At the IBM's Lotusphere conference in Florida last month, Big Blue made several announcements on the future of its enterprise collaboration software.
The theme was social business, and it was evident from the number of sessions with the word "social" in the agenda, that IBM is banking on it to drive growth in businesses (including its own) in the future.
"Ultimately, social business is a competitive differentiator," says Alistair Rennie, GM of collaboration solutions at IBM.
Speaking at the opening general session, Rennie says businesses can profit from harnessing the knowledge and skills of its employees by implementing social networking functions into their IT. He says current collaboration tools, like email, are being misused, and companies should focus on a unified and integrated communications platform.
"I would shut off my own email if it wasn't running on Lotus Notes," jokes Rennie.
IBM says it is ready to provide the social business platform of the future, and announced a host of collaboration-orientated changes to its Lotus software to meet that demand. Big Blue demonstrated its much anticipated cloud-based document collaboration tool, IBM Docs.
The software, formerly known as LotusLive Symphony, lets users edit and manage documents with real-time collaboration, and has many of the same features found in competing products such as Google Docs and Office 365. Docs is currently in closed beta, but IBM says it will be available later this year as a part of its new SmartCloud for Business product.
IBM's Sametime also received new features this year. The telephony and communications software will see deeper integration into different Lotus systems, including the ability to start video conferencing from within emails and instant messages, using Polycom's RealPresence technology.
IBM's social business platform will be tied together with its Connections collaboration software, which IBM says also supports Notes and Domino, Exchange and Sharepoint software.
Children's Hospital Boston is currently using the Connections software to help staff collaborate on cases within the hospital, and also externally through what it calls 'telemedicine'.
The system lets doctors compare notes on similar cases, and provide their expertise on different diseases. Several hospitals are connected, so knowledge from multiple institutions can be pooled into one accessible resource, which Children's Hospital Boston hopes will benefit hospitals in poorer areas.
"Ten million children die every year of preventable diseases," says Jeffrey Burns, chief of critical care at Children's Hospital Boston. "There just aren't enough trained doctors and nurses to take care of all the critically ill children. We need a solution that works as well in resource-constrained environments as well as it does in resource-advantaged ones."
Burns spoke about a case in Guatemala where he was able to assist local doctors in treating a six year old girl through their Connections-enabled system. He said he was astonished by the benefits of such collaboration online.
"I thought, my God, we did this over the internet," marvelled Burns. Burns implored the audience of technologists to continue developing enterprise collaboration tools, so the benefits can be harnessed in the medical sector.