- IBM hopes to move beyond its legacy Notes/Domino customer base and establish a forward-looking customer base through the liberal application of IBM Watson analytics capabilities across its entire collaborative portfolio.
- However, IBM must move carefully and quickly lest it squander this unique and sizable opportunity.
This week saw IBM’s annual collaboration conference (IBM Connect 2016) break from a longstanding tradition and move to a new venue. On the surface, this may not seem like much. Companies always shop around for the best venue. But, this is a big deal for IBM, which had heretofore held its collaboration conference (which you may recognize by its former name, Lotusphere) at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotel for more than 20 consecutive years. That’s an awful lot of stability. Maybe too much stability.
I saw this change in venue, therefore, as a chance for IBM to wake up and to wake up its still loyal customer base to the eruptive possibilities currently roiling just beneath the surface at IBM. I’m talking here about cognitive computing and analytics, of course. At the core of things, IBM hopes to retain but move beyond its legacy Notes/Domino customer base and establish a forward-looking customer base (read: net new, greenfield customers) through the liberal application of IBM Watson analytics capabilities across its entire collaborative portfolio.
IBM has already put this notion to work within both Verse and Connections, borrowing some ideas and even (though to a limited extent) some of the actual Watson services that live as APIs at present on the IBM Bluemix platform. And during the conference this week, we were shown some very impressive demos of these ideas at work within the company’s forthcoming teamwork tool, Toscana (due in Q2). For example, within Toscana, IBM demonstrated how a cognitive-powered digital assistant could help users focus on the most important people and tasks within context.
Assuming this is done by applying Watson technologies against a carefully curated and trained company-wide corpus of data, I feel that this idea could serve as a major differentiator for IBM. It is at least a serious upgrade from current collaborative organizational paradigms, which do nothing more than throw basic machine learning at subject lines and message text. Taking a step beyond that is important for IBM, particularly now that rivals Google and Microsoft have successfully shown some significant cognitive possibilities via Google Now and Microsoft Cortana (and Delve).
However, IBM must move carefully and quickly lest it squander this unique opportunity. If it leans too heavily upon the Watson brand, it risks undermining the value of IBM Verse, Connections and its soon-to-be released Toscana offering. If it fails to demonstrate the power of cognitive computing in making the workplace a more engaging and productive experience, the company will struggle to compete against Google and Microsoft for mindshare in the enterprise. Time will tell as always, but from what I’ve seen from IBM’s collaboration and analytics products teams, the capabilities are there; they only need to find their way into the market.