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The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

IBM Hefts Onset of Social Business

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With its Notes pedigree, IBM's Lotus family of products dates back to the very beginnings of enterprise collaboration software. Its presence in the collaboration market is still substantial, so it was probably only a matter of time before IBM started leavening its Lotus marketing with talk of social business, the happening new name for what used to be called enterprise 2.0. What has surprised many observers at the company's annual Lotusphere conference this week, though, is the sheer body of weight and momentum IBM has thrown behind the social business meme. Here's just a sampling of the shock waves that permeated coverage of the event:

What has bowled these observers over is that IBM has declared social business as the next transformative shift in computing, on a par with earlier shifts from mainframe to client-server, from PCs to Internet. It may for all that still be a marketing ploy, but talking about social business in these terms declares it to be a marketing ploy that IBM will put its full weight and resources behind. That's a mass that can affect the market and drive mainstream perceptions for everyone that plays there, not just IBM.

Back in the mid-1990s, when people were still barely starting to become aware of the Internet, IBM started promoting the concept of e-business until it became a commonplace concept. At the beginning of the new century, IBM declared the beginning of the on-demand era, foreshadowing the spread of new ways of living and doing business online that we now take for granted, such as banking, shopping and recruiting over the Web. This week, IBM signaled its resolve to start talking about social business in similar terms, with one senior strategist describing it as a $100 billion market opportunity (yes, that's 100 billion with a 'b' and eleven noughts).

Now of course, as my Enterprise Irregulars colleague Vinnie Mirchandani reminds us, these strategic visions sometimes take a while to translate into concrete, practical market behavior. I can understand Vinnie's caution after listening to Doug Heinzman, director of Lotus strategy, telling him that, "in IBM's vision a 'social business' rethinks traditional CRM, HRM, PLM, SCM — almost every area of business where in Doug's view you can 'optimize workforce efficiency'." That's a vast swathe of change that isn't going to happen overnight. But if IBM has put its best minds together and determined that this is a trend on this scale, then a lot of people are going to start listening and that in itself will hasten its arrival.

Social business — along with all of the enterprise collaboration technology that underpins it — just got an almighty heft from IBM this week, and the repercussions will ripple for many months or even years to come.

Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

Phil Wainewright

Phil Wainewright specializes in on-demand services View more

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