Today IBM announced the availability of IBM Verse, their new email client that aims to help people manage the email overload problem that many people struggle with. I provided my initial thoughts on Verse (please read!) after IBM’s launch event back in November 2014.
Given that five months have passed, I’d like to revisit some of the key points from that post and examine what progress has been made.
Who? What? Why?
> One of the most significant things about IBM Verse is the level of attention it has within IBM
IBM Verse combines communication and collaboration features with analytics that span several internal divisions of IBM. It’s good to see them working together, along with the IBM Design team and the SoftLayer team for hosting in the cloud.
As for marketing, IBM Verse has been shown at key IBM conferences, Mobile World Congress, CeBIT, SXSW and several IBM user groups around the globe. There is a dedicated IBM TV commercial about it, and IBM even had a skit about Verse run on the Jimmy Kimmell show. I’ll refrain from sharing my thoughts on that skit and let you make up your own mind.
While the breadth of marketing is a good thing, it brings to mind a very important question: “Who is the target audience?”
Is IBM Verse intended for:
- Personal (consumer) use or businesses? If businesses, enterprises? SMBs? If personal, why would anyone choose this offering over a competitive one like Gmail or Outlook
- Upgrade for existing Notes/Domino customers? If so, is the focus on moving to the cloud or waiting until Verse is available on-premises?
- Upsell for IBM Connections customers? Connections has always worked well with Microsoft shops, is the hope that Connections + Microsoft customers will now go fully IBM
- Migration of Google or Microsoft customers? While Verse is primarily focused on email today (there is some chat and file sharing capability) is the goal to compete with the more complete Microsoft and Google suites?
- Brand new customers? Is IBM hoping to entice brand new organizations as they make their initial IT decisions? Will these new companies even be looking at email solutions, or instead focus on newer forms of communication and collaboration?
IBM needs to have a clear answer for this, and can’t say “All of the above.” I am hearing from some IBM Business Partners that they are getting inquires from small customers who are currently using Microsoft or Google’s products. However, I believe the vast majority of Verse customers will be those that have both Notes/Domino and Connections, and are looking to modernize their IT and end-user experiences.
Delivering On Vision
> The concepts behind IBM Verse are not solely focused on creating a better email client.
> While IBM Verse offers a vastly improved experience over existing IBM products, it is not yet a major leap forward in changing the way people work.
While the first manifestation of Verse is email-centric, IBM does have a broader vision for encompassing additional forms of communication and collaboration. I understand IBM needed a start
ing point, and email is a good one as it is still the primary communication tool used by businesses around the world today. However, given the marketing hype around #NewWayToWork and the impressive size of IBM’s Design team, I am disappointed in v1.0 of Verse. This was a good opportunity for a new starting point in communication and collaboration, but instead it’s essentially a bit better inbox than what exists today in iNotes. My major concern is that there very little #NewWayToWork about it.
- Change the way Sales Professionals build pipelines, complete RFPs and close deals?
- Enable Marketing teams to run campaigns more effectively?
- Assist Support organizations in resolving customer issues faster?, etc.
Not today, as email is just one component in getting work done. Verse currently does not factor in social networking, task management and enterprise business process software. Verse does not provide a new “starting point for the day” that aggregates together all the information people need to get their job done. Today it’s a better inbox. That’s a good thing, but it’s not a #NewWayToWork. One of my primary research areas is the intersection of social and analytics. The combination of these two areas has potential to significantly improve the way people work. IBM is in a good position to leverage their vast analytics capabilities, but the current version of Verse offers very little in this area.
Help From Your Friends
> IBM BlueMix will provide the application development capabilities for business partners to expand and integrate the features of IBM Verse.
One of the keys to the success of a platform is the depth and reach of its partner ecosystem. In the early days of Notes/Domino, IBM built a huge base of business partners. Similarly, other enterprise software vendors like Microsoft and Salesforce rely heavily on their partners to sell, support and extend their platforms. IBM needs to do the same with Verse. At launch, the partners for Verse are ones that can assist in migrating customers to the cloud. That is a very logical starting point, but IBM needs to heavily invest in getting partners to create additional features, admin tools, security products, and other extensions to Verse.
Thankfully, IBM BlueMix is positioned to provide the platform for these partners. In the past, Lotus Notes/Domino was sort of an island in the vast sea of IBM products. But now BlueMix is a single platform where developers can leverage features of Connections, Watson Analytics and more. I am hopeful that IBM can entice business partners to build on the Verse platform similar to how Microsoft, Google and Salesforce have done with their partner ecosystems.
The First Verse in a Long Journey
My recommendation is that existing IBM customers speak to their account teams about IBM Verse’s roadmap and where it fits into their 2015/16 IT plans. As others such as Volker Weber have pointed out the features and user experience of Verse are not ready for prime time usage yet. You can read Volker's posts here: Verse Beyond Powerpoint, What IBM should do to improve IBMVerse.com, No more talk about IBM Verse Freemium. Currently, I don't see Verse as a compeling enough platform to warrant enterprise wide migration from a competitive communication, collaboration and productivity platform.
While IBM’s vision is solid, th
ey need to improve on their execution and do so quickly. Their competitors are all working on next generation collaboration platforms as well, so 2015 is a critical year for locking down customers. IBM has excellent assets available to them in security, cloud hosting, analytics, mobile and design, so I look forward to seeing how quickly IBM can interate on Verse and create a compelling experience that matches the vision.