IBM's 'enterprise Facebook' is a hit

Hosted service a way of addressing users without having to build infrastructure

Lotus Connections is "the fastest-growing software in IBM history when it comes to market adoption," said an IBM social software strategist on board the Lotus Bus. IBM discussed iNotes, Symphony, security and boundary workers during its stop in Toronto.

IBM Corp. has embarked on an 18-city tour across North America to promote Lotus and LotusLive, a suite of software-as-a-service (SaaS) versions of the Lotus end-user applications for the enterprise.

"Clients can come on the bus and chat with us about any Lotus technologies, spanning from e-mail to real-time collaboration to social networks to development tools," said Tyrone Lobo, software sales for Lotus at IBM Canada Ltd.

On board the Lotus Bus, which parked at Ryerson University in Toronto on Monday, Lobo was one of several IBM executives, salespeople and technical specialists ready to answer questions and provide demos to media and the public.

Lotus technical specialist Suselynn Lai provided a demo of the latest version of Lotus Connections, V2.5 released this August, which she referred to as "enterprise Facebook."

Connections resembles Facebook's look and feel, including the ability to post and comment on status updates, view a list of user activities and add widgets to your profile page that pull information from external sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter.

Users don't have to spend a lot of time creating their profile page, as details like titles and contact information are automatically pulled from the system, Lai pointed out. Users can also create a "watch list" to follow the activities of specific people within their network, tag themselves and others with keywords, and bookmark particular pages within the application.

The social-networking-for-the-enterprise application is a top seller at IBM. "Lotus Connections is the fastest-growing software in IBM history when it comes to market adoption," said Jay Maru, social software strategist at IBM Canada Ltd.

According to Maru, there is "a tremendous amount of need" for the product. "The market fully understands the value of social media ... now they are trying to internalize it," he said.

Organizations are asking how "do we leverage this technology to drive the same amount of value ... but have the corporate policy and structure around it to prevent any audit exposures? That's where Connections plays really well," said Maru.

LotusLive Connections, the cloud-based version of Connections, became available in June.The two versions are the same, explained an IBM spokesperson, except Lotus Connections is the version clients buy to install on-premise, while LotusLive Connections is an external cloud service they "rent."

The latest addition to LotusLive is iNotes, a Web-based e-mail service hosted by IBM. A lighter, Web-based version of the LotusLive Notes e-mail application, iNotes works with Notes and Microsoft Exchange. Pricing starts at USD $3 per month per user.

The scalable service is targeted to SMEs as well as large enterprises. IBM is seeing a lot of interest from clients that want a more reliable, secure and private e-mail service instead of relying on one of the consumer options, said Lobo.

One of the benefits of using IBM's business-oriented service, as opposed to consumer services based in the U.S., is that LotusLive doesn't have to fall under the U.S. Patriot Act, Lobo pointed out.

IBM works with organizations that want to offer their users a hosted service based out of a Canadian data centre, said Lobo. "For clients who specifically want to limit their data to Canadian data centres, we work with those clients make sure that happens," he said.

LotusLive is good for addressing the needs of "boundary workers," according to Lobo, which includes employees that work outside of the main office and need tools to connect back into the organization.

"The hosted service is a way of addressing these users without having to build the infrastructure in order to serve them ... That's one scenario we are seeing a lot of," said Lobo.

LotusLive also provides a way for organizations to reduce their spending on boundary worker services, said Lobo. He suggested providing e-mail through a hosted service like iNotes and adding an office productivity suite like Lotus Symphony as a low-cost approach.

Based on OpenOffice, Symphony includes a spreadsheet, word processor and graphics presentation application. "You give them e-mail, but you have to give them a word processor as well so they can deal with documents that arrive," said Lobo.

Symphony works with OpenDocument Format (ODF) and Microsoft Office. This is a "tremendous advantage" for IT managers, Lobo said, "because they have the ability to service those users, but not have to spend the money on the office suite -- but the users are not inconvenienced or in any way limited because they can't read a format."

Boundary workers using LotusLive cloud-based services can be brought back in-house at any pace, Logo noted. "You can use IBM's hosted service in the short term and then as you are able to build your infrastructure in house, you have the option of taking those users back in," he said.

One of the strengths of LotusLive is security, according to Tom Papagiannopoulos, Lotus brand executive of IBM Software. "Worldwide, our software is probably deemed the most secure," he said.

"It's all hosted on the IBM data centres and the IBM servers and the IBM infrastructure, and that is behind the IBM firewall, so it's fully secure. It's robust in that sense," said Maru.

Three things IBM is focused on providing with the LotusLive service is reliability, security and privacy, noted Lobo. Reliability comes from IBM's experience "hosting services for clients even prior to the cloud," he said.

The second is security, so clients "can be sure that the data that is stored using our hosted service is secure and can be accessed securely. The third thing is we ensure the privacy of the data that is stored there," he said.

LotusLive, which competes against Microsoft Live and Google Apps, was first announced at the annual Lotusphere conference in January.

Enterprises can now opt for individual LotusLive services like standalone e-mail and instant messaging, or purchase a full suite, which includes collaboration, Web meetings and social networking.

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