Mills Spikes Consumer Social Software For IBM

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — IBM  currently has no plans to
challenge Google, Yahoo and others in the consumer market for social
networking, according to Steve Mills, senior vice president and group
executive for IBM’s Software Group.

Mills, speaking during an event here in IBM’s research lab to demonstrate
the company’s existing and in-development social networking software, said
he didn’t think IBM needs to extend its wiki and mashup technologies to the
consumer sphere.

Mills said businesses are looking for trustworthy products, such as IBM
Lotus Notes or Lotus Sametime, and suggested that social networking
“freeware” from Google or Yahoo, while great for home use, may have
unpredictable outcomes.

“There is a level of industrial strength that’s demanded within business
because time is money…” Mills said. “There’s a very different and distinct
set of characteristics for these kinds of technologies in business as
compared to the stateless, public Internet. We can’t confuse these things.”

IDC analyst Frank Gens said IBM is perfectly set up to play the role of a
company that makes these technologies safe and industrial strength for an
enterprise environment.

But he also questioned whether or not IBM can play that role successfully in
the long term if they are not also successfully competing around those
technologies in the consumer market, which is where the innovation and
adoption is rampant.

“Can they just wait for the technology to emerge in the space they’re not
playing in and say ‘now we’ll take it’?” Gens asked. “Because the
companies, whether it’s Google, Yahoo or the countless number of Web 2.0
companies that are consumer oriented, are not just going to stay in that
consumer market.”

Google , Yahoo  and other smaller
players are currently duking it out in the social-networking software arena,
acquiring companies and writing software that lets consumers keep blogs
, wikis  and composite applications called
mashups .

These tools provide other venues for groups of Web users to interact with
each other and share information.

IBM is building similar tools; the key difference is IBM envisions such
software as helping corporate employees, particularly those spread out in
remote areas of the world, more quickly and efficiently work together on
team projects.

For example, one of the products demoed at the event was Lotus Sametime
7.5.1, a point upgrade for the company’s instant messaging client that will
go live in a couple of weeks. This upgrade will feature live video so
workers can see each other as they are chatting, along with Macintosh PC
support and integration with Microsoft Outlook.

That is the type of social networking and collaboration IBM is interested

Mills said CIOs are focused on the ability to integrate
business processes and shared services. For many businesses in competition, collaboration will be the difference maker, he added. Social-networking technologies are going to play a role in that.

“Smart CIOs look at this not just in the context of something that happens
in the consumer world that teenagers may be in love with but that has the
same paradigm apply in business because businesses have purpose-based
problems of a similar nature,” Mills said.

IBM’s researchers are looking to solve those problems.

Big Blue faces competition in the enterprise social-networking tools market from Oracle, which launched
WebCenter Suite earlier this year and BEA, which earlier this week introduced three new collaboration tools for programmers at O’Reilly’s ETech

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