Will IBM compete with Facebook/Web 2.0?

Summary:Earlier today I had a fascinating Skype conversation with Luis Suarez, a knowledge management consultant with IBM. We were chewing the fat over topic du jour Facebook/Web 2.

Earlier today I had a fascinating Skype conversation with Luis Suarez, a knowledge management consultant with IBM. We were chewing the fat over topic du jour Facebook/Web 2.0 and how that compares with Notes. I'm not a Notes fan. Not because it is clunky (which versions prior to v.8 most certainly were) but because of the relatively high cost of maintaining the environment. Luis countered by arguing that the current version of Notes is far more feature rich and can represent a single, secure environment where users get their email, browse and consume applications. Score one to Luis.

I then countered with a story about a very large consulting practice that refused to sanction the implementation of Web 2.0 blog/wiki, not because the proposed alternative was flawed but because the investment in Notes was too high to be dumped. In this case, the organisation was writing off its Notes investment over many years and to rip and replace would have incurred a massive hit. This type of practical dilemma creates significant roadblocks for organisations faced with the onslaught of free or low cost services like Facebook.

I have for instance seen several cases in very large, well known companies where social computing projects have been rejected because the software is free. This doesn't make sense at a time when you can negotiate discounts of up to 90% for SAP and Oracle licenses. More important, it brings into stark relief the value of delivered software. When it is clear that social computing is transforming people's lives, how will organizations and their vendor partners respond? Right now there are no clear indications which is one reason so many projects I see are at best tactical. Out of the spotlight means out of trouble.

As our conversation meandered around this topic, I asked Luiz what happens to pricing if IBM gets serious about the social computing space? If for example it was to bring out something akin to IBM/SAP's Harmony but with all the developer openness of Facebook what happens to the price book?

Luis agreed that IBM has a problem because it is not noted for being inexpensive. In one sense that's OK because the brand has value in many a large corporation. But if Facebook wakes up and smells the corporate dollars that 'could' be snatched from the likes of IBM/SAP/Oracle it is hard to see how IBM in particular can avoid responding. Score one to me.

The obvious play would be to go 'free' on the software but retain the consulting opportunity. Regardless of how easy it is to implement social software, there is no way to avoid the pitfalls of project management as Mike Krigsman succinctly points out.

Fascinating though the conversation was - Luis is a truly engaging person - one has to wonder how long it will be before IBM gets its social computing act together. Earlier this year, Jeff Nolan, commenting on a piece that Dan Farber penned about Harmony said:

...it’s absolutely criminal that something this interesting couldn’t get developed and into customer hands more quickly...Linkedin is doing something like $15+ million a year in revenue, and growing fast, with their service yet SAP stood around and ignored something that went right to the core of what HR systems are supposed to enable: people development. The big HR systems vendors could own this space if they could see that HR systems are about a lot more than managing transactions and "talent management" systems that average people can’t figure out how to use anyway.

Since Jeff wrote that piece, the world has changed and if the big vendors were thinking LinkedIn was a potential threat and have still failed to deliver a demonstrably acceptable response, then what are they making of Facebook and its ilk? If they think that their answer is to throw out 'security' as a scare tactic I suspect they will be in for a nasty surprise.

A lot of developers are looking at this problem and to that point I recently came across Phuser (pronounced fuzer.) It is a lot like Basecamp but with much more flexible security. In email conversation, George Black, Phuser's CEO says:

You can divide your network into any number of groups, each group is either Open, Closed or Private. Any person in your network can belong to any number of these groups. person in a Closed group can only see the other people in that group

People in Open groups can see everyone in their Open group and any other Open group. Private groups are a special case for schools/minors where it is like a Closed group but people can only see limited details of the other people.

So, take a person in a company with client projects. They can create two closed groups for two projects and keep them *completely* separate.

At the moment Phuser is in closed beta (I can obtain access codes if anyone wants to try it out.) A first glance suggests this service is a promising addition to the Facebook/Plaxo/LinkedIn melange and goes a long way to solving the open/closed discussion. IBM...are you taking notice?

Topics: IBM

About

Dennis Howlett has been providing comment and analysis on enterprise software since 1991 in a variety of European trade and professional journals including CFO Magazine, The Economist and Information Week. Today, apart from being a full time blogger on innovation for professional services organisations, he is a founding member of Enterpri... Full Bio

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