IBM Introduces Their Vision Of The Smarter Workforce

January 28 2013 09:00:00 AM Comments Disabled
Today at IBM Connect (the conference formerly known as Lotusphere), IBM unveiled their vision for how businesses can find, attract and hire the best employees; empower those people to get their jobs done as effectively as possible; and motivate them to be happy, productive and successful employees with long and rewarding careers. These three areas combine to deliver what IBM refers to as the Smarter Workforce.

My Point of View

For the past decade or so, the core messages at Lotusphere have revolved around they ways Lotus software could help people collaborate. Each year as the Lotus product portfolio grew (Sametime, Quickr, Connections, Portal, etc.) the messages evolved to include new product features or platforms but the story remained fundamentally the same. This year IBM made a big shift, revealing a new, much grander vision.

With the conference renamed to reflect the overall IBM brand and the introduction of Smarter Workforce, IBM (and ideally their business partners) can now speak with customers and prospects about IBM solutions at a much more strategic level. Those conversations should no longer be based on things like Notes/Domino for email or Portal for intranets, but rather how social networking (people, communities), content (documents, files, etc.) and analytics (using data to make decisions) should be integrated with the business tools and processes employees use for getting work done.  

Based on the recent acquisition of Kenexa, the business processes IBM is currently talking about are related to Human Resources (HR), but Smarter Workforce is not just about "social business + HR". I predict it will be expanded into areas like Sales (IBM should acquire SugarCRM), Marketing (IBM should acquire Marketo), Engineering (leveraging assets from IBM Rational, or integration with GitHub) and Customer Service (IBM should acquire GetSatisfaction and/or ZenDesk).

IBM is not unique in this vision. Competitors such as SAP, Oracle, Salesforce and Microsoft have also shifted their stories away from social software being a category of its own, to now talking about how social must be a core feature of business applications. SAP acquired SuccessFactors. Oracle acquired Taleo. Salesforce acquired Rypple and created Bedford funding now owns both PeopleFluent and Socialtext. All of these vendors are combining social and HR into an integrated experience. This shift from "generic sharing" to "purposeful collaboration" is necessary, as despite the hype, stand-alone social software has not sold as well as vendors had hoped, and many companies who have purchased social software have struggled to get people to use it in business scenarios other than online communities. By providing a purpose for using social features, employees won't have to shift out of the context of the tools and processes they use as part of their daily workflow. I refer to this as "taking the training wheels off of social".

The challenge ahead for IBM is turning this new vision to reality. Strategy is the easy part, execution is more difficult. At this early stage the details are not clear about what (and how much) technology (software, hardware, deployment options, pricing) is required to create execute on the Smarter Workforce vision. Purchasing, installing and maintaining combinations of products such as Connections, Kenexa, Cognos, Tivoli, Coremetrics, Worklight, IBM Watson and others will not be a simple (nor inexpensive) proposition.

Customers should have detailed conversations with IBM about the integration of these various products at the UI level (what will users see), the API level (will there be a consistent development model?) and support (who should they call and will they get passed back and forth).

As these new offerings emerge, there should be good opportunity for Business Partners to fill in the gaps in areas like missing features, product integration and administration tools. First, IBM will need to prove to partners that this is not just "the next shinny thing" but truly an area that customers are looking for.

In conclusion, I'm very impressed with the story IBM is telling and the demos they are showing around Smarter Workforce. I think this is an important evolution for the company (and partners and customers), bringing together the people and products from all across IBM that used to work in very distinct brand-specific silos. Now we've heard similar stories before with e-Business, Knowledge Management, Social Business and more... so IBM certainly has their work cut out for them but I'm optimistic and support them in what they are doing. I'm interesting in hearing what customers and business partners think. I hope to hear some new success stories in 2013 that talk about more than just "we improved the way our community works."