Information & Communication Technologies

Is IBM Backing Away from UC?

by Rob Arnold 20 Jan 2012
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The answer is… not exactly. IBM has announced no plans to discontinue any of its current UC products or to end any of its partnerships with other UC providers. That said, the company is now devoting greater emphasis and resources toward other opportunities in the enterprise communications market.

Since the early days of UC in the mid-2000’s IBM has presented Lotus Sametime as its flagship UC offering. The platform natively supports rich presence and instant messaging functions, tight integration with Lotus Notes, as well as web conferencing capabilities. In addition, through its partner ecosystem, IBM provides integrations with many other apps in the UC stack, namely telephony, audio conferencing, video conferencing, mobility applications, etc., and hardware endpoints in Sametime-based UC environments.

Whether IBM’s lack of its own end-to-end portfolio of UC apps has hampered its competitiveness in the enterprise communications market is arguable. However, it is clear that the company has been overshadowed by Cisco and Microsoft in the UC space, in terms of mind share. Meanwhile newer and potentially very lucrative opportunities are emerging in the enterprise communications market. Driven by shifting business requirements, new technology and the consumerization of IT, the concept of the social enterprise has taken the enterprise communications industry by storm. IBM is well positioned to adjust its stance to be a strong competitor for this opportunity.

Leveraging a greater breadth and depth of its strengths, IBM is now placing the bulk of its emphasis on social business. For IBM, UC has become a component or a subset of capabilities within social business environments. Sametime’s IM and presence applications are powering rich communications, mobile and real-time capabilities within IBM’s flagship next-gen collaboration platform, Connections. From Connections features/apps such as user profiles, contacts, communities, activity streams, directories, documents, micro-blogs and more, users can consume and publish presence/availability information, launch voice and video calls as well as multi-party, multi-media conferences driven by Sametime (as well as third-party UC platforms).

The company intends to continue to enhance social business by embedding UC into advanced collaboration platforms, to improve communications through improved context, and to make rich communications available to users whenever and however required. Examples of potential future capabilities may include allowing Communities to own meeting rooms (whereas individuals typically do so now), and to make Sametime’s persistent and group chat features available within Connections. The intent is to create an environment where users spend their day, and improve their productivity and efficiency through the ability to quickly and intuitively access a range of business and IT tools, and rich communications and collaboration applications. And IBM plans to utilize analytics to raise awareness of and to prove out the benefits of social business solutions which are often difficult to qualify using traditional ROI measurements.  

IBM is effectively bringing to bear its content management, analytics, collaboration, SOA and other assets, along with its strong services capabilities and partner ecosystem to create social business solutions that empower change management and transform business processes. This is approach is creating clear differentiation for IBM—more than was possible in a purely UC-centric approach. And with the burgeoning social business opportunity, IBM is leveraging capabilities that provide it with clear advantages over others that are vying for a claim of the emerging space, including Cisco, Google, Jive, Microsoft, and others.

IBM is not abandoning UC—the company is leveraging UC to enable social communications.

View Rob Arnold's blog

Comments (1)

By  Elka Popova
Program Director, Internal

26 Jan 2012 12:54

Great post, Rob. This helped me better understand IBM's strategy.

I think IBM has always had great products. But you know vendors' success these days is just as much predicated on their marketing and sales acumen and their ability to leverage the channel as it is on the quality of their technologies. I am just wondering if IBM will be able to send a strong enough message to the market about the value of their comprehensive social business portfolio. What is their Trojan Horse? For MSFT in UC, it is Exchange, but also their desktop productivity apps. They ave also poured tons of money into Lync promotion. Will IBM be able to do the same?

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