able to use IBM Verse in combinations with Notes Domino and with IBM Connections.

IBM will also offer a standalone Verse solution of Verse in a freemium model, to compete against Google Gmail and Microsoft Office 365. As an SMB analyst, the standalone version is of most interest to me as this is the first freemium IBM has offered. The freemium model will provide entrée to an app that almost every business needs, and has the potential to generate viral adoption for an IBM product—another first for IBM.

Will IBM Verse Measure Up At the Box Office?

But it’s not a slam-dunk. IBM Verse should provide Notes Domino users a more compelling case to stay the course instead of defecting to Microsoft, Google or other cloud-based mail alternatives. However, most Notes Domino users have a lot of applications, many internally developed, running on the platform. IBM Verse will need to be able to run, expose and interface with these apps to make the transition truly easy.

Meanwhile, as alluring as the IBM Verse demo and interface is, gaining traction outside of the Notes Domino installed base will be extremely challenging. For starters, many companies, especially small and medium businesses (SMBs), are already using cloud-based email and collaboration solutions. SMB Group research indicates that 49% of small (1-99 employees) and 40% of medium (100-999 employees) already use cloud-based email and collaboration solutions. Furthermore, the preference for cloud among SMBs planning to purchase or upgrade collaboration solutions is strong (Figure 2).

Figure 2: SMB Adoption and Plans for Email and Collaboration Solutions

Slide1

Source: SMB Group 2014 SMB Routes to Market Study 

In addition, IBM will need to make a strong case to business decision-makers and end-users, as well as to IT. IBM will not only need to create broad-based awareness for the solution, but convey why and how it’s different from other email solutions, and how it directly benefits users—aka “what’s in it for me” to move the needle.

And, while IBM Verse isn’t exactly a new category, it’s a very new approach that goes beyond traditional email. Users will need to develop a new mental map—and IBM will need to help them do so. Going to market with a freemium model will help, but it won’t be enough. In addition, IBM will need to:

  • Deeply internalize sponsor and beta user feedback, not only to influence solution development and design, but also to ensure that IBM Verse messaging, positioning and marketing reflects the user voice and experience.
  • Heavily socialize the IBM Verse concept across events, social media, communities, influencer groups, etc.
  • Maximize conversion of users that try IBM Verse to users that buy, or in the case of the freemium, stick with IBM Verse and make it their corporate mail system. It’s easy to get people to download free apps, but tough to get them to test them and tougher still to displace an existing solution with a new one.

As a solution, I believe that IBM Verse is launching with the right stuff, including.

  • As a cloud first solution, IBM Verse can tap into the growing number of companies that opt to start with or move to the cloud.
  • IBM’s design thinking team aligns with where users are today: helping people get more done, more quickly with fewer menus, mouse clicks and a more visual representation.
  • “Personal analytics” taps into user concerns about information overload, and the desire to manage email more intelligently.

But, only time will tell if IBM’s elevation of IBM Verse to Signature Moment status—and the marketing power attendant with this—will be enough to ensure that IBM Verse will become the blockbuster hit that IBM is hoping for.

This post was sponsored by IBM.