IBM’s new social business enterprise email collaboration software “Mail Next” is a “great idea” and “represents the natural convergence of social and email.”
While he's a fan, however, the platform announced at this week IBM Connect 2014 in Orlando, Fla., is not all that original, said Tom Petrocelli of Neuralytix, a New York City-based IT market research and consulting firm. “It’s basically what Google has already done with Gmail, Google Plus and Hangouts,” Petrocelli told CMSWire. “We are seeing this type of convergence in other places: Microsoft also has the pieces and similar functionality in its outlook.com platform or Office 365 plus SharePoint and the Yammer offering.”
One of a Kind?
Others, however, hail IBM’s upcoming offering as transformative, unique and a message to the enterprise collaboration market that email is here to stay.
“Smart organizations have recognized the burden that email puts upon some employees, and the desire to reduce this burden has led to enterprise social networking implementations as one possible alternative,” said Richard Edwards, principal analyst for Enterprise IT at Ovum Research. “But changing the habits of a working lifetime is not going to be easy, so a two-pronged approach is needed, and IBM is the only mainstream enterprise vendor offering this today.”
David Aponovich, senior analyst in application development and delivery at Forrester Research, said although he hasn’t done a deep dive into the Mail Next software, he deemed its potential as user-centric software design.
“IBM has promised, through its IBM Design Studio, to create software that’s easier for human beings to use,” he said. “This looks like one example of IBM stepping in that direction. What I saw here melds a modern user interface, effective visual design, plus functional capabilities into a solution that doesn’t look like email as we know it. It’s intuitive. I expect more software from IBM and others to start moving in this direction.”
Mail Next pulls together social feeds and email into the same application and, based intelligence and the user’s habits, will help the user to focus on which items deserve their focus and attention, said Scott Liewehr, president and principal analyst at Digital Clarity Group, a New York City-based digital research and consultancy firm.
“The feeds and information include messages both from internal [IBM] collaboration applications as well as external [public] networks, along with, of course, all emails from both internal and external sources,” Liewehr added. “Since some, like me, may initially have reservations about pulling together all of these ‘worlds’ -- social networks, work mail, internal collaboration, etc. -- the user can elect to do so or not.”
However, IBM’s strategy with email proves that, counter to many other claims, email is important and here to stay, Liewehr said.
“However,” he said, “it is in a state of transition and is now just one means of communication in an ever-changing, ever-expanding world of communications and messaging. It also attempts to help the user focus in a world of noise, while giving a hat-tip to the fact that there are meaningful interactions that continue to fuel productivity within social networks that were formerly viewed as threats to enterprise efficiency.”
IBM through Mail Next is telling enterprises there’s validity in social networks, Liewehr said, and enlightened organizations will embrace the paradigm and use tools like Mail Next to help them make the transition.
Google and Microsoft, Here We Come?
Merging IBM Connections and email is a great idea and will make for a better overall communications experience, Petrocelli said. But it’s not going to be enough, he said, to get people to switch from Outlook and Exchange if that’s what they already have.
“But it will certainly will keep the IBM faithful happy,” Petrocelli said.
Some may see IBM’s relative position in the corporate email market -- which is way behind Microsoft -- translating into the company having nothing to lose.
Edwards of Ovum does not see it this way.
“What IBM is doing is offering choice to the end user, and that should be applauded,” Edwards said.
With Google and Microsoft serving as IBM’s primary competitors in the corporate email space, they could fire salvos back soon.
“Both are taking baby steps today as they evolve their respective email offerings,” Edwards said, “but something more radical is clearly required for some members of the workforce.”
Ovum and Edwards noted last year after the IBM Connect 2013 that IBM enterprise clients were switching away IBM Lotus-branded products, particularly Notes and Domino, because of a perceived lack of modernity and innovation from the 2007-released platform.
However, back in early 2013, IBM came out with IBM Notes and Domino 9.0 Social Edition. It was intended to complete the "social messaging bridge" to IBM Connections. Edwards then called Office 365 updates as “cosmetics” and said IBM and Google were increasingly encroaching its territory.
“IBM made a move to socialize its email offering last year,” Edwards said. “However, IBM has stepped up a gear to completely reimagine email for the social age. There have been other initiatives to reinvent corporate email, but they have been additive rather than transformative in nature. IBM Mail Next is still a work in progress, but the innovative thinking behind the product is there for all to see.”
Petrocelli, however, still called the user interface of Mail Next “very Google Plus.”
“I wonder at IBM’s commitment,” Petrocelli said. “They will continue with Notes as well as Mail Next. It would seem to me that Mail Next UX could be an on-premises and cloud experience and Notes, at least the email and calendaring part, could go away. They seem to be hedging.”