by Natalie Miller • @natalieatWIS

Become more social, collaborative with IBM Connections: A Q&A with IBM VP Scott Hebner, Part 2

Published March 24, 2014


As enterprises transform themselves into more social and connected businesses, IBM is keeping up by rebranding its mail and social offerings and announcing a new "next generation" of mail. Big Blue recently launched its Connections Platform, and we caught up with Scott Hebner, Vice President, Social Business Solutions* at IBM, to talk more the rebranding of IBM's social solutions, what this means for customers, and where IBM is planning on taking its social business platform in the future.

This interview is the second segment in a two-part Q&A with Hebner. In Part 1, Hebner spoke about building a strong social business platform and what he considers the top considerations for enterprises looking to strengthening that strategy.

Insights Magazine: IBM recently announced its Connections Platform rebranding. What are you most excited about seeing come out of this rebranding?

Scott Hebner: There are a couple things about the rebranding. The first thing that I think is really important and very compelling is the move to a software-as-a-service platform. Now, with the IBM Connections Platform, you can tap into the social business services that you need as a cloud service and pay as you go and you can get involved with different capabilities without all the upfront investment that you otherwise you have had to invest in if you were going to put it all on premise. So it allows easier access, quicker time to market in terms of the capabilities, and more flexibility to experiment.

The most exciting thing about it is the fact that it’s being integrated into this enterprise strength, enterprise secure software-as-a-service platform. I think the second thing clients are appreciating about it is that we are bring together the various capabilities, whether it be instant messaging or video or mail with the collaborative capabilities of Connections, [making it] a more unified platform for people to build their collaborative infrastructure off of, [which] is going to be important.

The final thing that I think is great about it, as I mentioned before, is the ability to tap into all the data, all this behavioral, sentimental data, because in the end I think that’s what a social business is all about—the ability to harness the collective knowledge and behaviors of either its workforce or its consumers.

I think it goes without saying too, is the more we unify around the Connections Platform, it makes it more consumable and easier to understand by the marketplace. We’ve had a lot of the capabilities, but they’ve been named differently. It’s not always as clear what we have to offer; I think this is going to help with that too.

IM: How are small-to-medium organizations affected by the changes you foresee with the Connections Platform?

Hebner: I think the number one thing is affordability and accessibility, maybe even consumability. Again, it makes it dramatically less difficult and less expensive to actually leverage these capabilities because they are now available as a software-as-a-service. You don’t need as much of that front-end capital expenditure to get going and get started. So it makes it that much easier for either a department within a larger organization or a smaller or medium sized business to get started. Often the barrier to getting started and to do experimentation and try out these new capabilities is the upfront cost and the investment that would be required to do that, and that has been knocked down several levels because it’s now available fully as a cloud service. An operational expense that’s more flexible and more based on how you use it verses having to put out a lot of money up front to get started, that really knocks down the barriers a lot of small businesses would have otherwise had.

IM: Just a year ago IBM dropped the Lotus name, now Notes. Can you give some background on that strategy and what IBM hopes to achieve in departing from the Notes branding?

Hebner: The way I think about the strategy is that it’s additive not subtractive. In that, we still, as you mentioned, have the Lotus Notes and Domino platform and we will continue to have that for a long time, we have lots and lots of customers running their businesses on it and continue to invest in the core capabilities, and certainly customers can continue to buy the on premise version of that and install it and run it and benefit from it. At the same time, we are taking a lot of the capabilities that are grown up in that environment and we are rebuilding them as cloud services, integrating them with the other aspects of the Connections Platform—sort of a new generation of mail—that takes advantage of all the behavioral and sentimental, knowledge-based services that Connections provides and integrating the mail capabilities into that. So as we repurpose for big data analytics, and we repurpose for mobile, and we repurpose for the overriding cloud platform, software-as-a-service, and put it on top of SoftLayer, which is IBM’s strategic cloud platform, it gives us the opportunity to take what we have in the more heritage, traditional offerings that are on premise based and put them into the cloud. As we do that we reengineer them and reintegrate them with a lot of added value and a lot of new innovations.

So again, it’s a strategy that’s additive not subtractive. None of the core products go away, we are just adding a new cloud set of capabilities that make it easier and more efficient for customers to leverage. The other part of all of this too is trying to simplify how clients think about what we have to offer and the fact that a lot of these capabilities are integrating now, it makes sense to simplify the branding for them, and that’s why you’re seeing things like IBM Connections Mail, IBM Connections Instant Messaging, rather than having Lotus Sametime or Lotus Notes.

What's important is that we are focusing a lot of the new renovations on the cloud and much of the install base of Lotus Notes is looking to move to the cloud anyhow, so it’s a good strategy in that it covers both worlds and it allows you migrate at a pace of speed that makes sense to you as a client between those two worlds, yet feel comfortable that you are still leveraging the same skills, the same capabilities.

IM: IBM Mail Next seems like quite a departure from traditional email. How does Mail Next play into IBMs vision for social business?

Hebner: I think it goes back to what we started the call off on, and that’s mail was a mechanism for communication, but as social business and how people in general and clients specifically are looking to operate, mail in a vacuum becomes less and less useful. You want the mail integrated with, for example, expertise location. Around social business and the collaborative platform of Connections has come this notion of expertise locating—as people use the collaborative platforms, it inherently builds up a profile of your expertise, what you are able to help people with, what your experiences are, what your skills are, so that when you're looking for a particular skill or you need someone who has knowledge around customer X or customer Y, or knowledge about a different country like India, the expertise locator allows you to easily find those people. Where in the past that would have been a very difficult adventure for many companies.

By integrating that capability with the mail, it now brings together two very important roles. One is the way people communicate—so as you're communicating with people and you're sending emails and things of that nature, it has built in expertise location as a part of it because it’s integrated with the Connections Platform. So that can be easily enabled, and it starts to put mail in a greater context of how people are using it, which is within a social, collaborative platform. And that’s just one example. The way the organization is organized, the way people set up knowledge-based communities, the next generation of mail is able to be a full participant in all that and therefore make that communications and active part of a social businesses not as a silo of email being separate.

*Editor’s note: Since Scott Hebner sat down with Insights Magazine, he has accepted a new position within IBM. At this time of this publishing, he is now the Vice President of Global Marketing at IBM.


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