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IBM held its 20th annual IBM Connect conference (previously known as Lotusphere) as part of its IBM Social Business efforts at the end of January. The conference focuses on business and social collaboration technology, which our business technology innovation research found to be the second-ranked priority for business innovation. At the conference IBM made a series of significant announcements, including a new version of its social collaboration suite, IBM Connections, and the ability to use the software on a cloud computing platform.Technology Innovation Priorities

In the mid ’90s Lotus Notes and Domino led the market with the first true business collaboration and communications software. Today, after decades of fierce competition with Microsoft and its Office and SharePoint offerings, IBM is innovating (in a much more serious way than I have seen from Microsoft) to gain growth in the new market for business and social collaboration software. It is a good time for IBM to aggressively expand into the market, as our research finds only 25 percent of organizations are satisfied with their social collaborative capabilities. These have been dominated by shared folders and documents (86%), videoconferencing and instant messaging (66%), yet those applications are only a small piece of what social collaboration is about.

IBM has been adding business collaboration features over recent years with new capabilities that include activity streams, broadcasting, instant messaging, videoconferencing and wikis. All are part of IBM Connections 4.5, along with content and document management. With IBM Docs people can collaborate on a range of documents, including spreadsheets, presentations and word processing. IBM has advanced the user experience and integrated its collaborative and social software into a unified user experience. IBM is also making the software available on Apple, Android and BlackBerry smartphones and tablets. Our research finds Apple to be the first-ranked priority for smartphones (50%) and tablets (66%), followed by Android on smartphones (27%) and tablets (19%). Though BlackBerry (which just announced the change in its corporate name from Research in Motion) is a distance third for smartphones, it still has a loyal following that also uses IBM software. Our research finds Microsoft at the bottom of business and IT buyers’ priority lists. IBM is also expanding its social collaboration support for mobile technology to operate in an offline mode which is essential and has also addressed the need to secure sensitive communications and content.

IBM also maintains a strong installed base with Notes and Domino. IBM Notes and Domino Social Edition 9 is expected to be available in March and brings an innovative approach to blend social collaboration within electronic mail that many will really like IBM innovative approach. Businesses that do not use Notes, which make up the majority of the industry, can examine IBM Connections.

IBM is also moving fast to ensure that its offering is available in cloud computing. IBM SmartCloud for Social Business will make it easier for organizations to get started and use the software without the need for servers, storage and other internal IT resources. This is an important step to bring its offering to a larger audience that may not have the IT resources or budget to support new business collaboration efforts. The software helps streamline the cultural transition to using social collaborative software. IBM has introduced adoption services with a range of models, processes and education. This investment is critical to get organizations to step into the new world of social collaboration and increase the confidence level of organizations in this approach; today only 17 percent are very confident and just 38 percent are confident.

IBM has completed its acquisition of Kenexa, and at IBM Connect seemed to indicate it has settled on some specific areas of focus that blend learning and recruiting with Social Collaboration and Talent Managementsocial collaboration. It has taken steps since my analysis at the time of the acquisition to address many of my concerns. In addition, IBM introduced its new Employee Experience Suite, which is designed to provide an interface to business priorities and work like an employee portal. IBM also touted its new social learning offering, which when delivered will leverage its existing software and what the company purchased with Kenexa. I would like to have seen more on how to leverage Kenexa OutStart mobile learning. The potential in social learning is significant, and IBM’s product offerings put the company on a short list of providers who offer integrated social learning today. More broadly, IBM’s efforts to bring social collaboration to human capital management come at a time when our research into HCM shows that knowledge sharing, collaborating and learning are key priorities in organizations today. IBM will need to invest further to bring into IBM Connections more from Kenexa of what is needed in talent management in recruiting, performance and compensation. IBM has a great opportunity to expand its position with Kenexa recruiting customers that use both its software and its services and get them to use more IBM social collaboration and workforce analytics software.

IBM spoke at the conference about its Smarter Workforce Analytics Suite, designed to address workforce analytics and predictive hiring analytics, but I did not see this software leveraging the company’s business intelligence or workforce analytics solutions. The tandem of this software foundation, the IBM Research and global Improve Workforce Analyticsbusiness services organizations, and the analytic services of the Kenexa organization has the potential to advance the necessary process of moving off of spreadsheets to a dedicated business intelligence tool to meet the needs for workforce analytics and planning. We have found in our research a significant move by businesses to improve workforce analytics in 2013, with 61 percent of organizations indicating they have plans in this area. Also most HR organizations are still working on advancing beyond the use of spreadsheets and reports indicating a lower level of maturity than what IBM might expect. This could be an opportunity for IBM if they fully utilize the core technology of its business analytics software and that I wrote about last year.

Technology ConsiderationsI was impressed with IBM’s advancements in social collaboration at Connect 2013 and its commitment to usability, which our research found to be the highest priority (64%) in choosing technology, followed by reliability, since technology in use across an organization must be able to scale and perform. Organizations that have not considered IBM for social collaboration should examine the new version of Connections, since it offers a powerful set of unified capabilities that encompasses mobile technology. The top benefit to such software according to 72 percent of organizations in our research is better communications and knowledge sharing, and Connections has the power to deliver that. However, IBM should also embed its social collaboration features in other business applications, as that is still a preferred method of accessing collaboration according to 43 percent of organizations. One area that I expected to see more highlighted was its integration with IBM business analytics software which is one of the top use cases for using social collaboration in the enterprise and that IBM has integrated already.

IBM is taking a significant step forward to bring Smarter Workforce into a highly competitive market for human capital management. This is confirmed in my colleagues (Stephan Millard) research agenda for human capital management, that the pace of innovation in 2013 will be significant. IBM new offerings and approach are ones to watch but make sure you are able to get something for use today in your business and not have to wait for the future. IBM is a vendor to watch for its ability to help organizations of all sizes with social collaboration and human capital management.

Regards,

Mark Smith
CEO & Chief Research Officer

Businesses need to simplify HR and compliance processes to save time and reduce risk. Talx, which helps employers address concerns in hiring, pay and compliance, has now assumed the name of its parent company and become Equifax Workforce Solutions [PDF]. HR and finance professionals should recognize the parent company’s brand from its work in the consumer credit industry. The company hopes these professionals will see that Equifax Workforce Solutions offers a better approach to governance, risk and compliance. According to our research, 79 percent of organizations want a better method to identify and manage risks faster.

In the area of hiring services, Equifax has made the process of compliance for new hires simple with its I-9 management service to ensure compliance through its E-Verify integration, and through its streamlined electronic service to remove physical paper in federal, state and local forms. Providing for digital signatures and documents is one way it saves time; our research finds almost a quarter of organizations still use paper and require handwritten signatures, and more (29%) have electronic documents but still require a handwritten signature. Also, as governments provide new tax credits and incentives, Equifax can immediately assess any savings opportunities with an existing workforce and new hires, keeping on top of potential opportunities to contribute to organizations’ profitability. For example, after disasters like Sandy and Katrina, governments may provide incentives and opportunities for employers, as is now happening with the Department of Labor in New York State. In the area of pay reporting, Equifax provides a digital and physical service to manage paperless pay and the process of creating and distributing W-2s that makes things simpler for employers and provides direct access for employees. This can replace the paper and manual efforts that exist in most organizations and improve employee satisfaction and confidence.

Equifax also provides a suite of compliance services and online services to help with employment verification, unemployment cost management and employment tax management, and with supporting action on data breaches. Though our research finds that only 11 percent of organizations have experienced a significant data privacy or information breach, it is essential for companies to have policies and processes in place so they can act quickly to address such data breaches. Simplifying the methods to comply with legal and regulatory requirements is still difficult for over half of organizations (56%), though most just take on a higher cost of employee labor to ensure deadlines are not missed. Many organizations do not take risk and compliance methods as seriously as they should. Our research finds more than half of organizations (57%) use spreadsheets in these processes. Organizations need to assess controls and compliance steps to better automate the processes and eliminate labor-intensive and error-prone manual tracking.

Equifax Workforce Solutions provides workforce analytics in a product called vr_nextgenworkforce_planning_to_improve_workforce_analyticsEquifax Workforce Analytics that it gained with the acquisition of analytics technology provider eThority, which I assessed earlier this year. This offering provides not just efficient methods for interacting and discovering places for improvement, but also prebuilt content in the form of analytics and metrics that can be populated with an organization’s data. The use of spreadsheets has made it difficult to manage workforces in 42 percent of organizations according to our next-generation workforce management benchmark research. By adopting a dedicated approach to critical workforce analytics across HR processes, organizations can make more accurate and effective decisions.

Parent company Equifax will need to better promote the newly named Workforce Solutions unit, since it is still not linked from its website. Equifax Workforce Solutions provides many benefits in benchmarking workforce and compensation issues that could be an opportunity to provide relief to those under the most duress; it can even determine the load of student loans costs on a workforce. It can do these things by comparing a workforce to its overall Equifax database and reviewing its database of more than 210 million payroll records. These kinds of services can help employers improve methods to hire, engage and retain their workforce.

Organizations should consider Equifax Workforce Solutions as part of their overall human capital management strategy, and part of any specific talent management and workforce management efficiency efforts. With its abilities to save time and mitigate risk, Equifax Workforce Solutions has a place in every organization.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer

Mark Smith – Twitter

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