Why Is IBM So Averse to Screaming About Verse and Other Innovations?

T. Banting

T. Banting

Summary Bullets:

  • IBM has changed itself around from a product-focused company to one which is more asset-led through the application of its ‘design thinking’ approach.
  • However, IBM must ensure its differentiation gets heard above established and emerging competitors in the collaboration and communications marketplace.

Last week’s IBM Connect 2016 (IBM’s annual collaboration conference) was somewhat of a revelation for me. What stood out for me was how IBM has changed itself from a company that was more product-focused to one which is more asset-led. Asset-led companies tend to make decisions based on the needs of the user and the assets of the solution. The perfect situation is, of course, for a business to relate customer needs to the business’s own strengths. This, then, is where IBM’s design thinking approach to solution development is key to success.

IBM’s assets in the collaboration and communications market really have not received as much attention as they should have. To be in a presentation where products such as Verse (IBM’s cloud-based e-mail solution and, as we learned, future on-premises upgrade to Domino) were referred to as having a ‘secret sauce’ seemed a missed opportunity. Demonstrations were shown in which Verse leveraged Watson-powered cognitive learning to advise users of making the right choice where there are conflicting meeting requests and in which Verse prioritized e-mails through a Watson-style, machine-learning personal assistant. As someone that has read many books on productivity and applied some of the tricks and techniques (with limited success) throughout his career, this innovation was music to my ears! Furthermore, IBM introduced a lightweight team collaboration service called Toscana, which is likely to enter beta trial stage in April. Although information was limited, IBM’s design thinking and secret sauce seemed lavishly applied and very different from its ‘Slack-like’ competitors.

We are currently going through a second wave of productivity, focusing on inter and intra-company team collaboration. The rise of cloud-based services has had a significant impact on traditional IT departments and has contributed to a fundamental change in the way technology gets adopted. Additionally, the democratization of the IT buying decision has led to organizations questioning existing collaboration and communications solutions, how these assets are utilized, and how much value they continue to offer. By utilizing cognitive learning and enterprise graphing (i.e., the network we create through ‘connections’ or working relationships with colleagues and departments), this certainly provides an opportunity to increase employee engagement and drive performance.

In summary, I found myself wondering if IBM stood for ‘Innovative, But Modest.’ Secret sauce implies an important (but largely unknown) ingredient required for success. This frustrates me, as I feel that differentiation should be shouted from the rooftops. Differentiation is your competitive advantage; it creates opportunity for new solutions to disrupt incumbent vendors and helps defend against an onslaught of competition. Indeed, as the dynamics in this market continue to morph and change at an alarming rate, this is not a time to be modest about your strengths!

About Tim Banting
As Principal Analyst within the Business Technology and Software group, tracks and assesses the rapidly evolving communications and collaboration marketplace. His areas of coverage include collaboration platforms, unified communications, video collaboration and social analytics

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