Increasingly, consumers are sharing information online using technologies such as blogs, wikis, and activity streams. IBM Connections builds upon these familiar technologies but is social software designed for business. IBM Connections empowers you to be more innovative and helps you execute more quickly by using dynamic networks of colleagues, partners, and customers. It helps create an environment that facilitates collaboration and innovation. Teams—even those dispersed across the globe—can work together, breaking down the organizational silos of information.
IBM Connections has several social software capabilities, including the ability to tag, contribute, bookmark, discover documents through search, and connect to colleagues. IBM Connections has an intuitive user interface (UI) that is familiar to users of popular consumer social sites, thus increasing user adoption. In addition, IBM Connections includes mobile feature so that you can share and consume information on the go using many of the popular mobile devices on the market today.
IBM Connections can serve as a social layer for popular business applications such as Microsoft SharePoint Server or provide social tools to custom applications using the application programming interface that the IBM Connections platform provides.
You can customize IBM Connections to meet unique business requirements by changing the UI, adding custom features to applications, and integrating Profiles with external data sources.
The benefits you can realize from adopting social software include the following:
- Faster task execution through quick access to information from an expanded professional network.
- Increased efficiency and effectiveness of business processes using existing skills discovered through your professional network.
- Confident decision-making, knowing decisions were vetted by experts across the organization and reflect past experience.
- Innovative products and services developed using the experiences and knowledge of communities of employees, partners, and customers.
- Sustainable competitive advantage created by leveraging innovation from across your value chain and building stronger relationships.
- Access to your social data while on the go.
In addition to gains in productivity, social tools can provide return on investment in the following ways:
- Reduce interruptions with silent sharing.
- Unlock content for email, network drives, and personal hard drives.
- Avoid loss of knowledge as employees leave or retire.
- Easily keep a pulse of the team or company.
Finally, to help ease the migration of information from email to a new collaboration repository, you can configure preferences to indicate whether you want to receive individual emails, a daily newsletter, or a weekly newsletter.
IBM Connections includes social analytics tools in the form of widgets. These widgets use the existing relationships between users and content in IBM Connections to help you discover a person connected to other users and content and suggest network contacts and content that might interest you.
The social analytics widgets display different types of information. Some widgets recommend content or people, while others display information about how you are connected to other people or content in the organization based on your existing memberships, network connections, and tags. The recommendations are randomized to ensure that you see different options each time you log in.
The following analytic widgets are available:
- Do You Know
- Things in Common
- Who Connects Us
IBM Connections consists of a set of independent, yet integrated social applications. These applications are integrated using a common set of services, such as search and tagging. The applications included with IBM Connections are Profiles, Communities, Blogs, Files, Wikis, Activities, Bookmarks, Forums, Home Page, and Mobile.
The Profiles application provides a corporate directory and the foundation for the other applications in the product. User profiles include photos, contact information, skill expertise, and tags. You can find the required expertise using search, tagging, or network connections.
You have the option to update your personal information in the Profiles directory using the included IBM Tivoli® Directory Integrator to populate automatically from one or more existing systems, such as a custom human resources database or even Active Directory® Domain Services. You can customize the Profiles page by adding new fields and different layouts based on the type of employees (see Figure 1).
The Profiles page
The Profiles application also provides a micro-blogging platform. These status updates allow you to post short messages and comment on messages that others post. These posts are helpful for asking questions or keeping a pulse on the activities of the team or company.
The Communities application supports the creation of a common area for groups or teams with a similar interest or responsibility to collaborate. Each community can include each IBM Connections application scoped to a particular group of people. So, a community can have its own blog, wiki, activities, forum, and media gallery. Communities can be publicly open for other people to join, or membership can be restricted by the community owner.
The Blogs module provides a full-featured blogging platform for sharing ideas across teams or companies. Blog posts can be created using IBM Connections or with third-party blogging tools. Blog posts can be tagged, recommended, and include thread commenting.
A special type of blog called an ideation blog has the same feature as the regular blog but includes a voting facility. You can then turn the popular ideas into activities for implementation.
The Files application is a file-sharing tool meant to reduce the amount of information locked in email or file systems. You can share files with others or keep private versions. Files can be tagged, versioned, and searched. Commenting is supported, along with the ability to see who has downloaded the file.
The Wiki application provides an online method for co-writing pages. Wikis are commonly used to create online documentation that is easy to update and search compared with documents stored in email or on a file system.
Individuals, groups, or communities can create and update their own wiki content. Page revision history is stored, so versions can be compared or reverted to. Also, pages support commenting, tagging, and rating.
The Activities module facilitates the ad hoc creation of small group projects. Activities are typically used for projects that require more than one person working on a set of tasks. The team can share tasks, emails, and documents, all in a common project area.
The Bookmarks application is a social bookmarking tool used to share links across an organization. Bookmarks can be added using the IBM Connection web interface or through a bookmarklet for the popular web browsers.
The Forums application allows you to create threaded discussions to discuss ideas or ask questions. In previous version of IBM Connections, forums were limited for use inside communities; but now, stand-alone forums can be used outside of the IBM Communities applications.
The Home Page application serves as the IBM Connections landing page and shows streams of activity from all of the other applications. The activity streams can be filtered to show the entire organization or just the network of your colleagues.
The Mobile application provides a mobile-friendly site for small form factor devices (see Figure 2). Mobile devices with a basic web browser can use the mobile site to access each IBM Connections application.
The IBM Connections Mobile app
In addition, IBM publishes native mobile applications for Apple® iPhone®, Apple iPad®, and Google™ Android™ devices. These applications are available for download from the respective application stores.
IBM Connections was designed to be more than just a set of web applications for sharing information: It is a platform for collaboration. As such, IBM Connections can be integrated with many common software tools, making information and knowledge sharing more readily available. The following integration points allow you to work in already-familiar tools, thus increasing the user adoption rate and value of social software.
IBM provides several sidebar plug-ins for IBM Lotus Notes that work with IBM Connections information. These plug-ins are freely available from the IBM Collaboration Solutions Catalog (see Resources for a link):
- IBM Connections 3.0.1 Status Updates Plug-in for Lotus Notes. The Status Updates plug-in allows you to post and follow status updates in the Lotus Notes sidebar. You can view the status update streams from people in your network or that you are following. In addition, you can use this plug-in to comment on status updates or on someone's board.
- IBM Connections 3.0.1 Files Plug-in for Lotus Notes. The Files plug-in allows you to access and share files directly from the Lotus Notes client. You can drag email attachments to the sidebar to publish files to the IBM Connections server. Also, you can search files and send file links using this plug-in.
- Activities plug-in. The Activities plug-in is an optional feature that you can select during Lotus Notes installation. This plug-in allows you to manage Activities tasks and entries in the sidebar. Activities information can even be taken offline with this plug-in.
IBM provides two types of integration with IBM WebSphere Portal: portlets and business card integration. You can download a set of portlets from the IBM Collaboration Solutions Catalog. These portlets provide the following functionality:
- Tag Cloud
Moreover, the source code is available in the download package, so you can customize the portlets using the IBM Web Experience Factory.
The IBM Connections Profile business card can be surfaced in WebSphere Portal. This card allows quick access to information about a person and his or her associated content in IBM Connections directly from a Portal page.
You can integrate the document management features of IBM Lotus Quickr™, allowing community members to share files and collaborate on documents from a central location. Communities associated with a team place in Lotus Quickr can aggregate updates in the community overview page, making it easier to stay current with projects and work collaboratively.
The IBM Connections Activities feature can also be integrated with Lotus Quickr, allowing you to publish documents from an Activity to a Lotus Quickr place.
IBM Cognos® 10 allows you to share insights and solicit ideas with the broad set of social networking capabilities that IBM Connections provides. Integrated access to blogs, wikis, and message boards enable you to expand the reach and impact of your information and gather input from different perspectives.
The overall result is that by integrating social software as part of Cognos, you can shorten the time to make decisions, improve the quality of those decisions, and develop a corporate memory.
IBM Rational Team Concert™ (RTC) integration brings profile information into the RTC environment. In addition, communities can be assigned to projects and work items associated with tasks, allowing business stakeholders to collaborate in IBM Connections while the application developers work in RTC.
You can integrate IBM Connections with IBM Sametime® in a couple of ways, with or without using the Sametime Connect client. First, you can enable Sametime presence awareness and basic chat features in the Profiles application. Doing so allows the online status to display on the Profiles page or in the business card.
Second, using the Sametime Connect client, users can quickly find and share information with various IBM Connections features. For example, after completing a chat, users can immediately save that chat into an activity, making the chat transcript available for other interested users to read.
In addition, from within their Sametime buddy list, users can see more detailed information about other users through the IBM Connections Profiles business card. They can hover over a name in their buddy list and get this information directly in the Sametime Connect client without having to look the user up in Profiles.
IBM provides two plug-ins with which you can integrate with the Windows® operating system. The IBM Connections Desktop Plug-ins for Microsoft Windows integrate directly into Windows Explorer®, while the IBM Connections Plug-in for Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows adds social capabilities to Microsoft Office applications such as Word and Outlook®.
The Desktop plug-in (see Figure 3) for Windows provides the following features from Windows Explorer:
- Upload files for personal use or to share with others.
- Upload files to a community or attach them to an activity.
- Share existing IBM Connections files with other users or with a community.
- Drag files from your desktop to IBM Connections Files or to a community.
- View and manage versions of your files.
- Add comments to files or recommend files.
- Edit and publish local drafts to IBM Connections.
- Pin or follow folders and files for easier tracking.
- View business cards for people, and invite them to your network.
- Easily access all IBM Connections features via browser links.
Windows Explorer with the IBM Connections Desktop plug-in
The IBM Connections 3.0.1 Plug-in for Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows lets you add Microsoft Office documents to an activity, create To Dos for Activities users, post a Word document to a blog, or search IBM Connections for a person's profile or other content. Using this plug-in, you can perform the following tasks:
- Add a Word document to an IBM Connections activity, blog, or wiki.
- Add a Microsoft Office Excel® spreadsheet or PowerPoint® slide deck to an activity.
- Add a URL as an IBM Connections bookmark.
- Insert a bookmark from IBM Connections in a Microsoft Office document.
- Insert data from an IBM Connections profile into a Word document.
- Add a file to an activity from Windows Explorer.
IBM Connections is social software for business, providing many ways to introduce new social tools to your environment or enhance existing software with more powerful collaborative capabilities. IBM Connections provides a platform for collaboration that is easily extended to meet your business requirements and integrate into existing business processes.
Check out the IBM
Find technical information at the IBM
Connections product documentation page.
Try IBM Connections on the Lotus
Visit the Business
Intelligence website to learn how Cognos and IBM Connections work together.
Go to the Jazz.net
website for information about RTC social connectors.
Get products and technologies
Download and try out the plug-ins, connectors, and widgets discussed in this introduction from
IBM Collaboration Solutions Catalog:
- IBM Connections 3.0.1 Status Updates Plug-in for Lotus Notes
- IBM Connections 3.0.1 Files Plug-in for Lotus Notes
- IBM Lotus Connections Connector for Lotus Quickr
- IBM Connections 3.0.1 Portlets for WebSphere Portal
- IBM Connections Desktop Plug-in for Microsoft Windows
- IBM Connections 3.0.1 Plug-in for Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows
- IBM Lotus Connections Plug-in for Microsoft SharePoint
- IBM Lotus Connections Widget for Microsoft SharePoint
- Participate in the discussion forum.
Participate in the IBM Connections
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Get involved in the My
developerWorks community. Connect with other developerWorks users while
exploring the developer-driven blogs, forums, groups, and wikis.
Brian Ochs is a solution architect at Software Information Systems, an IBM Premier Business Partner. He specializes in customer implementations of IBM Connections and IBM WebSphere Portal. He has been working with Connections since the initial release and is the coauthor of the IBM Connections 3.0.1 Customization Redbook.