Lotusphere 2008 Promises a Deeper Look into Collaboration Software

Collaboration & Messaging
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Social software takes a step forward as IBM announces Atlas for Lotus Connections a month ahead of the year's main Lotus event.


It's time to get those requisitions in for anyone headed to Florida for Lotusphere in January.


If your accounting department is a little slow to cough up the $2,095 registration fee, just remind your head bean counter that if he doesn't pay up by January 17, it will cost the company another two hundred bucks! The conference runs January 20–24 in Orlando .


With 7,000 attendees registering for Lotusphere last year, one hopes that the $14 million or so that was collected went back into R&D. Regardless, it will be hard to top last year's announcements that included IBM Lotus Connections (the industry's first business-ready social software platform), IBM Lotus Quickr (a Web 2.0 collaborative content platform), Lotus Sametime 7.5.1 (featuring expanded unified communications capabilities and increased operability with Microsoft software), and, of course, the jewel in the Lotus crown: Eclipse-based Lotus Notes and Domino 8, which shipped this year and created a distinct case of heartburn for System i users disappointed about the implementation of the Notes data structure on the platform.


Nevertheless, this year's conference promises to be a high-energy event that may focus on extending the applications and features announced last year and just this month. Again, there will be two opening general sessions Monday morning with an alternate keynote presentation that the Lotusphere folks are calling an Industry Salon.


Ironically, instead of waiting for the launch of next month's show, IBM this week announced a tool called IBM Atlas that works with Lotus Connections. It's a corporate networking visualization and analysis tool that is designed to enhance Lotus Connections social software by helping users visualize who is working on what projects and how they might best contribute to future undertakings based on their skills and background.


Developed by IBM Research, Atlas has four Web 2.0-based components— Net, My Net, Find, and Reach. These components help users visualize the interrelationships between various groups and make it easier to navigate between them. After learning a little bit about this software, I couldn't help but think it would be great for freshmen members of Congress who get to Washington and don't have a clue about who's pulling the strings on what committee and who you need to schmooze in order to get your pet bill out onto the floor for a vote (remember, you heard it here first).


The Net component of Atlas provides a visual representation of the important loci among topic experts and informal groups that have emerged as a result of working on similar projects. My Net offers the same capability for a user's individual network. The Find component builds on the expertise capabilities of people in the organization and takes the corporate directory to the next level by including such information as reporting structures, blogs, and communities. Atlas Reach is a social software dashboard feature designed to help users determine the shortest path to "reach" an expert; it then ranks the expert based on her level of interaction across the network. Basically, just think of Atlas as your contact management software on peyote. Suddenly, you're seeing colorful relationships between people you never before knew existed!


The whole idea is to speed up the process of problem-solving and decision-making. "When you apply social software to business processes, the ability to see and understand the relationships between groups, people and information is critical," says Jeff Schick, vice president of social software for IBM Lotus. "Atlas helps workers navigate their social networks and use these relationships to rally around ideas and projects instead of organizational charts…." Atlas provides a contextual framework for seeking out new contacts and relationships down the road.


Collaboration and social software, which undoubtedly will be the focus of this year's Lotusphere, is a far cry from the DOS-based implementation of Lotus 123 in the mid-1980s that helped contribute to the success of the PC in the corporate environment. It was only last June that IBM introduced three major collaboration and social networking applications under the heading of the Web 2.0 Goes to Work Initiative—Quickr 8.0, Connections, and IBM Info 2.0. Why IBM chose to announce Atlas now instead of wait until Lotusphere isn't clear, but it could be to clear the ramp for a spate of new announcements in the realm of visualization search technology that Lotus has been working on.


Regardless of what new products or enhancements are announced at Lotusphere 2008, I think we can conclude that social networking software for business use is here to stay. It's clear that IBM is convinced there is sufficient merit in the efficiencies these applications can realize for businesses in a world of outsourced products and trans-global workgroups to continue with their development—perhaps "evolution" is a better term. The Web 2.0 phenomenon isn't going away, but it will pose challenges to today's IT administrators who now must implement these types of solutions in a way that keeps everyone's personal information secure.