IBM gets social with Lotus

ORLANDOIBM Corp.‘s (NYSE: IBM) annual Lotusphere conference kicked off this year with an opening keynote featuring actor Kevin Spacey, Research in Motion Ltd.‘s co-CEO Jim Balsillie and customer Royal Bank of Canada amid Lotus news including a Web version of its office productivity suite and a tool for integrating enterprise apps with social collaboration.

After introducing surprise guest, two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey, to the stage to share the role of social collaboration in his career, the Armonk, New York-based company’s general manager of collaboration software, Alistair Rennie, told the audience of his belief that enterprises are on “the cusp” of a new relationship between business and technology.

In alignment with Lotusphere 2011’s theme, social business, Rennie said it will be key for developers to build “a whole new generation of solutions” that will drive customers to link social to business.

Among the announcements to the Lotus platform, IBM announced the availability today of the Social Business Toolkit, which comes with APIs for enterprises to integrate social collaboration in their business applications. More capabilities will be added to the toolkit as 2011 progresses.

IBM also announced the upcoming release in the second half of 2011 of a Web version of its Lotus Symphony tool, a suite for word processing, spreadsheets and presentation.

Research in Motion’s Jim Balsillie appeared on stage to pitch the social collaborative capabilities of the PlayBook, the Waterloo-based vendor’s upcoming tablet, and what a partnership with IBM will bring forth. Popular mobile devices such as PlayBook, BlackBerry, iPad, iPhone, Google Android and Nokia will support new Lotus Sametime instant messaging clients, a social client for activity streams, and cloud capabilities.

Various new capabilities were also demoed onstage for Lotus Notes and Lotus Connectons.

Later at a press conference, Rennie said all Lotus news announced at the event aligns with Project Vulcan, IBM’s vision for how collaboration will evolve in the business, announced at last year’s Lotusphere, and based on four principles: continuity, convergence, innovation, and new partner-developed opportunities.

An executive director with customer AT&T was also onstage during the keynote to describe the telecommunications provider’s social transformation journey. Blair Klein said social business lets employees across the “complex global enterprise” disperse granular product information across employees and, in turn, with customers.

Klein added that, after two years of “ambient awareness” of the value of social business at AT&T, the answer was to bring in a financial view to quantify what social business actually means to the bottom line.

Canadian customer, Royal Bank of Canada, told the audience how a dismally low customer satisfaction rating placing it in the bottom of the top five banks in Canada, was enough to push for better Web experience for customers.

Royal Bank of Canada’s James McGuire, vice-president of digital strategy and experience, later explained to ComputerWorld Canada that its Web customer experience lacked ease of use and necessitate a complete revamp starting with the underlying legacy infrastructure, by using IBM’s WebSphere Portal.

According to McGuire, Royal Bank of Canada was successful in improving that satisfaction rating considerably. The approach was to initially get a “series of quick wins” while entertaining a long-term strategic focus. But now that the bank has invested in its core infrastructure, McGuire foresees greater integration of internal channels making for easier collaboration on the digital strategy.

IBM Lotusphere 2011 continues this week.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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