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COMPANIES and organizations will be increasingly forced to embrace social business and import the 'wisdom of the crowd' into their internal operations after IBM's landmark Lotusphere 2012 conference, held last month, radically lowered the barriers to adopting collaborative technologies.

While social media has become the buzz term of the year, it makes sense that no enterprise can succeed socially unless it becomes a social business internally. A survey conducted by IBM last year found that, indeed, most companies were failing in their social media strategies. But as Gartner analysts have pointed out: "By 2014, refusing to communicate with customers via social channels will be as harmful as ignoring emails or phone calls is today." Failure is not an option for an enterprise that wants to survive, let alone to thrive. And despite the hype, social media is just one (albeit fashionable) facet of an enterprise (the marketing side); social business comprises the totality of its digital experiences, encompassing all the interactions between customers and staff. Social media is just the tip of the social business iceberg.

"Social business is more than a Facebook page or a Twitter account," goes the official IBM line. "It's how you deepen customer relationships, drive operational efficiencies, and optimize the workforce." Social business is the latest great frontier, and 2012 has been proclaimed its breakout year. It was fitting therefore, and also somewhat ironic, that IBM made social business the theme of its 19th Lotusphere gathering, held at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Ironic, because on more than one occasion in the past, IBM has been dismissed as a dinosaur, and a fading power. The lesson from the recent Lotusphere, therefore, is that if an enterprise as old and cumbersome as Big Blue can successfully reinvent itself as a social business, then surely any enterprise can. Collaboration, both internally and externally, is the key.

As Colin Neagle wrote in Network World: "IBM's social business ventures will involve the use of tools normally reserved to social networking sites - such as instant messages, wikis, crowdsourcing and microblogs - within internal enterprise collaboration software. Many of these tools are found in IBM Connections, a collaboration suite designed to facilitate communications across an enterprise. At this year's conference, IBM will be launching an initiative to help customers and business partners integrate social tools into their current communications infrastructure."

If you want to stay on the ball in the interconnected 2010s, you're going have to embrace social media!
The new Connections suite comes with a bundle of features like Connections Mail, SmartCloud for Social Business, and can be integrated with other IBM products. Writing on Social Media Today, Jake Wengroff remarked: "More than a makeover of its Lotus Notes product, the experience offers completely integrated email, calendar, document management, and social updates delivered via an Activity Stream interface that integrates the basic set of productivity functions."
There were other tools unveiled at the conference, such as the VSee plug-in for IBM Sametime, which allows secure one-click video calling on the Web. Actor Michael J Fox made a surprise visit and spoke about the power of online communities, especially for those with chronic diseases. For a 60-second video summary of the Lotusphere 2012 opening general session, click here.)
David F Carr from InformationWeek wrote that IBM's new social business push had overshadowed traditional discussions about Lotus Notes, the company's bread and butter collaborative platform.

"Social media is exciting precisely because it is 90 per cent vision, 10 per cent reality at this stage," Carr wrote. That means the possibilities are endless."

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