Last week I had the opportunity to escape the cold British winter for a few days to attend the IBM Connect 2013 conference in sunny Orlando, Florida (temperatures in the high 80′s—glorious!). The event itself might not sound familiar to you, but in fact it is the new, rebranded version of the long-established Lotusphere conference, which has/had been running for 20 years (since before Lotus was acquired by IBM). The name change follows IBM’s recent decision to ditch the Lotus branding, something which has been coming for a while, but which needed to be handled carefully to avoid alienating the brand’s faithful Notes/Domino following. The IBM Connect event first appeared last year, when it was run in parallel with Lotusphere. This year the transition was completed, with the entire event focused on social business.
After an appearance by They Might Be Giants (apparently one of the band’s former drummers created Dogear, the social bookmarking feature in IBM Connections) and an interesting talk by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt on his collaborative film-making venture, HitRecord, the opening session kicked off under the theme “From Liking to Leading – the rise of social business”. Combining a review of the last year’s developments (e.g. the release of IBM Docs in December), announcements of some forthcoming updates (e.g. Connections 4.5 coming in March), and some high-profile customer stories (notably Bosch), the session left no one in any doubt that this event is no longer the territory of the die hard Notes developer. Comparing the rhetoric to last year, the intention was clearly to demonstrate that social business is an established market now, with the emphasis on adoption strategies rather than convincing executives of its value. On this point, however, I wasn’t convinced IBM had it cracked; while there was talk about how IBM was helping customers drive adoption, I saw next to no detail as to exactly how—it seems that case studies were deemed to be sufficient (apparently this was addressed in more detail at the partner event on the first Sunday, but not in the main sessions).
In general, IBM Connect 2013 demonstrated quite a tangible shift away from the highly technical, features- and demo-focused emphasis that has been typical of Lotusphere events in the past; while technical sessions still appeared on the agenda, they were far from being the central purpose for the event. Instead—and building on the momentum from last year’s IBM Connect event—the emphasis was on what it means to be a social business, reinforced though customer stories. I have to commend IBM on the volume of customers it had presenting—it’s great to see so many organisations willing to share their experiences and their progress. For me though, the switch to talking almost entirely about social was awkward and a little like being snow-blinded. Everything was described as “social”, from the technology to the strategy to the problems that customers were trying to solve, and in some cases at least, this felt simply like IBM was reinforcing the hype, rather than trying to distil the real challenges companies faced, and the different ways of approaching them. The customer stories themselves were a good example of this: with dozens of sessions spread over the first three days, it was extremely difficult to work out which customers were addressing what aspects of social (or—let’s face it—using which of IBM’s products), meaning that I, for one, certainly missed some that would have been valuable. Some sort of key to whether each was an internal collaboration or customer engagement story, for example, would have been very valuable.
For me, the most interesting takeaway from Connect 2013 was the potential impact of its latest acquisition, Kenexa, which completed in December. The pulling together of Kenexa’s talent management technology and expertise with IBM Connections and IBM’s analytics portfolio hints at a whole new direction for social collaboration solutions; one where collaboration is no longer an abstract initiative, but one that is wrapped tightly in the overall cultural and people engagement and development strategies of the organisation. I have yet to completely get my head around all the opportunities and challenges here, but it’s an area I will be digging into further going forward.
So overall, as the first brave step away from the familiar old blanket that was Lotusphere, I think IBM did well with Connect 2013, and from speaking to executives there who would never have dreamed of attending the event in its previous guise, the message was well-received. Next year, however, I will be expecting to hear more about what IBM is planning to do to support growth in this area of the business in the longer term. The hype around 'social' has now peaked, so how will the company convince customers and investors that it will continue to stay ahead of the game? Cue musings and ponderings…
Were you at IBM Connect 2013? What did you think of the event? I’d love to hear your thoughts.