According to Gartner, by 2016, 50 percent of large organizations will have internal Facebook-like social networks, and 30 percent of these will be considered as essential as email and telephones are today. Some of the leading benefits of social software include:

  1. Improving collaboration by opening communications and sharing of content, resources and activities, bringing geographically dispersed communities closer together
  2. Reducing inefficiencies by improving organizational awareness and reducing siloed communication stuck in email — reducing email volume overall
  3. Enhancing innovation by leveraging the collective wisdom of the organization and crowd-sourcing organizational and product improvements
  4. Improving productivity by providing full access to social tools via mobile devices, and integrating social capabilities directly into daily workflow tools
  5. Protecting corporate intellectual property by providing social collaborative capabilities employees have been accustomed to from public services like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, but in a secured, private environment that insures organizational knowledge is retained even after employees depart

IDC has identified IBM Connections as the market leading enterprise social software solution for the past four consecutive years. In addition, the IBM Connections Suite 4.5.1 was recently updated to now include IBM Connections, Connections Content Manager and significant social communication enhancements with IBM Sametime 9. Let’s take a look at some of the key capabilities of this suite.

For those unfamiliar with IBM Connections, it provides a broad selection of social tools.

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I won’t go into all the details of Connections’ capabilities in this post; though we’re happy to provide an in-depth demo with your organization should you be interested. I will share that the benefits of Connections are immediately apparent to end-users. At a recent rollout for a customer, after a demo had been provided of their new collaboration environment in action, the room actually started applauding. But two functional capabilities I want to emphasize here are Connections’ mobile capabilities, and its integration into key business applications.

Connections provides a well-designed and comprehensive mobile app that is available for free in both the Apple Store and Android markets. Connections’ mobile app provides access to ALL of its social tools, making it extremely easy to leverage these capabilities on the go. Here are a few example scenarios where this comes in handy:

  1. At a job site, a user can take a photo with their iPhone and directly upload it to a corporate engineering support community for feedback and assistance.
  2. Commuting on the train to work, a marketing team member can review and comment on media posted as part of a new product launch.
  3. While at a customer site and asked a question about a product he doesn’t normally work with, a sales professional can quickly search corporate profiles to locate an expert and immediately call her for assistance.
  4. On a sales call and needing to fill in for a colleague who got stuck in the airport, a sales engineer quickly accesses a presentation and presents it straight from his iPhone.

Mobile access is crucial to adoption since people are most accustomed to using public social tools on their mobile devices. For a look at Connections mobile app, check out the following video.

Integration into standard workflow is another key factor in driving adoption of social tools, and there are many ways Connections provides this. First, Connections integrates into the complete Microsoft Office Suite. A sidebar is added to Microsoft Outlook that makes it a snap to microblog, access and share files, participate in communities and more – all directly within Outlook. A Connections ribbon can also be added to all Office applications making it easy to move content into and out of Connections.

For organizations that have leveraged the document repository capabilities of Microsoft SharePoint, IBM Connections can even bring social capabilities into SharePoint, and provide access to SharePoint document libraries directly within Connections’ Communities.

There is much more I could share about Connections, but let’s move on to the newest item in the Connections Suite — the recently released version 9 of IBM Sametime. IBM has made so many enhancements to Sametime 9, it’s hard to pick a few to focus on. But one of the key areas that have changed has nothing to do with features, but with licensing. IBM has simplified the licensing for Sametime, and is now bundling a lot more functionality with those licenses.

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Sametime Complete is the edition included with the Connections Suite bundle, so you get all of the functionality above, with the exception of Sametime Unified Telephony. Note that the licensing now includes external collaboration. This provides significant value for you. It eliminates the licensing costs associated with non-employees attending web conferences. It also makes it possible to embed Sametime presence information, instant messaging and other Sametime capabilities directly into your website to enable outside customers or partners to communicate with your employees, again without additional licensing.

Of the many enhancements to Sametime, the new mobile capabilities and the overall enhancements to video collaboration are the most significant. Sametime now supports multi-party continuous video for up to six simultaneous video streams via the new built-in video multipoint control unit (VMCU). For more technical details on how this works, check out this blog posting by IBM’s Social Communications Product Manager, Julie Reed.

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Equally impressive as the video enhancements are the new mobile capabilities. Sametime offers two mobile apps — one for meetings and the other for presence, text, voice and video chat. Both are available on Apple and Android markets. The above image is actually of a Sametime meeting on an Android tablet using the IBM Meetings app. It is a full-featured meetings experience, complete with multi-party video and the ability to fully moderate and present from a tablet.

The second app, the IBM Sametime app, continues to offer presence awareness and instant messaging that it has for several years. But it now can also be used for wireless audio calls on smartphones, as well as video chats from tablets. Not only do these new capabilities provide great value for highly collaborative video communication, but they also can provide significant savings to the organization by using wireless communication rather than voice or data on the mobile device.

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Lastly, IBM provides great integration between Connections and Sametime. For some time, it has been possible to include Sametime presence awareness and instant messaging in Connections. This has made it easy to quickly reach out to another person for real-time communication when you may have a question about a file they shared, an activity they’re working on, or a blog posting for example.

But IBM has significantly extended this integration. Now you can add files that are stored in Connections to your Sametime meetings, simplifying and reducing the steps needed to collaborate in real-time around business content. Additionally, a Sametime meeting room can be associated with a specific and persistent community in Connections, and can be launched directly from the Community in Connections. This seamlessly adds real-time group collaboration to Communities, and keeps meeting places persistent even though Community membership may change over time. Two new widgets for Chat Rooms and Meeting Rooms also allow users to view a list of available rooms and join directly from Connections.

We’ve only scratched the surface of all that is possible with IBM’s Connections Suite. It’s a compelling and comprehensive set of capabilities, provided in very affordable and easy to understand per-user licensing. Let’s chat, and we can look specifically at how your organization can benefit from these social software capabilities.

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