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IBM Verse Takes Centre Stage delivering a New Way to Work

If you have been following my Blog posts of late you would have noticed a trend developing in my discussions about the role of eMail and its deficiencies the way people use it today.
Email and collaborative applications is where I have built my career from 1986 when I started as a System Engineer in IBM Australia focusing upon Mainframe based ‘office automation’.
I know many may not consider it a very exciting area of specialty, but it has been a blast, but that’s another story I should tell at a later time.
Although email is considered one of the most significant advances in workforce productivity over the past 30 years, today it has become one of the greatest organizational burdens.  IT industry analysts estimate that 108 billion work emails are sent daily (http://www.radicati.com/?p=10653) , requiring employees to check their inboxes an average of 36 times an hour (http://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/Home_page/Research_files/CHI%202012.pdf).  Compounding the problem, it is also estimated that only 14 percent of those emails are of critical importance (http://info.mimecast.com/rs/mimecast/images/ShapeofEmailReport-IT.pdf)

I am not saying email is bad - far from it. Email is a great asynchronous communication tool.
However email is not a collaboration tool, not a project management tool, nor a document management tool, despite the way people use it.
Why do I keep saying that email today is not suitable for the new ways of work?
The email client and operational processes involved are based upon how business was done 30 years ago.

The Need for Change

Back in the 1980’s there were no fax machines, SMS capabilities or even mobile phones. If you were a real high flyer the best you could hope for was maybe a pager hanging from your belt that ‘beeped’ a notification so you knew to phone the office and retrieve your messages. Word Processors were only just starting to develop on Personal Computers, while the vast majority of businesses had typing pools with a centralised WANG Mini Computers with limited WYSIWYG capabilities ('Millennials" may have to look that acronym up in Wikipedia to work it out).
The email client has effectively not changed since that time.
Sure there has been come cosmetic changes and new capabilities added, but It is still based upon the concept of the 1980’s physical work desk;
·  an ‘inbox’ for mail requiring action,
·  an ‘outbox’ which the mailroom would pick up your mail from 2 or 3 times a day,
·  a trash bin, sent mail filing cabinet etc.
Work has evolved in the 30 years since the 1980’s.
What we need are new ways of working, and new tools to help us make more sense of the complex, fast-moving workplace of the 21st Century:
1.  We need a clear sense of where to focus the time we have.
2.  We need an easy way to collaborate with the people that matter to us most.
3.  We need a way to take back control of our day.

Introducing IBM Verse

At 11:00am November 18th in New York City, IBM unveiled its vision of the workplace of the future. IBM Verse is a workplace, as you've never imagined it before. It is built using advanced design thinking, incorporating the latest in social analytics, and faceted search and is delivered initially from the cloud to mobile or desktop devices.
At IBM's Design Studio in New York's Silicon Alley, employees Catherine Gillespie and Kevin Chiu demonstrate IBM Verse, a new social collaboration tool that goes beyond email
If there is only one thing you take away from this post it is this.
IBM Verse is NOT a new eMail client
  •    It is an evolution beyond email towards a “New Way of Working”.
  •    through the introduction of social analytics capabilities, IBM Verse gets to know you.
  •    it learns to identify the people and patterns in how you work.
  •    and then draws your attention to the messages, meetings and tasks that you care about.
  • it introduces completely new possibilities for how you get work done.
  • and it’s social, bringing your community and network engagement to you.
  •      and from a single point, you can choose what is the most appropriate manner to communicate – via eMail, a Blog post, a chat session

IBM Verse puts the focus back on what matters—you, your community and your work - in a manner that no other enterprise software vendor has done before.

IBM Verse - A New Way of Working for the 21st Century

Consider an office worker in 2014.
They would likely have many appointments and meetings during the day, tasks that they need to finalize for others, information they require to finish their own work, communications to manage via email, phone and unified communication PLUS collaboration and file sharing activities being undertaken through an Enterprise Social Network. They would likely have a desktop or laptop for work, perhaps a smartphone for business, or even a tablet they purchased themselves which they use at work. They are also connected to the internet where ever they go, day and night, for work and for personal activities. They are multi-tasking all the time.
IBM Verse provides an integrated, simplified space that lets multitasking workers focus and take quick action on the critical matters that matter to them.
Moving from left to right in the two rows in the centre of the screen shot above, with a single glance you can easily see;
  •      A listing of emails received since mail was last actioned, classified through social analytics to recognize communication from your direct manager, co-workers, direct reports, external people etc
  •      Items you owe people and items others owe you and when these are needed
  •      Who is engaging with you the most in the last 5 day
  •      Your next meeting, your free time today plus all the interactions from within your Enterprise Social network.
In all the above components, a simple click will drill down and reveal more detailed information, or in the case of an appointment, spin the notice around to see details on the back of the ‘appointment card’.
Along the top of the screen are photos of the people you engage with. On the left are those you have already selected to have priority as your most relevant co-workers.  The ones to the right of the thin line are those recommended by the social analytics as warranting consideration based upon your current level of engagement with them. Dragging these ‘people’ to the left will give them priority in your notifications.
In the illustration above, a ‘red’ tag next to their photo highlights the fact there are items requiring actions from you with a particular person. Hovering over the photo then displays what type of action is requested, and provides access to engaging with them. In this instance it is an email that has been sent. Alternatively you could select the option to start a web meeting, open an instant chat session or view Social Collaboration items by that person.
Along the bottom of the screen is your timeline of calendar items. In the illustration above, hovering over the time line shows details on the next meeting, in this instance a ‘pricing review’. 
But being aware of what needs to be done is one thing. Taking action to complete that action is another. With IBM Versea single click is all that is required to kick off a chat session with the originator to request information, or even an online meeting.

IBM Verse redefined Collaboration and supports a New Way of Work

IBM Verse provides a single, integrated, simplified storage location for all files (public, shared & private) allowing instant collaboration and quick action on critical matters at a glance.
With IBM Verse and IBM Social Collaboration software, there is a single storage location for all files (public, shared & private) not multiple locations
  •       When a file is uploaded access rights are prompted as are the ability for people to be readers or editor.
  •       Two-click sharing is easy with permissions automatically changing and notification of actions being  communicated.
  •       Share-on-send is smart enough to manage permissions for me based on my actions without duplicating files. One version of the truth remains, not multiple within personal inboxes.
  •      Posting information direct from email to Blogs or Communities are a one step process.
For collaboration simplicity and versioning control, all files are located in one space. One copy, not multiple copies residing in someone’s inbox. And collaboration is undertaken on the physical knowledge record, not via email, meaning all knowledge is captured, stored, indexed and secure.
IBM Verse clearly takes you beyond email and puts the focus back on what matters—you, your community and your work.

Mobility and IBM Verse

For today’s Mobile workers, seamless integration and full functionality are expectations IBM Verse delivers upon.
Mobile workers are always connected, and they want and need to be able to get work done no matter where they are. In many cases today when moving from a desktop to a mobile device or vice versa, they spend as much time getting set back up as they do actually working on the task. With IBM Verse people have quick access to whatever they were working on, letting them keep up to date while they are not in the office and jump right back into it when they return.
That goes for calendar entries (where do I need to be?), emails from their 'favorites' or actions needed.
IBM Verse provides an integrated web and mobile experience works with what employees have, now and importantly, in the future.

IBM’s mobile experience is designed in parallel to their web experience so users don't skip a beat when they step outside the office. The mobile IBM Verse experience will be available on iOS and Android first, and will be integrated with leading MDM and MAM providers.  IBM is leveraging its strategic relationship with Apple to help in creating our iOS app and will utilize the updated iOS 8 to bring this experience to life.

IBM Verse in Use

Cemex, a global leader in the building materials industry, is one of the first IBM clients to participate in an early beta of the new offering.
"The overall design and visual interface immediately caught my attention, there is a simplicity and purpose in how information is presented that makes the entire experience very intuitive," said Gilberto Garcia, Chief Technology Officer, Cemex.  "I quickly realized just how much was happening beneath the surface.  It gives you a seamless blend of email, social and collaboration capabilities that didn't force me to jump between my inbox, calendar and other apps to share and connect with people.  It's hard to even call this email anymore, that's just one facet to what they are delivering with IBM Verse."
“Simply making the Inbox social isn’t enough. Organizations need better tools to support the way real work gets done in today’s modern enterprises," said Charlene Li, founder and CEO of Altimeter Group.  "That means keeping the focus centered on people and projects, and using analytics and mobile to make it a seamless experience.”

The Future with IBM Verse

I stated previously that IBM Verse is not another new email client. Far from it.  With the initial release of IBM Verse aimed squarely at re-imagining the inbox with capabilities allowing end-users to regain control over the flood and scatter of email, team analytics, faceted search, rich integration with Social and sharing, easy on-boarding and support for web and mobile devices.
Imagine what could happen if IBM places its muscle behind IBM Verse by exploiting analytics-based integration with cognitive technology.
In this area IBM also announced that clients using IBM Verse would also have the future option to embed a Watson feature into their collaboration environment. This will enables users to query Watson on a given topic and receive a direct reply with answers ranked by degree of confidence.
The screen shot below shows an implementation of IBM Watson within IBM highlighting the power that cognitive computing could also have in supporting a new way of working with IBM Verse.

Will IBM make a Significant Impact on the Market?

IBM intends to make available IBM Verse first as a beta in Q4 2014. This beta will support customers who meet certain criteria.  IBM intends general service availability on the IBM Cloud in Q1, 2015, and on premises general availability late 2015.
As you know I work for IBM. That is through choice and not through a love of working crazy long hours or traveling away from my family weeks on end. I seriously believe in the platform, IBM’s vision and their execution of that vision.
Interestingly I have spent the bulk of my career working for Enterprise Software vendors other than IBM. Hence I also spend a significant amount of my time examining alternatives, and from what I can see others simply cannot match the value that IBM Verse is bringing to the market.  I have reviewed the Google Inbox and Microsoft Office Graph and Delve, and Microsoft Clutter announcements and beta products, and while great technologies, I am more confident than ever in the advantage IBM offers their clients in evolving into ‘new ways of working’.
Google Inbox “The Inbox that knows you” – simply focuses on mining a user's inbox and personal data to better serve paid content to users.IBM Verse on the other hand focuses on understanding the unique preferences of employees to better serve their needs, not IBM's.
Google’s Inbox does do some basic bundling of emails under broad headings with a rudimentary task management system that still requires users to plow through their inbox.   IBM Verse does most of this behind the scenes, analyzing not just inbox messages and senders but the organizational relationships between individuals and teams, to automatically surface the most critical tasks the moment a user logs in.
Google Inbox doesn't appear to support message encryption, the first line of defense for any confidential business correspondence.IBM Verse includes built-in advanced security features like channel encryption, policy management, end-point management, data wipes and other critical enterprise security protocols.
In addition IBM Verse in not being a new email client, evolves people beyond the unproductive use of email through fully integrating with IBM's entire suite of social collaboration tools including calendars, video messaging, blogging and more.  Google Inbox is really a siloed mail experience without much integration at all with Google's other calendar, social and cloud apps.
Finally, Google Inbox is optimized for mobile and works only via the Google browser in a desktop environment, which has the 'stretched out' feel of a mobile-only app.  With IBM Verse, the design team developed the desktop interface as a superset of the mobile experience, so it is optimized for larger screen real estate.
As with Google Inbox, there are a number of differences with what Microsoft is also doing with Microsoft Clutter.
Microsoft Clutter pushes 'spam' into an overload closet, only helping users identify what possibly isn't important.  It also treats all 'spam' the same, even informational emails that may be useful.  I do not believe that Microsoft Clutter helps users prioritize what really matters, nor does it help individuals track, manage or delegate tasks assigned to them.  With limited analytics and social collaboration integration, people are still required to do the heavy lifting in determining what is and what is not 'clutter’ and with Microsoft they still need to jump between other apps like Yammer, SharePoint, One Drive, etc.  to chat, share files, arrange meetings, etc.
Microsoft Office 365 - leverages three separate products to deliver what IBM does through its single IBM Connections Cloud Platform with IBM Verse as a key part.  Microsoft uses OneDrive for Business, SharePoint Document Libraries and the separate Yammer as storage solutions; 3 locations, 3 management practices. With IBM collaboration solutions, all files are located in one space. One copy, not multiple. And collaboration is undertaken on the physical knowledge record, not via email meaning all knowledge is captured, stored, indexed and secure.
Microsoft Office Graph and Delve –provides a very attractive front-end search the contents of Office 365 elements. However, as a Knowledge worker tool that provides all the information required to drive productivity, capture organisational knowledge and evolve people beyond the unproductive use of email for collaboration, towards more productive, social work practices, it misses the mark.
Whilst Microsoft Office Graph and Delve are appealing, they add an additional layer of complexity to an already complex Microsoft environment. Delve is first and foremost a great front end to a Search Engine that at this stage is very incomplete in only being available for one of the three storage receptacles Microsoft provide as a par of Office 365. Microsoft has provided yet another tool, and instead of looking at merging this technology into an existing user interface, like the email client, they've added to the already growing number of tools that a Knowledge worker would use.
  •      What the business world needs now is simplicity and a convergence of technologies; not another separate tool.
  •      What we need are Search Engine tools based upon Open Standards, so that interoperability is assured.
  •      We also want an easy way to collaborate with the people that matter to us most.
  •      Most importantly we want a way to take back control of our day, and ignoring the existing productivity issues brought through email is not going to make those issues go away.

The launch of IBM Verse expands upon IBM's recent initiatives designed to help change the way people work, industries operate and companies perform. 
  •      July 2014 Partnership with Apple to develop a new class of industry specific business apps to transform enterprise mobility. 
  •     September 2014 Watson Analytics to put powerful yet easy-to-use predictive and visual analytics tools in the palm of your hand,
  •      October 2014 IBM Navigator to boost personal and team productivity by allowing users to easily and securely access, edit and share business documents. 
  •      Most recently, the global partnership with Twitter to transform how businesses understand customers, markets and trends by using Twitter data to make more informed decisions. 

These and IBM Verse are intended to help enterprise customers unlock the full potential of professionals and the clients they serve.
I definitely see some very exciting times ahead.

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