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IBM Enhances Social Networking with Lotus Connections 2.0

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The new release focuses on improved customization, interoperability, and enhanced management of the user's most relevant information.

 

IBM this week released Lotus Connections 2.0, an enhanced version of what is now the fastest-growing software product in IBM's history.

 

Social networking, which made headlines with YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook, is now finding its niche in the business world. Connections 2.0 is a stable and secure platform for connecting people with each other in ways that increase the speed of decision-making and bring the necessary resources and skills together to accomplish the job, whatever that job may be. Whether an organization is 5,000 people or just five people, there is a module in Lotus Connections that it can use to help solve its problems.

 

"Social networking is the new frontier in business collaboration," says Jeff Schick, vice president of social software for IBM.

 

Social networking is what Connections is all about, and now it is comprised of not five, but six modules with the latest one just being added in release 2.0, the new Home Page. Others are Profiles, Communities, Blogs, Dogear, and Activities. A new search feature spans them all and identifies the content, titles, descriptions, and tags of all the services and then rank orders the results based on who is in your network.

 

If connecting with people you don't already know really isn't your thing, think of Lotus Connections as a better way to manage information. One of the reasons that Connections has caught on is that information workers today are in a chronic state of information overload. There is too much information "out there" for people to handle. The Internet can be a tremendous waste of precious time if you let it distract your attention from what you are trying to use it to accomplish. Information overload is today's bane of operational efficiency and is costing businesses, as well as individuals, dearly. Dealing with this problem is within the realm of what's known as Enterprise Attention Management, and it's what's behind the theory of Lotus Connections.

 

Connections gives people new tools to manage information in ways that elevate the useful, relevant facts and demote less relevant information, facts that apply to someone else. Information, like food, is very personal, and you want to consume only that which contributes to your nutritional--or psychological--wellbeing. Connections helps you filter out the foods you wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole from those items you need but didn't know where to find.

 

The new Connections Home Page gives users a personalized environment in order to better see what is relevant to them. It provides a place to facilitate personally relevant information being pushed to them through the use of specific widgets. A number of these are included with the application, but users are expected to drag in their own, such as Google Gadgets, and can even build their own with Connections tools.

 

The latest release of Connections provides many more opportunities to customize the type of information users have available to them and to deliver it when and how they choose. Activities can be customized by users, who can create an activity that they share with other people. An activity might contain emails, instant message transcripts, files, or to-dos all relevant to the team working on that particular activity. Everyone invited into that activity then gets to work together on whatever common project is at hand.

 

"In [Connections] R1, activities were starting to get enormous since people really were relying on them to get discrete tasks done," says Suzanne O. Minassian, product manager for Lotus Connections. In R2.0, users have the ability to customize activities far more than they did in the first release. They can create a temporary space as well as take pieces of information that are critical to getting an activity completed and make a template. That way, the work that went into solving a problem can be saved and reused by someone else the next time it comes up.

 

So R2 focuses on improved attention management and more sophisticated customization. It also integrates better with other applications such as Lotus Sametime, IBM's unified communications application that can integrate telephony, email, instant messaging, Web conferencing, and even audio-video. This integration gives users powerful abilities to communicate with each other and in groups by opening up a real-time channel on which they can send broadcast messages in real time to the entire community. Developers built Connections with open standards so it can hook into other applications with common APIs. Minassian says even Rim has built a link to the Blackberry device now, and she used it to look up information at a recent trade show and provide an accurate and timely answer to a client's product question.

 

"What we want to avoid is integration that will have to be done over and over again as we have more and more tools that communities will want to bring into the picture," says Minassian. "What we're trying to do is bring them in in a standard way." In addition, all the user interfaces for the various services in Connections 2.0 have been streamlined, and common components are shared across them.

 

Lotus doesn't have hard numbers to give people on the ROI of Connections, but Minassian likens the question to asking how much money does email or instant messaging save? She shared a story of how the Federal Aviation Administration is using Connections to speed up the procurement process following severe damage from bad weather. Workers can attach an invoice to an activity that a manager already is working on and get an approval far faster than going through the traditional means. Minassian says that most customers buying Connections (a perpetual license for a single user is $110, but businesses can purchase the Profiles or Activities component for $55) are large companies, but not always. "We have one customer with 12 employees," she says. Smaller companies may pick one or two components that best fit their needs.

 

Many people ask whether users have to be running Lotus Notes in order to deploy Lotus Connections; the answer is no. An application server is all that is required, such as WebSphere Application Server (not to be confused with WebSphere Portal, which isn't required either). Connections does require a database, but it comes with a license for DB2. However, it also supports Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server.

 

Users undoubtedly will be hearing more about social software in the future and can get a closer look by registering at the Lotus Greenhouse, where prospective clients get to test the various modules.

Chris Smith

Chris Smith was the Senior News Editor at MC Press Online from 2007 to 2012 and was responsible for the news content on the company's Web site. Chris has been writing about the IBM midrange industry since 1992 when he signed on with Duke Communications as West Coast Editor of News 3X/400. With a bachelor's from the University of California at Berkeley, where he majored in English and minored in Journalism, and a master's in Journalism from the University of Colorado, Boulder, Chris later studied computer programming and AS/400 operations at Long Beach City College. An award-winning writer with two Maggie Awards, four business books, and a collection of poetry to his credit, Chris began his newspaper career as a reporter in northern California, later worked as night city editor for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, and went on to edit a national cable television trade magazine. He was Communications Manager for McDonnell Douglas Corp. in Long Beach, Calif., before it merged with Boeing, and oversaw implementation of the company's first IBM desktop publishing system there. An editor for MC Press Online since 2007, Chris has authored some 300 articles on a broad range of topics surrounding the IBM midrange platform that have appeared in the company's eight industry-leading newsletters. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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