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IBM Connections 4.0

AuthorIBM
Version4.0
Linkwww.ibm.com
Similar SolutionsJive Social Business Software, Microsoft SharePoint 2013

The release of the 4.0 version of IBM Connections in September 2012 was a major step in the strengthening of IBM’s position in the social software market. By including social analytics, simplifying the mobile access for users by mobile apps for a variety of smartphones, extending the communities with metrics and reports for community owners and enhancing the activity stream capabilieties IBM further improves and completes its social business suite. Although the suite still suffers to some extent from its fundament of separated social software services, IBM proves with version 4.0 again that it is capable and willing to put it all together. In combination with other (IBM) software, in particular Filenet, Quickr, Sametime, Lotus Notes and Social Portal, IBM Connections can be extended to the most complete social software platform on the market.


IBM Connections - Use Cases

Enterprise Communication

IBM Connections 4.0 is well developed for Enterprise Communication. It offers an enterprise wide blog-platform on which every user can maintain personal blogs and participate in a group blog. All standard functionality for blogs is provided, including light publishing workflows, moderation, trackbacks and comments management. A blog can be created as single or multi author blog and different themes can be chosen. IBM Connections 4.0 has a comfortable blog editor which makes it easier to author blog entries and enhance them with pictures and videos. Auto-save saves your in-progress work and reminds you when you have unsaved work so you can resume editing. On every blog, similar entries are suggested automatically and topic-related links may be displayed prominently in the sidebar. The discussion forum within communities is simple but well structured. It is possible to subscribe to an RSS feed of a thread and receive notifications in case of new comments. Moreover Connections enables users to communicate their current status ore share files within the acitivity stream. With open API standards other applications can even be triggered via the activity-stream without leaving the conncetions application.

Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange

For Collaboration and Knowledge Exchange IBM Connections 4.0 offers workspaces called “communities”. These include forums (which can also be marked as a question), bookmarks, files, blogs (including ideation blogs), activities (task management), wikis, activity stream, events (as kind of an own community calendar) and a RSS reader. Additionally a community owner can get insightful reports on the activities of the community with the community metrics. Communities can be hierarchically structured by creating sub-communities. However, this can only be done by the community owner. The access level management is still thin (public, moderated, private – owner, member) and role-based user administration is not available. The roles of the members within a community for files, wiki and blog can be set to readers or authors. The broad range of social software functionality can be flexibly configured for a community via widgets. A recommendation widget suggests interesting communities to join based on existing community memberships, network connections and tags. The wiki is comparably strong for a suite-vendor, with a really good Rich Text Editor (RIT), version compare and hierarchical site structuring. File and task management is available on a basic level too and could be enhanced by integrating with SharePoint or Lotus Quickr. In addition, Connections offers desktop connectors for MS Office.

Social Networking and Expert Search

Originating from the famous IBM bluepages and thus equipped with more than 10 years of experience with virtual networking, the profile feature is the most advanced part within IBM Connections. It is business like functionally structured and contact information contains a freetext self-description, a profile guestbook and references to a user’s published content. Profiles can be tagged, display an employee in the organizational report chain and users may include external links for example to a LinkedIN profile or a personal blog. While all profiles can be visited, adding somebody else to one’s network requires approval. Probably the most important feature is the “business card” which displays profile and content information when hovering above a user’s name throughout the whole platform and in external applications, if integrated. Presence and instant messaging functionality can be added with Sametime. IBM Connections 4.0 offers new social analytics which help the user to expand and connect with her network by widgets that recommend people, show things in common as well as the social path that links to a person. IBM Connections includes an advanced people search, entering keywords in the normal search will match experts already, due to the strong relation of content and person on the platform.

Personal Information Management

Lotus Connections offers more than users might expect for Personal Information Management, but is not well enough organized. In addition to the eight separated social software services within the suite, which all have public and personal dashboards, a user has two top-level dashboards, one summarizing the personally relevant updates of all services in a stream and another one, which is customizable with widgets. The “dashboard overflow” comes from the fact that Connections started as a combination of loosely integrated separate social software features which still have their own databases and tag silos. So even if tagging is well implemented on the whole platform, its lack of integration makes it less valuable than it could be. The search function contributes to the impression of poor integration and the choice between searching the whole platform, one of the seven services, subparts of a service or using “advanced search” is confusing. Fewer dashboards, better organized and the same simplicity as with the ubiquitous available RSS feeds and Connections can be a champion in Personal Information Management.

Project Management

Though not explicitly supported, a project can be managed from one of the communities. Useful in that matter are activities (task & milestone management), files (file sharing space with version control), wikis (collaboration) and blogs (project blogs). While none of these services can compete with dedicated tools, they are valuable in their combination and good enough to coordinate team efforts. Especially task management is well-engineered as tasks can be grouped, hierarchically organized and enriched with comments, files and bookmarks. Very convenient is the function to generate a template from an existing activity which enables users to easily reuse standard task lists. The file management has been improved with regard to update notification, collection in and adding to folders and the sharing of personal files within a community. Furthermore, with Connections communities can be added to activities and access can be restricted to a subset of members as well as activities can be created for a community with a subset of members being owner, author or reader. As said before, Lotus Connections is not focusing on Project Management but a good enough solution to support it.



 

IBM Connections 4.0 – Technology and Product

 

 

Operational Flexibility

IBM stresses that IBM Connections is an independent product and can be integrated with MS Office and SharePoint, but choosing Connections means getting a whole package of IBM because Connections is bound to the IBM Websphere Application Server (WAS). IBM Connections 4.0 is a very mature social software suite but its full potential is unleashed in combination with Sametime (presence/IM), the IBM Websphere Portal (WPS), Lotus Quickr and Lotus Notes. Connections is a Java Application running in the WAS environment and works with various databases like DB2, MS SQL and Oracle. Scaling, clustering, backup and restoration are well handled by the WAS but need rather extensive knowledge for configuration. IBM Connections is available in 25 languages and can be accessed via the mobile browsers of Nokia phones (S60 platform) and iPhones (Safari). For Blackberrys, a special interface has been developed by RIM and IBM. With IBM Connections Version 4.0 mobile apps for a variety of smartphones and systems has been developed.

Customization & Extensibility

As indicated in Operational Flexibility, the functionality of IBM Connections can be extended by integrating with other IBM products like Sametime and Quickr. Some parts of Connections can be integrated into SharePoint and within communities it is possible to access Confluence Wikis. IBM also offers a Connections 4.0 plug-in for integration with MS Office which includes the use of profile information in Outlook and content creation (publishing) with Word. Within Connections, functionality could be extended by developing widgets which mash-up internal and or external data. Connections is more an out of the box tool and consequently customization is only possible to a limited extent. There are a few themes for blogs and communities but other customization, that goes deeper than simple CSS adjustments, is difficult. The personal dashboard and the features within a community are customizable with widgets and drag-and-drop positioning. With Connections APIs have been included which enable tracking of all data changes across the Connections applications and allow for an extension of the Blog and Activity Stream capabilities and the moderation capabilities to community files and forums.

Data & Security

IBM Connections supports Single Sign On (SSO) and can be integrated with a range of LDAP Servers including Microsoft’s Active Directory and Tivoli Directory Server. Access controls are mostly just public or private and a definition of user roles needs a complicated integration with the Websphere Portal Server (WPS). Backup and restoration are covered by the Websphere Application Server (WAS) in which Connections is deployed but there is no notion of content life-cycle management or other archiving.

Vendor Position
With their comprehensive social software suite IBM Connections 4.0, IBM is leading in the social software market together with Microsoft and JIVE. The further step ahead with the release of version 4.0 indicates that IBM is pushing Connections and eager to capitalize on their internal experience with social software. Based on market power and their communication which strongly promotes social software, we can assume that IBM will advance the development of Connections to strengthen their position. Besides showing off their internal success with social software, IBM can point to a number of enterprise wide Connections deployments. The strategy of the Lotus product family has been a little inconsistent, especially because Connections and Quickr are overlapping in functionality. It will be interesting to see if the products stay separated or will be merged in one big social software collaboration platform.

Support & Service

In the beginning IBM handled most implementations by themselves or relied on IBM Global Services for consultancy services, but recently they started to include more partners in the promotion and implementation of Connections 4.0. The corporation can leverage its well established global partner channel but with Connections being a rather new product, social software expertise among partners is only scarcely available. IBM has all the resources to provide good support for their products and after some initial difficulties, IBM seems to be committed to Connections and has invested stronger in support and services around the product. The online documentation of Lotus Connections is one of the best among social software vendors. A very handy offering for people who want to get hands on experience with the Lotus Connections 3.0 is the ability to test it online in the IBM greenhouse.

8 comments for “IBM Connections 4.0”

  1. Erica Redfield on 21. March 2011 10:47

    Keep up the great piece of work, I read few posts on this internet site and I think that your weblog is rattling interesting and holds lots of great information.

  2. Chris Lamb on 29. April 2011 14:29

    IBM recently release IBM Connection 3.01 with some exciting new features including a video gallery, improved moderation and ideation.
    http://www-01.ibm.com/common/ssi/cgi-bin/ssialias?subtype=ca&infotype=an&appname=iSource&supplier=897&letternum=ENUS211-081

  3. Jenny Meyer on 2. May 2011 14:55

    Dear Chris,

    thank you for adding the link to Lotus Connections 3.01 and its new features. We are aware of the release of Lotus Connections 3.01 and its new features. However, due to time and resource restrictions, we are only able to evaluate the full version releases.

    Best regards,
    Jenny

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