IBM Connections as a social platform
IBM has traditionally always had a strong presence in the Collaboration market with its Lotus products and it wasn’t surprising therefore that it was also quite early in recognizing the importance and power of Social Enterprise Networking. According to a study conducted by IDC in June 2015, IBM was the absolute market leader in Enterprise Social Networking during the period 2012-14, its market share has decreased slightly over the period since then but it’s still a definite leader. In 2014 alone, it accounted for 12.75% of the total revenue (USD1.45bn) generated by the market.
The share of Salesforce and Microsoft has been increasing. Over 2012–14, Salesforce share increased from 3.1% to 11.1%, while Microsoft’s share increased from 4.6% to 6.7%. Other major competitors of IBM Connections are Jive, Microsoft, Lithium, Zimbra, SAP, Socialtext and Mindjet. But overall IBM is a very strong player in the Social Enterprise Networking market.
Figure: Market share of leading players in global Enterprise Social Networks market (2012-14, %)
In October 2015, Gartner also nominated IBM as a leader in its Magic Quadrant for social software in the workplace among 14 vendors assessed. This was the seventh consecutive year that IBM was chosen as a leader by Gartner.
Gartner classifies leaders as well-recognized vendors that extensively offer social software and collaboration solutions and who have established their leadership through acknowledgement of their clients’ needs, continuous improvement, significant market presence and delivering user-friendly and solution-focused suites with extensive capabilities
Strengths and Weaknesses 
|One-stop shop||The solution consolidates various capabilities, including content management and enterprise file synchronization and sharing (EFSS), into a single system.|
It also contains various tutorials and in-context support features to make its adoption easier.
|Customer experience||IBM Connections has a user-friendly interface and it launches frequent updates to enhance the user experience.|
|Greater efficiency||IBM Connections allows users to combine updates from internal and external networks and, thereby, increases communicational efficiencies. It can also be accessed on mobile devices and integrates with Mail and office productivity tools as well and offers Desktop integration for file management|
|Viability||IBM Connections is a leader in enterprise social network arena, owing to its extensive R&D capabilities and expertise in collaboration, messaging and communications solutions. The company has also been actively cultivating strategic relationships across senior levels in user organizations and with partners.|
|Strategic advantage||IBM Connections is a part of IBM’s broader level social business and smarter workforce initiatives, such as IBM Design Thinking, IBM Bluemix, IBM Watson and IBM Kenexa. IBM’s existing expertise in this space puts IBM Connections at competitive advantage.|
|Complexity||IBM Connections’ extensive capabilities and large portfolio of products coupled with several deployment options can lead to complexity in usage.|
|Integration||Though IBM Connections offers integration with a number of business systems (including sales, marketing, customer service, and HR applications) through OpenSocial, its integration capabilities to other third party software sometimes requires additional customization.|
It requires users to embed its prebuilt integrations inside applications to use its social interaction during the flow of collaborative work.
|Shift of focus||IBM Connections is positioning Verse as its next-generation business email solution. Though the solution shares synergies with Connections, there is a possibility that the customers would view the marketing messages as a shift away from its ESN efforts. Others however view the close integration between the two as an excellent bridge between the two options of collaboration|
* This of course depends on the choice for onprem or cloud deployment as well
Issues with IBM Connections
Like every tool out there IBM connections has its strengths and weaknesses. A major problem with identifying the unique value proposition IBM Connections or tools like it offer, is that the people evaluating them often have difficulty in fully understanding the special position an Enterprise Social Network takes within the application landscape. It is not as cut and dry as many other tools which serve a specific process or function but tries to encompass a wide variety of collaboration and knowledge management challenges. The options it therefore offers are not specific to any specific business process but offer a more generic toolset of features and options to address any need. The upside of this is, that it means that they offer ways in which users can approach collaboration needs without needing IT services or support to accomplish them. The downside is, that it also means that it might not offer every specific need a process might have, for example deep workflow capabilities.
The divers toolset of features, some of which might even offer similar or overlapping options, also causes some organizations to struggle with this as it means that it is harder for them to structure and promote its usage. It is however exactly this diversity that also means that users who would otherwise have no way of collaborating can find ways to do so and that users might find ways and solutions to improve on existing processes that would otherwise never have been identified. IBM Connections is very good in offering a diverse and complete set of tools to accomplish this.
A second problem often identified is that users have trouble grasping the unique mechanism of getting information. Where, in traditional information systems (like for instance intranets) information is often „pushed“ to the users as it is all centrally controlled and managed and everyone gets to see the same content, IBM Connections relies on users identifying and subscribing („Pulling“) the information they find interesting. This is done through following either other users, specific content or communities of interest. If not explained properly to new users, this might mean that they get confused or even disheartened.
Adoption programs, communication and training therefore often play a very important role in making IBM Connections a success. Many problems with implementations of IBM Connections, can in fact be brought back to a lack of proper adoption.
Some issues identified by other reviewing sites:
|Weak Wiki feature||The software’s Wiki feature, which allows users to collaboratively create informative web pages, has a rigid structure and is, therefore, sometimes considered difficult to navigate.|
|User interface (UI) issues||The user interface of its activities section is heavily based on text instead of graphics. Its tagging function is only useful in the web UI.|
|Installation issues||IBM Connections is difficult to install. Its add-on packages also pose installation and upgrade problems. Note: IBM Connections is unique in that it offers both Onprem as well as Cloud deployments, meaning that for organizations trying to eliminate this risk, there is an “installation free” cloud option available.|
|Inability to customize||The Connections interface is not easy to customize as it uses a complicated style sheet language for the user interface.|
|Integration issues||Some users have also faced problems related to the integration of IBM Connections with Microsoft Office suite products and other applications. Note: Usage of the existing IBM Connections MS office & desktop Connectors and plugins should mitigate this.|
Use and adoption of IBM Connections
In late 2014, The Michael Sampson Co conducted a survey to understand the use and adoption of IBM Connections among organizations.
Social activities for which most organizations deployed IBM Connections were disseminating team and organizational updates and sharing learning and best practices. However, there was a substantial difference in the activities for which long term users and short term users of IBM Connections leveraged the platform.
Figure: Use of IBM Connections for social activities by surveyed companies 
Most new users of IBM Connections leverage it to disseminating team and organizational updates and build knowledge to run the intranet.
Figure: Most highly used activities for newer customers
Long-time users of IBM Connections use the solution to disseminate team and organizational updates, share learnings and find expertise.
Figure: Most highly used activities for long-term customers
Best practices for rolling out IBM Connections
The best practices for rolling out IBM Connections are no different from those of other social software and were already listed in an earlier blog on this topic. IBM themselves list:
- Encouraging senior executive to support implementation by endorsing the software and adopting it themselves
- Conducting surveys to find time necessary to find required expertise, time saved by re-using shared insights instead of starting from scratch, and other parameters to gauge the software’s impact
- Providing support and training to employees, helping them understand how new features will enable them to complete tasks and solve business problems
- Collecting and sharing stories of successful implementation and the solution’s benefits
- Appreciating or rewarding employees who adopt the solution and culture change
There are however some that especially apply to IBM Connections because of the way it is structured:
- Recognize the fact that it often offers more than one way to accomplish something. By identifying and communicating good examples you can inspire users to discover these and reinforce wanted conduct
- Make clear what the pros and cons are of the different ways in which certain functions work (for instance the difference between Community files & Personal Files)
- Be aware of available third party applications that might help the adoption process. Kudos Boards for instance, is a tool that turns the IBM Connections activities widget into a visual representation of an activity board, ideal for project and KANBAN methodologies
- Help users understand the specific “Pull-Push” information structure, for instance by inviting users to an introduction community upon first entry so they have a way to start.
But most of all recognize that implementation of the tool in itself is not enough. The biggest change in implementing IBM Connections, or for that matter, any Social Enterprise Networking tool is that it is there to support a cultural and organizational shift and not the other way around. When honoring and respecting that, IBM Connections can really help connect your organization to a new way of working!
- Worldwide Enterprise Social Networks and Online Communities 2015–2019 Forecast and 2014 Vendor Shares, IDC, July 2015
- Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace, Gartner.com, October 26, 2015
- Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace, Gartner.com, October 26, 2015
Gartner: 5 Vendors Lead in Workplace Social Software, Cmswire.com, November 18, 2015
- IBM Connections reviews, Trustradius.com, accessed on June 15, 2016. Issues identified are based on customer reviews on blogs and may represent a limited perspective
- Use and Adoption of IBM Connections, The Michael Sampson Company, November 18, 2014
- The chart has been calibrated and may not be completely accurate.
The results are based on responses of 58 out of 160 respondents belonging to organizations using IBM Connections. Two-thirds of the respondents were decision makers with respect to the use of IBM Connections, two-fifths belonged to organisations with more than 10,000 employees. The remaining one-fifths were equally divided between organisations with less than 1,000 employees and between 1,000 and 10,000 employees.
- Newer customers refer to those users who have been using IBM Connections for up to two years
- Long term customers refer to those users who have been using IBM Connections for 2 years or more
- Best practices for establishing a new way to work: Implementing IBM Connections, IBM, October 2015