IBM Connect 2017: Collaboration Under the Radar

By Joe Clabby, Clabby Analytics

IBM runs six large technology events each year: World of Watson, InterConnect, Amplify, Edge, Vision and Connect. I usually attend the two largest, World of Watson and InterConnect, along with 15,000 to 20,000 other interested parties. Both of these events are huge and cover a wide range of technologies ranging from systems to infrastructure, to management, to cloud, to cognitive computing, to analytics and more. Although I suspect that IBM’s deep portfolio of collaboration products can be found at some of these events, I just plain don’t notice them.

My earliest memories of IBM date back to the 1970s when I was selling competitive products against their word processing and computer systems. In the 1980s, IBM collaborative computing “office products” started making the scene. Does anyone remember PROFS and DISOSS? In the 1990s IBM’s stunned the marketplace by purchasing an office product company by the name of Lotus for a whopping $3 billion. As a research analyst at the time, I could not fathom what IBM saw in Lotus and its email and collaboration products. By the early 2000s, I could clearly see the value of the purchase as IBM brought to market a myriad of new office and document management offerings, creating a multibillion-dollar collaboration software environment that dwarfed their now “miniscule” investment in Lotus.

This year I chose to attend IBM’s Connect 2017 event in San Francisco – leaving my 75° abode in in sunny Charleston, South Carolina, to travel to cold and rainy San Francisco. And as surprising as this may sound, I’m glad I did. Why so?

  • IBM Connect 2017 was an industry tradeshow built around IBM’s and its business partners’ collaborative solutions. It offers roadmaps and commitments to older IBM products, such as Sametime, Domino and Notes. It also showcases new IBM products such as Verse (a versatile modern day mail and messaging environment with a collaborative overlay), and Connection (a social business network platform), and  Watson Workspace and Work Services (a conversational collaboration environment and a set of APIs that allow developers to build applications that understand conversations and intent, and allow for integration into existing work applications).
  • Business partner participation at the event was strong, featuring new collaborative product offerings between IBM and Cisco and between IBM and Box . Connect also highlighted many blended solutions by vendors whose products overlay IBM offering, such as project management environments blended with Notes, and mobile interfaces blended with Domino environments.   Also featured were a slew of new products that integrate Watson cognitive technologies with existing business applications, such as Watson Workplace into traditional software offerings, thus delivering new functionalities to market.

What I Heard and Saw: Business Partners

I always seem to gravitate toward the EXPO floors at these events. I think the main reason is that I just plain love to play with technology – I like to see the way it’s used; I like to see what new and innovative directions that developers have taken with their hardware and software solutions; and the EXPO floors are a great place to talk with vendors about what’s really happening in the marketplace, as well as to meet IT buyers.

At Connect, I had a long conversation with Alex Homsi, the CEO of Trilog Group, an IBM business partner, who I asked to help put IBM Connect 2017 into context. The way Mr. Homsi described it, the IBM Connect events are all about getting things done. They are about increasing productivity and efficiency, but mostly about collaboration in the processing of complex workflows. As I stood in the Trilog booth, Mr. Homsi gestured around the floor “look over there – you see companies that offer telepresence, that create virtual project rooms, that offer sales collaboration tools and much, much more.” When I prodded him for more information about why people come to the event, Mr. Homsi told me that “They come to solve complex, mega-problems” and then he proceeded to talk about how his own project solutions help customers save millions (or in once case, hundreds of millions) of dollars by digitally capturing content, effectively communicating it and then coordinating the efforts of large groups. Incidentally, Mr. Homsi is also CEO of a company called Darwino, a company that helps customers mobilize IBM Notes Domino applications and migrate to the cloud.

I also talked at length with the company by the name of Oblong, a maker of a digital content management environment that I wish I owned. For sci-fi fans who may have seen the movie “Minority Report”, you might recall Tom Cruise pulling files and data streams from a wide variety of sources, which he examined in the holographic 3D air space that surrounded him. He could expand files, shrink files, push files to the side, look at multiple displays of realtime and recorded data in real time – easily moving between static and dynamic filing environments at the touch of his hand. Oblong makes a highly scalable environment that can scale across hundreds of displays (sorry, no holographs yet) where information that it collects can be collaboratively shared amongst large teams. I pictured disaster response use cases where a room of people look to coordinate a response to an event – and I have to admit, I thought back to the NASA launch room in the movie “Apollo 13” where a group of scientists collaborated on a way to help astronauts return to earth after a failed lunar landing (I guess I’ve been watching too many old movies lately…). Anyway, you get the point, the world is now digital, in these digital sources can be easily harvested and displayed – enabling people to more easily collaborate and make better decisions.

A company by the name of Imaging Systems, Inc. out of Slovenia also caught my attention with a product called IMiS MOBILE that can be used to easily mobile-enable legacy applications – thus broadening the platforms that can be used to conduct collaborative activities using hand-held devices. I liked this product because of its programming simplicity.

I went to at least a dozen other booths, including the IBM Verse and Connection booths (covered in the next section).

Last but not least, business partners were truly excited about using Watson to make their applications “smarter”. I wrote about this trend in my Pund-IT trip summary after attending World of Watson 2016 – and this trend is becoming omnipresent (I’m seeing it everywhere across the traditional software applications markets) as ISVs are recognizing that using Watson can simplify the use their products while expanding the types of and accuracy of the solutions they create. Watching the industry move to “Watson Enablement” is truly one of the most fascinating trends I’ve ever seen in the computing industry – it seems that the sky’s the limit in terms of what machine intelligence blended with traditional applications can now do.

What I Heard and Saw From IBM

The lead speaker at Connect was Inhi Cho Suh, IBM’s General Manager of Collaborative Solutions. She took the stage to tell the audience of about 2,000 Connect attendees what was going on in the collaboration marketplace and what IBM was doing to address the needs of the market.   is– I’ve known Ms. Suh for years – I first met her in the early days of IBM’s foray into the analytics marketplace – and she’s a real straight shooter. Bringing a person with her background to the collaboration space is a very smart move on IBM’s behalf – she knows analytics technology extremely well, and she knows how to Watson-enable IBM’s collaborative offerings as well as how to help business partners to do so.

Ms. Suh took the stage to tell the audience about the trends that she is seeing in the collaborative computing market space. She contended that the way we engage with others in the work world is changing thanks to new innovations, especially the use of Watson cognitive services that are being used to simplify products and extend their capabilities. She also talked about open collaboration where companies in the collaboration marketplace are working more closely together to build jointly integrated solutions. I saw a clear example of this with the joint IBM/Cisco announcement that integrates Cisco collaboration products with IBM collaboration products – in the past these two companies would’ve been strong competitors who likely would not have worked together, but now both are pleased to show how the best of each company’s solutions can be blended to create a more powerful and integrated collaborative environment.

Ms. Suh also talked about how collaboration products are getting better at streamlining process flows.

Other speakers talked about how cognitive computing is being blended with analytics. In short, cognitive computing is being used to help sort and prioritize “what is important to me”; it is streamlining the flow of work; it’s using bots and virtual assistants to help aid humans in their decision-making processes; it’s involved in using the Internet of Things sensory devices to aid decision-making; and it’s helping individuals focus better.

There was also an interesting discussion about whether today’s tools “create more noise” than help. From what I saw on the demo floor, today’s tools can take a lot of the uncertainty and human guesswork out decision-making, while at the same time making processes flow more easily. The “more noise” argument does not hold with me.

As for IBM products, I got a close look at IBM Connections and IBM Verse. Verse was pretty cool, a modern mail-and-messaging environment with the collaborative overlay that made it simple to access and sort the work of fellow team members as well as handle external inputs. I especially liked that the product could be used in a mode where you don’t have to delete your emails and related documents, you just leave them in your inbox when you’re done with them – and if you need to refer back to them you perform a search on the few keywords that you may remember and your document appears. I’ve deleted emails and messages for decades – what a silly concept… As for IBM Connections, I rarely have a need to collaborate with a group of people to conduct project work, but if I did, I’d consider using this social, collaborative environment.

As an Aside

I had the opportunity to attend a customer-presented session on deploying Blockchain on IBM’s Bluemix. For those not aware of Blockchain, it’s a new way of processing transactions based upon Bitcoin technology. It deals with distributed databases, distributed servers, encrypted data, the mining of that data – and establishes consensus between nodes. This technology is being used to create trusted, synchronized transactions. If a transaction is tampered with in any way, all stakeholders know about it and the transaction is thus broken. The ability to conduct secure transactions is one of the major points of this technology – but probably the biggest selling point is that it takes intermediaries who add processing, time and cost overhead to transactions out of the picture. It’s pretty exciting stuff and represents a whole new, more efficient and secure way of processing transactions – and I will have the pleasure of speaking about it at a government conference in Dubai in May. It was fun to see how another practitioner handled the topic.

Conclusion

I truly enjoy going to technology shows. Throughout my lifetime, I have been a technology sales representative, a project manager and a technology researcher. I remember how I used to do things in the old days, and I like seeing how technological advances have simplified tasks, and have made people more productive and efficient.

As I looked at the wide array of technological solutions presented at Connect 2017, I kept asking myself “How can I use these tools as a research analyst to my advantage?” I left Connect with some new ideas to explore, and with the self-realization that I go to events such as this to learn, to look for new innovations, to talk with people who have used or developed these technologies – and most of all to surround myself with people with like interests who enjoy technology and innovation as much as I do.

Will I go again to IBM’s Connect next year? I hope so…

 

 

 

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