Late last week we announced that IBM had released Connections 4. While it's true, it wasn't really official until today. So we thought we'd take another look into what new. We think you'll be interested.

On Friday past, Dan filled you in on some of the new things in Connections 4. Specifically he noted updates to the activity stream (attach files, add twitter-like hashtags and liking messages), the new social analytics and support for standards such as Open Social.

All of these updates are key for a social business platform and IBM is doing well pulling in the necessary functionality to help businesses work smarter.

I had the opportunity to speak with Suzanne Livingston, Senior Product Manager for IBM Social Software, who has been a part of the Connection team right from the beginning. She said that IBM's goal is to bridge Connections to other solutions and platforms within the IBM environment and with applications outside of IBM.

IBM's Social Business platform has Connections at its core. With Connections you also get the social analytics and mobile capabilities that support business users as they do their jobs. It's both the technology and the application of that technology that drives insights and actions.

"To truly realize the full potential of a social business, leaders need to empower a company's most vital asset - the information being generated from its people," said Alistair Rennie, general manager, social business, IBM. "Now is the time for business leaders to embed social into their key business processes to shift their business from the era of "liking" to "leading."

Analytics Are Critical to Business

The analytics updates are important to this release. It's not just about helping surface the most important information to users (they can now filter and pivot on tags, and see trending topics and conversations), but it's also about helping organizations get a handle on adoption not just within a particular community, but across the entire platform.

Connections produces analytics in context to the work the user is doing. It's relevant and specific to the users themselves.

Note that IBM Connections is used for both internal and external communities and analytics reports like the new ones in this version are key to helping understand how a community is used and providing community users with the right information.

IBM Enables 3rd Party Apps to Publish to Connections

This is one of my favorite new features of IBM Connections 4. Before this version you could surface 3rd party apps within Connections, an app could not feed content back into Connections direction (like a message in the Activity Stream). This is done with the help of standards like Open Social and (which was recently consumed into Open Social). Email is a great example of this in action (although I would be the first to admit I wouldn't want all my email appearing in my activity stream).

This move takes Connections from another potential silo to the primary tool for working -- and Livingston said it is a preferred mechanism for work for IBM's customers. It also clearly shows that IBM sees social as centric to a person's daily work environment (their entire environment).

Integration to the Activity Stream isn't the only way to get external data into Connections. You can also integrate third party apps into Communities and the user profile. So, say for example, you wanted to to see your training programs in Connections (take the Kenexa learning management environment -- and this is completely hypothetical), you could integrate the app into your profile for the training you are taking and you could maybe have messages in the activity stream letting you know you have a lesson to complete.

You can see how this works with just about any application. And it's an important service to provide if you want your collaboration application to really be the center of your work environment.

Check out a demo of IBM Connections and see it in action for yourself: