At IBM Connect this week IBM largely focused on its vision for its social collaboration platform Connections.
While IBM didn’t say it, I couldn’t help but think that IBM Verse is in the process of being totally integrated into Connections, to the point in which I am not sure if it would make any sense to try and identify (or use) it as a separate product. It would be hard to have Connections without Verse, and almost impossible to get the best out of Verse without Connections. For those using SmartCloud this transition is likely to take place over the next 12 to 18 months. A key element to be found in Connections/Verse Next is the consistent implementation of IBM’s Design Language to produce a seamless modern interface that is in my opinion miles ahead of Office 365. The home page is moving from an activity stream UI like Facebook to a card interface more like Pinterest or Microsoft Delve. IBM are now moving from smart messaging to smart calendar. Hopefully smart contacts and smart to-dos will be next. We are also seeing the potential of cognitive computing with the use of Watson as a personal assistant to undertake tasks such as the analysis of tone for messages, and the analysis of text messages to extract key phrases that can then be linked to actions.
IBM also unveiled a new project code-named Toscana. This has the look and feel of persistent chat room such as Skype or Slack that will most likely integrate with content held in Connections. An early beta for Project Toscana is targeted for the end of this year.
The bad news if you are an ardent Notes/Domino fan is that IBM are likely to make you wait until late in 2016 (at the earliest) before the next version of Notes/Domino is released. This will make it a minimum of a three year period between releases (bite my tongue). Having said that, when it does come it is going to bring a lot of new capabilities. IBM are still referring this as Notes/Domino Next, but it is clear to me that the feature set would warrant it being a major release which would also be consistent with IBM’s switching focus between Client (6.0 & 8.0) and Server (5.0, 7.0) for major releases. (Let’s forget 9.0 which was supposed to 8.5.4 before marketing took over from engineering)
The Notes client will get some important updates that will allow Notes applications to continue to be relevant on modern devices. This includes better support for touch devices, retina displays, and Java 8 (Mac client anyone?). Domino 10 will be important for the addition of two companion services. Project Hawthorn will finally go GA, allowing Outlook clients to be used to access Domino Mail files. Domino 10 will also provide the necessary changes that allows Verse to be made available in-house. This means for the first time a choice of mail clients can be offered so that the users are free to decide the mail client they prefer rather than having it dictated by IT. The Domino 10 server will be able to support the options of Notes, iNotes, Traveller (mobile), Outlook and Verse.
For those companies committed to the IBM stack, this week’s announcements suggest that IBM will soon have a very compelling offering in the Enterprise Social Collaboration space. Compared with Office 365 , Connections Next looks and feels decidedly better and seems to be a much better integrated suite. It still lacks integration with Notes client applications and I see architectural issues without the equivalent of the Microsoft Graph to underpin its search and navigation. I remain troubled about IBM’s potential long-term market share and hence its ability to attract the necessary support from third party vendors that may be the difference in Connections having the necessary integration with non-IBM products and data that the broader (non-IBM) market will expect. If IBM can overcome that, I could see Connections being a product with the potential to compete against Office 365 and others.
In my last blog IBM Verse: Last Impressions I reviewed my use of Verse based upon what was available today. In many ways I wish IBM had been releasing Connections Next at the end of last year rather than the end of this year. If it had, the project may have had a different outcome. The good news is that on sharing news about Connections Next this particular customer is interested in offering Verse internally when it becomes available. So it is possible I may yet get to use Verse again soon.