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IBM launches Connect conference to drive 'social business'

IBM is set to launch its first-ever Connect conference next week in an effort to bring the technology and business worlds together to discuss a social business initiative on which the company is betting big.

By , Network World
January 11, 2012 02:52 PM ET

Network World - These days, IBM's collaboration software Lotus Notes has become a shadow of its former self, and the Lotusphere conference doesn't have the same pull it once did - so this year, Lotusphere will have to share the spotlight with a brand-new conference called IBM Connect.

The inaugural IBM Connect conference will be held Jan. 16-17 amid the regular Lotusphere gathering, which runs Jan. 15-19 at Walt Disney World's Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando.

NEW HOPE? Can IBM's social approach at Lotusphere jumpstart a Lotus Notes comeback?

The way Connect is intended to fit in with Lotusphere serves as a model for how IBM expects social business technology, which involves the use of social networking tools in internal corporate communications, to align with traditional enterprise collaboration technology. According to Sandy Carter, vice president, Social Business and Collaboration Solutions Sales and Evangelism, IBM, Connect is an attempt to bring both the technology and business sides of the enterprise together to understand not only how to become a social business, but also why.

"If you look at the success of social, it kind of makes the dream of business and IT working together come true, because in order to be successful here you really must have business and IT," Carter says. "It's not an option as it has been in the past, where the best companies do it together and they're successful, but you didn't have to do it. With social, you essentially have to do it. There'll be a lot of great interaction between the two groups."

High-profile attendees appear to be responding well to Connect's message. Alan Lepofsky, research group vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research Group, has 15 years of experience working with IBM's Lotus brand as a senior strategist. Having attended Lotusphere consistently over the past decade, and with experience ranging from organizing the conference to speaking to the audience to working as an outside analyst, Lepofsky believes the Connect conference will accomplish its new goals in fostering collaboration both at the conference and in the workplace.

"They're shifting towards this phase of social business. This is one of the biggest changes this year," Lepofsky says. "The people that are going to go to Lotusphere are more administrators, developers, people who are going to be learning about the products. IBM Connect is going to be more about higher-level - more managers or CXO-level people who are learning about why they should be doing this."

The continued development of IBM's social business tools will not necessarily save Lotus Notes, Lepofsky says, but will instead drive more users to its collaboration-centric social software called IBM Connections. According to Lepofsky, this is where IBM will be able to get in on a market that has fundamentally evolved in the age of social media.

IBM introduced Connections in 2007 to address the need for bringing social networking functions into businesses. It plugs not only into Notes, but also into Microsoft products such as Outlook and SharePoint, among others.

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