IBM Labs unveils collaboration initiative

Innovation Factory uses social-networking technologies to help companies quickly conceive and test new products and services.
Written by Candace Lombardi, Contributor
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--IBM Labs launched a collaboration initiative on Wednesday designed to help companies speed product development by harnessing social networking.

Innovation Factory, which Big Blue is employing in its labs, uses social-networking technologies to help companies quickly conceive and test new products and services, promising to reduce a product's launch process from years to only days.

"There is a new openness at IBM about what we are doing in our labs," Irene Greif, IBM fellow and director of the collaborative user experience at IBM Research, said at a press conference.

IBM employees, Greif said, have begun using Web 2.0-style tools in Lotus and as standalone applications to collaborate within the company, share API and create more knowledge about what's going on in research.

Alistair Rennie, vice president of development and technical support for Lotus software, framed the changes as vital to keeping up with the next-generation workforce.

"People coming out of school expect to come into the workplace and use modern collaboration tools," Rennie said. "E-mail is for our generation, (instant messaging) is for college students, and high-school students will come in already used to Web 2.0-style social networking."

Rennie's sentiment was reflected in many of the Lotus products on display at the event, some of which had been debuted at Lotusphere in January.

• Craft, an automated mashup creator, makes self-updating queries for gathering information from network databases, RSS feeds and the Internet without the user having to know the proper way to formulate an old-fashioned query. Craft is capable of sophisticated associations for better searching, as well as suggestions for what other information a person might want to track.

• Many Eyes, a data-sharing site in public alpha since January, enables users to visually see associations within data sets. Users can, for example, look at Second Life residents by real-life country percentages or can see which people most often appear together in Bible verses. IBM Labs is now in the process of adding social-networking components to Many Eyes that should be fully in place by summer.

• Malibu, software currently being used by IBM employees to harness metadata, bares functional resemblance to Microsoft's Center for Information Work. It searches and pairs RSS feeds, e-mails, tasks and social bookmarks to easily search and manage the flow of information for an individual or group.

• The IBM OmniFind Discovery Edition is a search engine suited to retailers that uses semantic analysis and context clues to cut out the "did you mean?" error step sometimes made in search before getting results. It accepts natural language phrases, misspellings and literal parameters like "under $100." The user-friendly back end can be "programmed" by non-IT folks to boost certain items, change relevance and create targets.

"Collaborative research that is very applied and very user-facing is in need of being open and close to customers and end users," Greif said. "Because usually, widely deployed things are always behind what we are seeing in the labs."

While some money is allocated to research within the company, most projects are funded only as joint programs with other groups, Greif said.

Because of this, lots of things are done "on spec" and then shopped around to product groups within IBM or partner companies to garner funding for further development, Greif said.

The return to open collaboration helps with that process and also serves to showcase software in development to IBM clients.

Editorial standards