Big Blue Goes Social

Last week was IBM’s 2013 Lotusphere Connect conference, a combination of the long-running Lotusphere conference and last year’s Connect. Let’s just say it was big. But what about IBM isn’t big, right? And in case you were wondering if all of this “Social” talk you’re hearing is a fad, IBM has jumped in with both feet and is looking to kick everyone else out of the pool.

There were hundreds of sessions spanning two conference centers, with titles such as “The Next Steps in Social Software,” “Content and Social Ignites Context,” and “The Power of Social Software in the Enterprise.”  I estimate that at least 60% of the sessions had the word social in their title.

At first I (and possibly others) looked at this kind of like when your mom joined Facebook. Here comes big old IBM to ruin the social experience. But listening to the speakers it quickly becomes clear that this is not the case. IBM has been talking about building a smarter planet for a while, and now they are focusing on the “smarter workforce.” Social technology and analytics are the building blocks. The whole idea is the interconnectedness of people and information throughout the enterprise, and IBM is positioning themselves as the company that has all the pieces to stitch the enterprise together.

One of the newest pieces in IBM’s puzzle is Kenexa, who had a strong showing at the conference. Rudy Karsan is still CEO of Kenexa, and there was much talk about Kenexa during the keynote address. IBM plans on leveraging the Kenexa acquisition to launch what it calls a Social Learning Suite in 2013. Also look for an integrated performance management/learning management solution as a result of a partnership between Kenexa and SkillSoft.

IBM is excited about the possibilities around Kenexa’s analytics and what they mean to IBM’s work in cognitive computing. One possibility posed during the keynote was IBM’s artificially intelligent Watson computer (the one from Jeopardy!) using workforce analytics to determine your personal career path. In a moment, the audience went from intrigued by possibilities to creeped out about computers taking over. It’s fun to think about, though. Watson is probably the most innovative thing I’ve seen around the Big Data issue to date.

This clash between exciting technology potential and Big Brother-ish dread kept popping up. Nowhere was that more apparent than in one of the most exciting features of the conference:  the IBM Innovation Lab. Here we saw projects that are in the works, but not necessarily going to be products. There is a lot of cool stuff around finding expertise within an organization, crowdsourcing and even the idea of a work “marketplace,” where employees can bid to complete projects. However, there was also a lot around combing social media to find out more about employees and customers. Even though it is billed as a way to better serve customers, the OmniProfiling project’s name alone is enough to scare me.

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David Wentworth



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David Wentworth