Understanding Lotus Connections, IBM's Version of Web 2.0 For The Enterprise

As innovation in the consumer space spills over into the enterprise, IBM believes its social software suite that includes blogs and social networks for business will give users the collaboration features they want while giving IT the ability to hook it into existing systems.

By C.G. Lynch
Fri, May 23, 2008

CIO — Though IBM might not be on par with the Twitters and Facebooks of the world when it comes to social networking, analysts say the company has kept its hands on the pulse of Web 2.0 with its Lotus Connections — a social software suite that includes blogs and social networking profiles, all made for the enterprise.

Since launching last year, Lotus Connections entered a crowded market of enterprise 2.0 vendors, companies that had taken popular Web 2.0 technologies in the consumer space like blogs, wikis and social networks and repurposed them for businesses. IBM found familiar foes as well, including Microsoft, who added social software features to its SharePoint platform.

Couple that with competition from Google, whose cheap enterprise version of Google Apps allows workers to collaborate on the Web and build shared workspaces with no programming experience, Lotus Connections represents IBM's response to a Web 2.0 world.

On the surface, Microsoft's and IBM's strategies for Web 2.0 might appear similar: identify existing customers and convince them that their social software tools are just as good as niche vendors, with the added benefit of providing better security. But analysts say SharePoint isn't truly in the spirit of Web 2.0: it relies heavily on users' having the Office productivity suite installed on their computers, and the social software on it lacks the same user-friendliness as similar tools made by start-up vendors.

IBM has taken a different approach than Microsoft. It got really serious about making their social software tools usable and easy on the eyes, which says a lot in a facet of technology where consumers (closely followed by start-up vendors) set the pace of innovation.

Rob Koplowitz, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, says that Connections is as good as any product made by a vendor focused solely on social software for the enterprise, adding, "It is also very good at integrating with enterprise content."

The integration Koplowitz speaks of centers around enterprise e-mail and messaging systems (such as, but not limited to, Lotus Notes and Lotus Sametime) and databases from vendors such as Oracle and Documentum. IBM has been able to grab the data from those systems and feed it into the social networking tools in Connections.

In addition, says Jonathan Edwards, an analyst with the Yankee Group, IBM's recent partnership with Research in Motion (RIM) to put a mobile version of Connections on BlackBerry placed the vendor not only ahead of Microsoft, but enterprise 2.0 vendors as well, in the race to get online business software tools in the hands of mobile users.

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