Each year, the IBM faithful gather in Orlando Florida for IBM Connect, previously Lotusphere. This year, IBM combined it with the Kenexa World Conference as well, leading to an interesting mélange of IBM Notes administrators, Domino developers, human resources practitioners and social business strategists. The program was a similar gumbo of topics cutting across several IBM initiatives and product lines. It would be fair to say that, if you wanted to stretch beyond your usual topics, it would be easy at IBM Connect 2014.
Conspicuous by their absence or near-absence were discussions about the two biggest announcements that IBM has made this quarter -- namely the creation of the Watson Group and the divestiture of the low-end server business to Lenovo. The latter is understandable -- for some IBM customers, the selling off of the System X, Flex and NeXtScale systems is a bit of a downer. It makes good business sense, but there will be some sense of loss amongst faithful data center managers.
On the other hand, it’s hard to see why Watson, so prominently featured at IBM Connect 2013, was barely represented with a few small stands on the expo floor and the occasional passing remark. Watson represents a fundamental shift in computing from the present deterministic, procedural model to probabilistic, pattern matching, machine learning systems.
The formation of the Watson Group is a step towards commercializing what has, up until now, been a science experiment. It promises to create new capabilities and applications in medicine, finance, customer service, and many more industries. More importantly, Watson Foundations, the development stack and APIs for Watson, will allow developers to embed little bits of Watson intelligence in a host of applications. The possibilities for enhancing existing applications far outweigh the potential for Watson-only applications.
The news that received the most attention amongst attendees was the announcement of IBM Mail Next. A fusion of email and social networking, the yet to be released cloud-based software has a user interface that looks more like Google Plus than typical email applications. It is designed to allow easy pivots from email to enterprise social networks and refocuses the communication experience on the interactions between people.
IBM Mail Next is an example of the ongoing convergence of enterprise social networks, email and other communications applications. Google is attempting the same thing with the Google Plus/Gmail/Hangouts suite. Microsoft is as well with Office365 plus Yammer, SharePoint and Lync. The road to adoption may be tougher for IBM though given its conservative customer base. To placate them, IBM will continue to produce the traditional IBM Notes email experience for the foreseeable future.
In all the hoopla about IBM Mail Next and the continuing Smarter Workforce push, it would have been easy to miss out on some other significant announcements: