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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

TribeHR has brought to market an HR application suite that uses social collaboration to empower workers and managers to perform tasks that might once have been done mostly by HR professionals, or not done at all. The software-as-a-service-based TribeHR application helps businesses with fewer than 500 employees with recruiting, applicant tracking, onboarding, performance and goal setting, and time and vacation management – but with a twist. By using social collaboration as a foundation for its functionality, TribeHR takes advantage of knowledge sharing, the most valuable approach our human capital management benchmark research found for engaging the workforce.

Recently the company announced a new release of its software that provides further social media integration to more easily get candidate information from LinkedIn and Facebook, lets users post feedback and kudos on Facebook, and captures feedback from that channel. It’s easy to register for a trial of the product, so I did. I found the product easy to engage with, and thanks to its collaborative approach, it’s easy for employees to share information and converse with each other. The application lets you easily see staff profiles across the team, which helps drive better understanding of team members.

The latest release introduces a simple approach to performance management that is part of the new approach to engaging workers. Managers can assign individual and team goals, track progress and post recognition when goals are reached either in a peer or public manner, and even publish recognition to Facebook. I also like the ease of having actions and goals defined in the system. Companies can share their list of corporate values, and review how employees support the values through their actions. This approach helps engage teams of people as human capital.

For recruiting, TribeHR can automate job postings to external websites, job boards and Facebook, and post applications back into TribeHR. It can use a LinkedIn profile for a job application. The software makes it simple for applicants to be reviewed and prioritized for interview and potential future hiring which save valuable business time of hiring managers. This level of integration with social media addresses factors our benchmark research found improve the quality of hire (79%) and address metrics like cultural fit (64%). Other key features include:

  • A corporate calendar that can be integrated with existing Outlook, Google or iCal calendars
  • The ability to track time off
  • Storage of corporate documents for easy access
  • Simple ways to develop and maintain personnel profile and support time tracking.

Many of these capabilities can replace personal productivity tools, such as Microsoft Office, that do not foster collaboration or common goals among a workforce.

TribeHR can also integrate easily with Salesforce.com for sales force automation and FreshBooks for accounting. I hope to see it further integrate with Intuit QuickBooks, both of which are often used by small businesses. The company recently announced a reseller program to further extend access to its offering through a range of consulting firms.

TribeHR keeps it simple when it comes to pricing, with a low per-user per-month charge starting at $2 and going higher based on a company’s needs to engage across groups and teams. With its foundation of customers, the company can provide aggregated information in the form of metrics to give guidance on best practices; for instance, its recently announced pay raise index provides a benchmark to compare a company’s business practices to those of others of similar size. While I usually can find places for improvement in vendor offering, TribeHR provides a very robust offering for the price it charges. I expect we will see more of its offerings available on smartphones and tablets to further extend into the new reality of business computing.

Small businesses may lack an HR department, but they must have human capital management applications and processes that can operate with no or little administrative support. When it comes to helping organizations recruit, engage and retain talent, TribeHR provides a robust offering for an affordable price to help small businesses act smarter than the majority of big businesses. If your small business has not taken a look at TribeHR, don’t miss it.

Regards,

Mark Smith

CEO & Chief Research Officer

Mark Smith – Twitter

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