Today sees the general availability of the latest version of IBM Connections, IBM’s on-premise social collaboration offering. Announced last week, Connections 5.0 hits the road fifteen months after its predecessor (4.5) and, while it isn’t exactly an earth-shaking release, it does introduce some much-needed enhancements to this relatively mature and sophisticated product. It’s important to highlight that this release is not intended to surface the cutting edge of IBM’s development strategy in this area; since the company now takes a cloud-first approach, this roughly annual update is effectively a roll-up of all the enhancements that have been introduced in the cloud-based version of Connections—IBM SmartCloud Connections—over the intervening period, applied to the on-premise product.
The most significant new areas of capability in IBM Connections 5.0 are its external collaboration support and desktop file sync. The external collaboration feature has actually existed in IBM SmartCloud Connections since its beginning, but has taken a while to make it into the on-premise product—this is the ability to invite external contacts into an internal community environment. In on-premise Connections, the individual must be added to your global directory and your profiles database, but then can be invited to join any external user-enabled community. They will only have visibility of the specific area to which they have invited, and can view the business cards of members of that community but not their full profile. The risk of opening up your internal environment to the outside world is, of course, that too much is shared inadvertently and so IBM has introduced some features to help alert users to the fact that there are external users in the community; for example adding a yellow icon to the profile picture of any external member, and warning users when they have enabled a new community to allow external participants. Connections 5.0 also introduces the ability to share files with external users through the Files capability, again denoting any file that has been shared externally with a yellow icon to alert other internal collaborators, and displaying an explicit warning when an internal user starts to comment on a file that has been shared externally.
Extending the existing Connections Desktop plug-in, which already enabled users to access Connections files and media from Windows Explorer, Connections 5.0 now lets you sync files to your local machine for offline access, while also allowing you to comment, follow or lock a file for editing, for example, without having to use the web client. File sync with mobile devices was available already via the Connections mobile app.
The new release also adds a stream of more minor enhancements, such as extending @mentions support to all content throughout the platform, type ahead search for people, and improved content filtering in the activity stream, as well as landing page customisation.
It’s hard to really get excited about this announcement, since it is somewhat a lining-up-your-ducks exercise, as well as the fact that it’s introducing some features that really should have already been there. For on-premise customers though, it should be a welcome update that won’t cause too much upheaval with users; on the other hand, it may not be significant enough to drive customers to make the upgrade. Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see what is on the roadmap for the SmartCloud Connections product over the next 6 months or so, since IBM has been pretty quiet on that front recently, with much of the attention focused on the forthcoming IBM Mail enhancements as well as the Smarter Workforce strategy around IBM Kenexa Talent Suite. While it makes sense that IBM is investing heavily in the broader portfolio, there’s plenty of competition out there in the internal communities/social intranets/social collaboration space, and it can’t afford to take its eye off the ball..
I’ll be updating my analysis of IBM’s offering in the social collaboration space later in the year, but in the meantime, you can see the current version here.