What's next for IBM’s enterprise social business

Enterprise Social Solutions GM shares thoughts on Project Toscana, cloud vs. on-premises and more at IBM Connect event

What's next for IBM’s enterprise social business
Bob Brown/NetworkWorld

IBM Enterprise Social Solutions GM Jeff Schick emceed the company’s recent Connect conference in Orlando, where Big Blue updated customers and partners on its latest collaboration, mobile and cloud efforts, emphasizing a message of “Make Every Moment Count.” Schick managed to squeeze in a few of those precious moments for reporters to follow up with him on the company’s direction in social and collaboration business, an operation that he’s been part of since 2006, including as the creator of the IBM Connections enterprise social platform.

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Here’s a slightly condensed transcript of Schick’s thoughts on where IBM is headed in this area:

On IBM’s Collaboration portfolio

We have a very large on-premises business and a very fast growing cloud-based business. At this stage we have symmetry between the offerings: We have a mail offering on prem [currently Notes, but IBM Verse is headed there too], we have it in the cloud; we have a social network for work on premises, we also have that in the cloud. In the 2014 timeframe we really focused ourselves from a development point of view on cloud first and continuous development and delivery. We have the opportunity then to make snapshots of those technologies and build them out as on-premises releases. Whereas in the cloud we will make updates every single week, on premises we’re good for probably a major release every year for each of the respective on-premises technologies that are part of the collaboration portfolio.

On cloud adoption by customers

Those organizations that are interested in cloud and think it is a viable option for their company, then they’re thinking of that in terms of mail, office productivity, social networking, meetings, chat. They’re thinking about that holistically. We’re not seeing companies coming to the conclusion often that say we’re willing to put our mail there but not our chat. It’s usually, if I’m considering cloud for collaboration, I’m willing to do that across a set of collaboration capabilities… Most people are not securing meeting services on premises any longer. It’s almost gone fully towards a cloud-based model. Mail is growing more so. Social networking, look, it started with some of the larger consumer-based providers…. From our vantage point at least for a long period of time there will be an on-premises because because of governance and compliance. That’s not to say we haven’t solved many of those challenges in the cloud, but their belief system and position is based upon their sensibilities. We have built and integrated compliance technologies in the cloud so that if a bank wanted to move their mail to the cloud, the regulatory stewardship that they have over that content is absolutely possible through archiving e-discovery capabilities that are available. 

On video integration

We’ve bought two major video providers, one focused on streaming, another providing that as an on-demand capable service [and IBM has created a cloud video unit]. Right now in the unified communications space you have a diversity of video: You have one-on-one video, one-on-many video [that can behave like a group chat], a meeting that’s exploiting video to see people as you’re sharing a presentation, and then in some cases that presentation sharing could be spawned in lecture mode, and then you have live streaming. The part of IBM that made the [video acquisitions] wasn’t necessarily the collaboration business, but I like it, I’m going to exploit it, I’m going to add it to offerings so that your social network can have streaming video as part of it. I really see that also happening as a statement of when you look at [IBM’s SoftLayer cloud platform] and the SoftLayer set of services you start to look at here are things that I can do through SoftLayer APIs to administer, manage...even in commerce, file management, video services. That’s not unlike some of the moves you’re seeing made by Amazon in terms of the services they are making inherently as part of their cloud-based offering.

On Project Toscana conversation engine, demonstrated publicly for the first time at IBM Connect 

Facebook has WhatsApp [which actually runs in SoftLayer] and then there’s Slack. These are tools that have emerged almost like text messaging apps that are focused on the conversation. We think there’s a couple problems with that. One, people that we know that have been using Slack for any appreciable period of time feel like their information organization is totally kaput, like "Where did that conversation take place?" If you put artifacts in it "How do I get back to it?" People are struggling with just the basic utility of "I’m having a conversation and how do I get back to the information, artifacts, content, decisions that were made when they still sit within the conversation framework?" We’ve solved that by if you put a file into the conversation we'll still store it within your content store where you would expect all the rest of your content to be.

toscana Bob Brown/NetworkWorld

IBM Enterprise Social Solutions GM Jeff Schick reveals Toscana, a conversation engine that could bolster Verse and other enterprise social tools

But we also felt that the creation was an important dimension of that. Certainly Slack has through APIs done some modicum of integration so from this conversation you can try to start a Google Doc, but Google actually stores it in their runtime, they don’t really let you ship it back… So how some of these technologies are integrating the broader collaboration set is problematic. Somebody doesn’t need to just have a conversation, or just doesn’t need to create or share content. We need to do all of that, and that’s where we’re coming from with Toscana. We’re injecting the expertise

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