ConnectED 2015: IBM Goes Freemium with Verse
By Jim Lundy
At the IBM ConnectED event in Orlando, FL this week, IBM announced they will offer a freemium model of Verse before the end of Q1. It will have certain limitations around file sharing and storage.
While we noted a lack of an overall cohesive IBM strategy clearly laid out, it was clear they fully realized Verse as a freemium model is unchartered territory for them. It’s in full a reaction to moves by Microsoft and Google on cloud email. IBM will need to articulate the clear strategy here relative to its broader portfolio.
We’re seeing traditional companies trying new approaches and business strategies to increase their competitive advantage and remain relevant in the ever changing technology landscape. IBM’s Verse offering aims to revolutionize email combining social, real-time, analytics, and asynchronous capabilities.
Verse: The Enterprise Collaboration Hub
It’s been an ongoing debate whether email or some other environment will be the main hub for collaboration and where people live. IBM is making the case that since people live in email, the enterprise collaboration and communication hub should at least be deeply integrated with it. It also needs to be accessible on mobile devices and designed with mobile users in mind.
While email integration is crucial, also important is integration with other business applications. Verse does boast integration across the IBM portfolio. This does mean though that IBM still has multiple entry points for communications and collaboration. Sametime, Connections, and Notes are still standalone interfaces. Verse can potentially become the central UI for collaboration and a single pane of glass for organizing your work and interactions.
Verse for SMBs
IBM noted Verse will compete with Gmail from Google. Verse will also be courting the SMB buying center, which IBM has not traditionally sold to. This marks a new strategy for IBM and what makes this announcement so very interesting.
The success of Gmail in the enterprise is the very strategy IBM is using now. The freemium model allowed consumers and small businesses to utilize Gmail free of charge. Small businesses get free email, then as they grew, they ended up growing up with Gmail. If IBM is to be successful here, it will have to make the experience just as seamless as Gmail and reconsider storage limitations for Verse.
Emerging players in the mobile collaboration space such as Slack are gaining mindshare and changing the conversation around what users expect from productivity tools on their mobile device. IBM is trying to switch from just providing an application and telling users what they want to fully understanding what users want and designing around that.
Besides bringing together social and real-time capabilities in one environment, I believe Verse’s key differentiator is in the analytics. Leveraging Watson analytics capabilities turns Verse into an intelligent assistant which can give IBM a very competitive edge. Verse can prioritize and as it learns your patterns, can recommend things to you.
The predictive analytics piece is the hero here. This is what IBM arguably knows more than most.
While Verse also has advanced search capabilities, it’s the leveraging of analytics to know your preferences, thus prioritizing your tasks, access to content, and communications capabilities in context that is the big differentiator. Contextual collaboration is not a new concept, but making your collaboration tools smarter brings a wave of intelligence to it that is very new.
Challenges and Opportunities
It won’t be an easy road in the very competitive cloud email and collaboration space, but if IBM can change the conversation to context and intelligent analytics, they can achieve some success here. Basically, it’s a collaboration environment that knows you enough to give you a better integrated experience.
Again, a freemium Verse offer is targeted at a fairly new customer base than IBM is used to selling to. However, what the cloud has shown us, is that even in larger enterprises, lines of business and different departments often act as little SMBs with the power of a credit card to buy anything cloud-based. IBM will need that kind of disruption outside of traditional Notes or IBM shops.
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