My colleague Jon Mell in his 'Social Collaboration' blog discusses five myths of social software. I'd like to share a story supporting his debunking of Myth #1 It's all about Facebook as well as Myth #2 It's all about Generation Y. One of my many hats is being an IBM "Lab Advocate" for several accounts. Lab Advocates help customers and partners leverage our portfolio of offerings. The relationship is often supported by a non-disclosure agreement allowing the Lab Advocate to disclose future plans and helping the customer or partner position themselves to take advantage of new products and releases. One of my accounts is a large Partner covering multiple countries and partnering with multiple hardware and software vendors. We had a competitive situation there last year, in which Lotus Connections and a competing product both vied for their choice of a social software solution. The existing environment already had many components within it from the competing vendor, so proposing Lotus Connections was raising eyebrows. It was viewed as a new species. But an internal group had conducted a Proof of Concept (PoC) exercise with release 2.5. They were preparing their report to the executive leadership team, when I first met them to help position Connections. Like many "lab rats", I know much more about our own product than I do about the competing product. I reached out to the Connections team, but they were in a critical customer meeting introducing the beta release of version 3.0 right at the only time I could schedule the Partner to go over this. So I clearly needed to very quickly come up to speed myself on how to competitively position Connections versus this particular competing product.
That's when "Connections helped Connections".
Within our own internal (w3) deployment of Connections, I was able to quickly find the Product Management community for Lotus, join it, and locate a competitive comparison between Connections and the competing product, which in turn enabled me to make substantial arguments to the account in favor of our product. This would have taken much, much longer without Connections, and I would not have had my arguments in time. Thankfully, our Product Management team had decided to share their insight. by posting an excellent write-up comparing the two products. The same outcome would flat-out not have been possible in the competing product, because they don't have the concept of joining a community at will. They require a system administrator to grant access to each 'site', which is inherently less social, and which takes more time. In addition, search in the competing product is done one site at a time, so if you don't know where to look in their solution, you're up the creek without a paddle. Connections is so much smarter, and so much more social, because it is built as a social software solution from the ground up, rather than being an existing solution re-purposed to become more 'social'.
Because of my intervention and the plans I shared around the upcoming release 3.0, which we eventually launched in November 2010, the Partner decided to continue their release 2.5 PoC into a release 3.0 beta deployment. Did I mention the vast majority of the Partner's software driven revenue is from non-IBM products today? That certainly causes a challenge for us, but it also makes it extra exciting to grow our relationship based on excellent products like Connections, and based on the efforts of passionate colleagues willing to share their insight.