That time of year again – IBM Champion nominations

Every year IBM recognizes people for their outstanding work to aid and support the technical IBM community. It’s a prestigious honor and a way for us all to thank those in our community that tirelessly help others. After all, it’s often forgotten how much people do for each other above and beyond their normal day-to-day job. That total stranger that answered your question on twitter which helped you solve a problem, the blog post from someone across the globe that set you on the track of success, the volunteers organizing the user event where you met your peers and the speakers at those events that helped you expand your knowledge. All of that is often done by people who do not necessarily get payed for those things but do it simply to help others. It’s because of the people who do all that that this community is strong and living and it is something we need to cherish. So if you feel someone directly or indirectly helped you, or the community this year, in a way that goes beyond and above their normal job then think about nominating them to be an IBM Champion. https://www.ibm.com/developerworks/champion/nominate.html

And if you wonder who the IBM Champions have been in the past take a look at this overview:

 

IBM Connections Folders #4: Some final recommendations

This blog is follow up in a series of blogs on Folders in IBM Connections. For full understanding I would recommend reviewing the previous blogs: #1: Community Folders, #2: Ownership of files and folders and #3 working with folders first.

 

So in the previous three post I explained a bit about the ins and outs of IBM Connections folders, the different flavours you have and how they work and differ from each other. But the question now is how do you use them…?

I’m not going to tell you.

The truth is that each organization is different and each situation is different. IBM Connections is a social business platform that offers you tools that can help you stimulate collaborative work and knowledge sharing and there really is no ‘right way’ or ‘wrong way’ as long as you can achieve that. Having all three different types of folders (Shared Folders, CCM Folders and Community Folders) means you just got more options to find YOUR way. But to do so it is important to understand how each of them function, what their strongholds are as well as possible weaknesses. In the previous 3 blogs I’ve tried to give you an overview of those strengths and weaknesses.

Control?

Having so many options that work so differently at times can be quite confusing. Can you prevent users from using a certain type of folders?

Well in a way yes, by simply deactivating the whole feature. Shared Folders is part of the personal files, as far as I know you can’t easily deactivate those without deactivating personal Files too but I’m no admin so check with your admin before dismissing that. CCM Folders require CCM Licensing and an additional installation. You can definitely choose not to buy it / install it. Then again, that would mean you lose some great features that CCM could offer to your organization so make sure you fully evaluate before deciding! Community folders, which is part of the default offering as of IBM Connections 4.5 CR4, has only recently been released and it requires a specific act from your administrator to activate so again, that is something that you can choose to do, or not.

But….! Don’t just dismiss these options. Make sure you test them and discuss them with your users. They might in fact solve problems you weren’t even aware of. In that sense, having so many different options also means you have a rich variety of possible use cases. Just make sure you are aware of how each works.

Recommendations

So what would I recommend?

Well, again, it’s all up to your situation, organization and needs. But there a few things I would definitely recommend:

  1. Do not implement CCM just so your users have nested folders…. Yes, I know having this option is a great selling point for CCM but it will always fall short in replicating the functioning of their file shares, even with subfolders. If that was the only reason to implement it, users will only get disappointed. Instead, highlight the other benefits of social file sharing and look at the other features CCM offers like approval cycles, document types and the option of having users control the security access levels to it. Use that to show users why CCM could be a great thing to use.
  2. Inform users of the Ownership differences between Community Files/Folders and Personal Files/Folders. Try to come up with a strategy with them, on when to use what. There are clear cases where personal files are preferred but in other situations community files can be a better way to go. If for no other reason than to at least make sure they are, by default, editable to all community members or ensure a better security within a community.
  3. Do not use Shared folders in Restricted communities. See this blog for an explanation why.
  4. Train your key users so they know how IBM Connections Files & Folders work and provide cheat sheets so they can understand and explain to other users why certain things work the way they work.
  5. Try & experiment. As stated before, IBM Connections is a platform offering more than one way to go. That is its strength but sometimes is also seen as its weakness as it can be confusing to users. Find out what works for your organization and base your content strategy on that.
  6. Lastly, but probably most importantly…. If you haven’t done so yet, explain to users what the key thoughts behind IBM Connections is and try to get them to realize that when it comes to Sharing information in a social platform, the premise about who should have access to a file or folder shouldn’t be “I, unless…” but “Everyone, unless…”!

 

So have I covered everything there is to know about IBM Connections folders? No! There are whole areas I haven’t even touched upon. So I will most likely be publishing more blogs on this topic in the future. In the meantime, let me know if you thought this series was helpful or if you have any questions by posting in the comments.

IBM Connections Folders #3: working with folders

This blog is follow up in a series of blogs on Folders in IBM Connections. For full understanding I would recommend reviewing the previous blogs: #1: Community Folders and #2: Ownership of files and folders first.
 

When I was starting this series of blogs on the different options of sharing files & folders within IBM Connections it was mostly influenced by my own interest in how it all worked. As a Business Consultant specializing in both Document Management as well as Social Business anything having to do with structuring file management interests me. So after our test environment was upgraded to IBM Connections 4.5 CR4 I set out to test how the new Community Folders option fitted in with the two existing Folder options in IBM Connections: Shared Folders and CCM Folders.

Truth is that I find certain things kind of confusing...

A big part of this is that IBM Connections is a Social Platform, concentrated on offering users ways of sharing large quantities of information that is mostly unstructured. This, in contrast to ERP and document management systems that deal mostly in structured information. But the lines between structured and unstructured information is not as clear cut as most people would like it to be. Certain documents could fall in both categories depending on the user or situation and because of this you see that more and more solutions are trying to straddle the fence between structured & unstructured information management. With overlaps in functionality and requirements and often confusion as a result. It’s a common problem for most systems trying to manage diverse flows of information.

The place where this is most visible within IBM Connections is the way it handles Files & Folders.

Tagging

‘Social die-hards’ will tell you that in situations where unstructured information is stored and a need for organizing or categorizing arises, folders fall short. They advocate “tagging”, another feature IBM Connections has.

I agree! Tagging, a more fluid and user driven way of categorizing and linking files, can greatly help in making unstructured information more findable. Tagging, by being flat instead of hierarchically structured, allows a file to have numerous tags by numerous people. Often even giving weight to the number of people who tag something and how often it is tagged with the same tag. A file can have dozens of tags but in general can only be in one folder so when a file is not as unilaterally recognizable as belonging to one category folders often fall short as you have to choose, whereas tagging will simply allow you to have multiple completely unrelated tags.

The problem is though that users like folders. It gives them a sense of structure, and frankly…, they are used to it. Plus they sometimes offer additional options like limiting what users can do (CCM folders for instance that allow for approval cycles on documents added to their folders) and offering options to link folders to communities.

So IBM implemented folders. At first only as in Shared folders. And as it figured restricting files to only one folder wasn’t ‘social’ they gave files the option of being shared with more than one shared folder. That was actually quite inventive but users wanted more. They wanted nested folders. So then, with the advent of CCM, users got CCM Folders with security options and the much asked for option to nest folders (subfolders). That was a major change that a lot of users liked as it was something they were used to while using file shares. Unfortunately CCM did require additional licenses which, for a lot of organizations, proofed to be a big deterrent in implementing it. And lastly, with CR4, we now have Community folders.

Great! So enough choice for our users! What is the problem?

Confusion. That is the problem. When offering users features and functionalities you hope to offer them solutions that help them do their work. To do that they need to be aware of how it works and it needs to be logical. How can folders not be logical? You ask. Well, because folders in IBM Connections, as stated before, do not work the same as folders in for instance Windows. Regardless of what we think is logical in a social system, the users will always compare it to what they know, which in the case of ‘folders’ is windows. In a way, the first thing you need to teach your user therefore is that an IBM Connections folder is not a Windows Folder and once you’ve done that, you need to teach them that within IBM Connections a Folder is not a Folder either as CCM folders work differently from Community Folders and completely different from Shared Folders

Take for instance the fact that you can place (share) a file in more than one Shared Folder but only in one CCM or Community folder and there is your first confusion….

Functionality

Even I, after several days of testing all the ins and outs of the Folders functionality in IBM Connections find myself wondering how certain things work so what I did was to create a simple list of some key features and actions and how each of the folder types responded to it. Keep in mind that as Community Folders is still quite new, certain things might still be in the pipeline (like mobile support) and that overall, IBM is constantly updating and improving IBM Connections. Things might change over time. Another factor to keep in mind is that this is list is far from complete. There are so many more features I didn’t even touch on yet but I still wanted to at least share what I have. I might blog more on some other features in the future:

 

Adding files to folders:

An important thing to know when working with folders is how you get your files into the folders. Can you for instance select multiple files at once by having a file picker option or do you need to go into each file independently to add it to a folder?…

Getting files into the folder:

Shared Folder CCM Folder Community Folder
Does the folder have an option to upload files directly from the the pc? Yes, multiple at the same time Yes, multiple at the same time Yes, multiple at the same time
Does the folder have an option to add files to the folder that were uploaded into the community files first? No No Yes, multiple at the same time
Does the folder have an option to add files that were uploaded into your personal files first? Yes No No
Does the folder have an option to add files that were uploaded into a CCM Library (both the one in which the folder is located as well as others located in the same Community) first? No Not easily. You can’t select files within the same library to add to a folder in the “Add Files” interface but you can go into individual files and use the “Move to folder” option to get them there. But only for files in the same library. Yes, as long as that CCM Library is in the same community
Does the folder allow nested folders? (e.g. subfolders) No Yes No


Folder_13

Adding files is one thing, moving them around between folders another!

Shared Folder CCM Folder Community Folder
Can files uploaded as personal files be moved between folders? Yes No No
Can community files be moved between folders? No No Yes
Can CCM files be moved between folders? No Yes, but only within the library they are in. If a community has more then one CCM library (this is very well possible) then files cannot be moved between libraries No

 

Where do my Folders show up?

A big thing in working with any feature is that it’s behaviour is recognisable to the users. So I set out to test how folders and files in them are depicted to the users. Would they for instance be shown on the homepage of a community and how do you know in which folder a document is located?

Shared Folder CCM Folder Community Folder
Are the folders visible on the Homepage of the community? Yes, through a special “Folders” tab in the Files section No, you do see the most recently added files that are in it though in an overall list of files without indication in which folder they are stored Yes, through a special “Folders” tab in the Files section
Can you see files recently added to folders on the community Homepage? No, only in the Shared Folder itself. To see the files the user will have to open the Shared Folder On the Community Homepage all recent CCM files will be shown in the Files section including any added to a CCM folder. There are no folders visible on the Homepage so from the homepage it is impossible to see whether that file is in the Library or within a folder within the library. On the Community Homepage all recent files will be shown in the Files section including any added to a community folder.
Can you see on the details page of the file itself in which folder it is placed? Yes, on the Sharing tab you can see with which folders a file is shared No No
Are the folders available in the mobile app? (iOS tested) Yes Yes ? (I couldn’t test this with my setup)
Is the folder (and files within it) visible in the IBM Connections plugin for Windows Explorer? Yes Not yet, but it is accessible through the Quickr Dektop enabler plugin and inclusion into the standard Windows IBM Connections plugin is said to be planned for a later release this year No

 

Additional features:

Apart from the default options IBM Connections has some additional features you would normally not find in for instance a File system folder. These can help the user keep track of things changing and help them download document sets and are therefore great features!

Shared Folder CCM Folder Community Folder
Does the folder allow for subscribing to updates on the folder? (updates show up in the activity stream) No No Yes
Does the folder offer an RSS feed? Yes Yes Yes
Does the folder allow for bulk download of folder contents (e.g. all files in one ZIP file?) Yes No Yes

Folder_12

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It all works and all does what it needs to do but it doesn’t always work together or work together well. Moving files around, how you can share information in folders, where you see your information and what options you get… Each of these folder structures seems to have its own logic and implementation. That is what I find confusing and I’m sure a lot of users will find confusing too.

Don’t get me wrong, I can understand why certain things work differently and I can also understand that certain things are simply still under development (like the fact I can’t view community folders in my Windows Explorer plug-in) but the problem is most users might not understand if you don’t tell them. So there is a definite need, when implementing these features to explain them to your users. Better yet, come up with a content strategy.

In my next blog, the last of this series, I will talk a bit about the things you have to consider while deciding on how to use folders in IBM Connections.

IBM Connections Folders #2: Ownership of files and folders

This blog is follow up in a series of blogs on Folders in IBM Connections. For full understanding I would recommend reviewing #1: Community Folders first

Ownership is quite important in IBM Connection when it comes to data. Why? Well because ownership isn’t always straight forward and sometimes data shouldn’t be public.

Obvious! Why would you even need to say that?

Well… The premises of any social platform like IBM Connections is to share. That means that in theory the thinking is that every file you put into your social platform should be ‘public’ (e.g. findable and accessible to all). Reality of course is that this is not always the case. Even in a very ‘open’ organization certain files will still require protection and limited access. This is one of the reasons why users in IBM Connections can specify “Sharing” settings on files they upload as well as folders and communities they create, restricting access to only specific groups or users. The basic idea is though, and this is something you feel very clearly when working with IBM Connections, that everything is open, unless.

Storage

How you can limit access is partly determined by where the files are stored. Looking specifically at files you can say that IBM Connections allows for two* main storage points:

  1. By uploading it into a users personal Files section
  2. By uploading it into a community

In the first case, uploading a file into personal files, the file will always remain in the ownership of the user. The standard security level setting for personal files is ‘Private’, meaning no one can access apart from the owner. The owner can however decide to make a file ‘Public’ (accessible to all)  or grant specific Editor or Reader access to specific users, groups or communities. Ownership and full control will always remain with the original user though.

A file stored directly into the community however is different. Ownership of these files lies not with the user that uploaded it into the community but with the community. All users of that community from then on have equal rights to that document. This means that if the user uploads a file into a restricted community and is subsequently removed as a member of that community, the file remains in the community and is no longer accessible to the user that originally uploaded it.

A similar structure applies to folders. Folders created in a users personal files section will always remain in the ownership of that user. Folders created as Community folders and/or CCM folders however will always be property of the community, not the creating user. This also implies the biggest restriction which is that a folder created within a community or CCM Library can never be shared across communities while Folders created as personal folders can be shared with more then one community, group or user.

CCM folders have one added element to keep in mind which is that they allow for imposing additional access restrictions on folders by limiting edit access to specific subgroups of community users. You can for instance use this to restrict that only a few of the community users are allowed to edit the information in a CCM folder. Read access however will always be there to all community members though and the user creating the folder as well as the community owners cannot be revoked as owner of that folder unless they are removed from the community.

Shared folders versus Tags?

Which brings me to another peculiarity of shared folders…. A folder in the traditional sense as people know them from for instance their file drive is a place, a physical location to store a file. Meaning a file can only reside in one folder at the time. Shared folders however are different as a file can be added to more then one Shared folder. So in a way shared folders aren’t really ‘folders’ at all, they are collection sets and almost act the same as tags. After all a tag is nothing else then a categorization and several files having the same tag can be seen as a collection as well. The difference between a shared folder and a tag in IBM Connections is though, that you can control access and Share a shared folder and you can’t do that with a tag.

Folder_11So keep in mind that a Shared folder is significantly different from a community or CCM folder as those are more aligned to the standard concept of folders while Shared Folders in a way hold the middle between a Tag and a folder.

Shared folders & security

So… why would you create folders within communities if personal (Shared) folders give you more options to share across communities & user groups and allow you to have information in them that is also shared in other folders? Well because there are some risks with having shared folders. For one, users don’t always realize the implications of putting a file in a folder shared by someone else.

No problem if the community (and therefore the data in it) is public anyway but what if you have a Restricted community that has a shared folder which is also shared with another Community? A user might think that because he is adding a file to a folder within the Restricted community that therefore the file itself is also only shared within that community. Unknowingly though he might be sharing that file with other users & communities. Only if he actively opens the sharing tab will he see that it is also shared with other communities and therefore visible to not only the users of the (restricted) community he thought he was adding it to, but any other communities/users that folder was shared with as well.

Example of a folder with the ‘Sharing’ tab opened to show this folder was shared with two communities

In theory the user who originally created the folder and shared it with the community could even be removed from that community while his shared folder would remain shared and visible within the community. Which means that any files added to that folder by any other community member after the user was removed from the community would effectively still be accessible to the user (creator of the folder). Using Shared folders in Restricted communities is therefore something I would strongly discourage to prevent confusion. In these situations Community folders and/or CCM folders should definitely be the first line of choice. Shared folders should only be used to share public info where it is no problem that it is visible across several public communities

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Next up I will go into how you can work with the different types of folders and what differences and similarities are between them. I hope to publish this tomorrow.

 * Files can also be uploaded in other places like Activities and blogs but from a standpoint of file management I am leaving these out for now

 

IBM Connections Folders #1: Community Folders

Last week CR4 for IBM Connections 4.5 came out. An intermediate update that had a few new options for file management in IBM Connections. One of which was the ability to add Communities folders. Until now the standard option to get a folder in a community Files section was to create one in your personal files and share that with the community. Control and ownership would however remain with the user, not the community. This has now been extended with the option to create a folder specifically in a Community itself. It does however pose some questions as now there are two (or three – depending on if your organization has implemented CCM) types of folders a user can use within a community. And all have their own specific features and quirks so time to do a little comparison!

Ok, first of all… Folders in a social environment like IBM Connections don’t necessarily work the same as folders we are used to in for instance a file system. I’m not comparing them to that and I think neither should you. However…. as they are called folders and look like folders and in many ways act like those folders in an ordinary file system, users will think they are…  So it is important to understand what these folders in IBM Connections do exactly and how they function and to explain that to the user. It could make a big difference in keeping vital information safe and secure.

Folders in Communities

What type of folders do we have in IBM Connections Communities?

1). Shared Folders: In the personal files section of IBM Connections users have always had the option to create (Shared) folders. These can be used to organize files and can also be shared with either everyone (public) or with selective people/communities. If shared with a community the folder will show up in the folders tab of the Files section for that community. Files placed in the folder are visible to all users in the community as well as any other user or community that folder was shared with. Depending on the access given to the community by the original folder owner community members can also edit and even delete files in that folder.

2). CCM is a add-on feature that can be installed with IBM Connections to allow for (limited) document management features within Communities – including folders. The big difference to Shared & Community folders is that folders within CCM allow for nesting (subfolders, e.g. folders within folders) and for selectively limiting access to files for community members within folders and even the sub folder levels. In contrast: Community & Shared folders only have one access level which applies to the whole community they are shared with. Meaning that all community members are either reader, contributor or owner whereas a CCM Folder allows you to specify that for instance only a subset of community members can edit files in that folder and all others can only read. There is one restriction: Community members can never be denied access to a CCM folder. They will always have at least Reader access.

3). Community folders is the new kid on the block. This feature came out with version 4.5 CR4 and allows users to create folders directly in the Community Files. Why is this important? Well because ownership of that folder now solely lies with the community. A community folder can never be shared outside the community and someone who leaves the community (if it is a restricted community) will no longer have access to the folder or community files in it. Community folders also allow you to selectively “Follow” a folder. A great option if you want to be informed of updates to a specific folder but not to other community events.

Example of a folders section in the community files showing both a community as well as shared folder:
 shared and community folders
Example of a CCM folder containing both several files as well as a subfolder:
CCM folder

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So… Now we know what we have it is time to look at some important things to keep in mind while using folders. In the next few days I will go into this in a few follow up blogs. First up is how Ownership is arranged in the different types of folders, so keep tuned

 

Shared folders – potential security issue

IBM Connections allows users to share personal folders with groups, communities and users. An ideal option to share sets of documents/files with multiple target audiences at the same time. There are however some caveats. Especially in situations where Shared Folders are used to share potentially sensitive information with Restricted (secured) communities. If your organization uses Shared Folders I would strongly advise looking at the below example to get an idea of the potential risks so you can assess if this is something that could cause problems in your organization:

An example:

User A creates a Shared Folder in his personal IBM Connections Files and places some files in it.

Folder_1

He then shares this folder with a community called “Demo Community” of which he is a member and which has restricted access. The folder is now visible and accessible in the Demo community to all community members:

folder_2

Both User A as well as the community members can see the folder is shared with the community in the “Sharing” tab of the folder itself:

Folder_3

The Community admin then decides that User A should no longer be allowed access to the information in the community and revokes his access. User A cannot longer open the community.

As the Test folder was a personal folder that he shared with the Demo community though, User A is still able to access the folder from his personal Files&Folders section. If he looks at the  “Sharing” tab of the folder there is no mention of the Demo Community anymore, it looks as if it is a private folder:

Folder_5

In reality though, the folder is still shared with the Demo Community and both visible and accessible to the members of that community. If they look at the “Sharing” tab of the Test Folder, “Demo Community” ís shown:

Folder_10Effectively this means that they can still access, edit, delete and add files in the folder from within the community:

Folder_9

When they do, User A can see and access these newly added files in his folder but it must be very confusing for him to see users that are not listed in his Sharing settings perform actions on files in his folder:

Folder_8

So what’s the problem?

a). User A doesn’t see the name of the “Demo Community” as an entity with which this folder is shared after he was taken out of the community, so he has no way of knowing it is still accessible to the community members.

b). Because he can’t see that it is still shared with the restricted community, he can’t remove the sharing option either. Effectively this means he has no control over the folder access anymore apart from deleting the whole folder.

c). Even though he is no longer part of the Demo Community, his folder is. Users in that community (which is restricted) would have a reasonable expectation that the  information they share within that community is limited only to members of that community. In reality though any files they place in this folder will be visible to User A (no longer a member of the community) and any other communities, groups or users he chooses to share the folder with.

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I understand that the above situation is extreme and not likely to happen very often but it is important to be aware of this.  There are other options that can be used instead of Shared Folders like CCM folders and the new Community folders (released in CR4 of IBM Connections 4.5). These are not owned by a user but by the community and would therefore not impose the same security flaw. I will be publishing another blog on the differences between Shared, Community and CCM folders over the next few days for those interested.

Social Connections V – or the story of a STRESSful city

The 5th Social Connections in Zurich last Friday was a great success. It is always a joy to see when things come together and they certainly did this time!

I flew out of Schiphol airport on Wednesday night after dropping off my car at the massive car park to meet up  with the rest of the Social Connections team in the Zurich airport arrivals lounge for a short commute to the hotel. A celebratory drink ensued as this was the first time in over 4 months we’d been together. Most people don’t realize this but all the organizing of these events is done primarily through social media, mail, a Greenhouse community and Skype. Due to the geographical dispersion of the team (England, Wales & The Netherlands) most of us only get to see each other during the events themselves so in a sense they are our little reunions too.

Thursday morning started with a very early arrival at the IBM Client Centre at the “Vulkanstrasse” (“vulkan street” or as the English SatNav hilariously called it: “VulkanSTRESS”) for our first glimpse of the venue.

We’d seen pictures but it is almost impossible to get a really good impression and always a bit nerve wrecking to not have seen a location until you get there. Luckily it turned out to be a fantastic location with more then enough room for our 11 sponsors and the 185 people we were expecting.

First thing required was to prepare one of the three auditoriums for the Michael Sampson Masterclass on collaboration strategies that would kick off the two days of Social Connections as the first of the 16 participants for this masterclass were expected to arrive around 8:30am At 9am sharp the masterclass started.

At this point it was time to start inspecting the materials that had been ordered and delivered to Zurich ahead of time and start preparing for the Friday event. I won’t go into details but it involves a lot of tedious work folding folders, creating & sorting badges, checking and back-checking lists, then editing those lists and checking them again and handling lots of mails with last minute questions from participants. Culminating in setting up the sponsor area and sponsor booths and discussing the best possible layout and locations for each of the sponsors (the closeness to the catering forms an important factor).

You might be surprised but this took a 7 person team (thanks Brian, Klaus and Nathan!) most of the day. So after a full day of preparations it was time to head over (through Zurich rush hour) to the other side of Zurich for a short inspection of the Friday night dinner venue, and another traffic jam filled mad dash back into the city to the hotel. Where I had just enough time to change clothes – and head back down to the hotel lobby for the Speaker/Sponsor dinner. Our speakers & Sponsors are what makes Social Connections possible so having this complimentary dinner is our way of saying ‘thanks!’ to them. It was great to see no less then 47 of them where there for this occasion and that many of them were first time speakers/sponsors. I my eyes that diversion shows just how vibrant this community really is!

At around 1am it was time to head back to my room for some last minute mails (things I thought of during the dinner) and one last round of editing of my slides and then it was time for lights out. The alarm would go off at 6am.

Arriving at the IBM Client Center at 7:15 on Friday morning, it was time to get ready. Instruct the volunteers, help sponsors to their stations, welcome speakers and guest and getting ready for the opening. After having told the speakers several times to NOT forget their AVG and power adapters it of course was no surprise that I had forgotten it myself. Luckily Michael Sampson – organized and perceptive as he is – produced one before I even noticed I had forgotten it.

The day was started by a welcome by Stuart McIntyre, a few notes from me on the days logistics and a general welcome by Peter van Buul, Sales leader for IBM Switzerland. Followed closely by an excellent opening Keynote by Heidi Ambler, Director of Social Computing at IBM.

It is very special sitting there looking around and realizing that the day that we’ve been working on for so long is finally there and that people from all over the world (we had people traveling in from locations as far as South-Africa, Japan, Australia, Russia and Saudi-Arabia!) are there to enjoy it. That really is the moment when you realize what you are doing it all for!

The day flew by in a flurry of conversations, checking up and making sure everything was ok which unfortunately also means that I didn’t get a chance to see many of the sessions myself. I made sure though that I got to see the great “Pardon the interruption” panel with Louis Richardson, Michael Sampson, Brian O’Neill, Sandra Buhler and moderated by Stuart McIntyre as well as Helen Crumble’s excellent Case Study session on SSP’s -no pilot- implementation of IBM Connections. After closing the program off with the Keynote by Michael Sampson on collaboration strategies & adoption it was time for a group photo (a tradition started in Amsterdam) and then the drinks reception and speed sponsoring.

There were some excellent prizes to be won during the speed sponsoring although some prizes posed a bit of a problem (how do you get a bottle of excellent Tasmanian wine safely back to Japan?!? And what do you do when you win a Swiss army knife but only have carry-on luggage?!?) but all was solved in the end (the wine was consumed, the knife will be send by mail).

Social Connections wouldn’t be Social Connections if it didn’t include a ‘social’ component too so after the speed sponsoring a double decker bus was ready to bring those that had registered for it to the Lake Side restaurant for a fantastic dinner with a view over lake Zurich. A great way to have some quality time discussing the day with those you’ve just met. At 22:45 the bus waited for us to take us back to the IBM Client Center & hotel while others choose to head into town for some extended Zurich night life.

At 23:30 we dropped off the last people at the Client Center with the bus and returned to the hotel lobby bar. And that is the moment when you sit back as a team, smile at each other and finally relax. It’s done, and it was marvelous.

Organizing these events is a long and not always easy process. It involves lots of discussions, phone calls, mails, thousands of Skype conversations and a fair amount of sleepless nights. It also involves a team of people to do this as this absolutely is a team effort.

I feel very fortunate to be a part of this excellent team that helps organize Social Connections. It’s the diversity and different angles we all bring in that make each one such a success.

So a big Kudos to Stuart McIntyre, Simon Vaughan and Sharon Bellamy for allowing me to be a part of that amazing team for the last three Social Connections. It’s their friendship and humor that have often kept me sane & going and seeing them is as if we never said goodbye…

also a BIG thanks to all the volunteers (Sandra, Rachel, Brian, Klaus, Christian, Nathan and many others…), to the speakers (without whom we wouldn’t have a program!), the sponsors (who make it possible) and not in the least all the participants… You make Social Connections a success!

I got home from the many ‘stresses’ (that SatNav kept cracking me up) of Zurich on Saturday feeling a bit lost and lonely. I will have to wait another few months before I get to see my friends again. Luckily I don’t have to miss them completely and Facebook, Twitter and Skype have already fired up again (after going quiet for a few days while we were onsite).

Social is what keeps it going and Social is what makes Social Connections tick!

 

If only I could remember where I parked my car now….

 

 

 

Sametime meetings – simple but effective

I had an interesting discussion about Sametime earlier this week after I told someone I had been doing trainings all week to users about the new Sametime Meetings options they get with Sametime Standard. The other person didn’t think much of Sametime but asking through it turned out he really didn’t know what it had to offer either.

I really like the ease that Sametime Meetings has. It’s a very basic interface, which is great with users who have no clue (the less buttons, the less they can screw up) but it also has some very strong and nice features that I really love:

1. The option to have participants record the meeting themselves. This saves a lot on large data files having to be shared later on as well as stress for the presenter about having to think about it.

2. The option to set specific types of entries in the side chat. This way input gets categorized as you go and you can filter what types of updates you want to see by selecting the view options and selecting the appropriate filter. By getting questions being asked through the “Questions” option and setting the filter to show ‘questions only’ a presenter can easily keep track of what questions are being asked and by whom and address them without being distracted by other chatting or note taking going on.

3. Which brings me to the next feature: the option to mark an item in the discussion list as a “starred item” to draw attention to it or as an “answered” question. Both the participant as well as presenter have the ability to do this by simply clicking the icon in front of the entry and changing it to the appropriate option. This allows for easy management of still open issues and questions as well as categorizing.

4. Which then can be used to create a meeting report through the option “Room tools” – “Meeting report”. This one I especially love as it is an instant and easy way to get a quick overview of everything that went on during the meeting. The meeting report lists:

  • the room details (url / owner / name)
  • all participants with the times they were logged in
  • all communication going on in the Discussion side window by type so already categorized into “Meeting minutes”, “actions”, etc.
  • any polls with their results
  • the displayed content (documents & screen shares)
  • any recordings made by any of the participants.

So all in all I really like the Sametime Standard meeting options. The above are just a few, there are more, like the polling option but these really set it apart for me.

And it can be used both on-premises as well as in the cloud. The new meeting functionality is fully enabled on the IBM Smartcloud environment and can be tried there for free for 60 days. After that a stand alone web meetings account will cost you $5 a month and allows you to set up meetings that can host up to 200 participants. Similar options on either GoTo meeting or WebEx will cost you 10 times as much at least. Ok granted, you will get some additional features with those services that Sametime doesn’t offer but the question is: do you really need those or will they just confuse your users?

I think Sametime really is a great option for a lot of us there and definitely worth a look!

Microsoft buying Yammer: big steps forward or stifling a promising hatchling?

Some interesting discussions going on this week about Social Business, Yammer being bought by Microsoft one of them. Until now I really haven’t given my opinion on it even though I was asked about it by several people as I have been blogging a few times about Yammer before and have been specifically looking at it for it’s possibilities of extending Sharepoint, one of the platforms on which we actively sell services and solutions. But not just about the Yammer/Microsoft move but also in respect to what this could mean to IBM Connection. IBM’s social platform that has been a major focus for me professionally over the last few years.

To be honest, I had to mull this one over a bit before I could answer but here it goes, my 2 cents worth on it…

 

First steps

First of all, I think Microsoft did a really wise move buying Yammer. I think someone in Redmond finally realized that just calling Sharepoint a collaborative ‘social’ platform doesn’t make it one and that they really had to take some bold moves to catch up as others like Jive and IBM were miles ahead there in the social business arena.

Maturing

Secondly I think Yammer can benefit from this as well. As I said before I believe Yammer has one of the best social conversation streams in the Social Business arena right now and their way of bottom up adoption is innovative and effective in getting new users, but their collaboration options (file sharing, activities, communities) just aren’t mature yet and on that end it was missing out and in need of some serious investment.

So combining Microsoft’s capital and Sharepoint’s collaborative content management with Yammers  capabilities in getting the social conversations going, I think, could benefit both. Especially as this is already being done. Integrating Yammer in Sharepoint isn’t something new, it is already there. This move will only embed Yammer into Sharepoint even more.

Competitive position

So what does this mean to IBM Connections and to Microsoft’s competitive position on the Social market?

To be honest, I don’t know. It all depends on Microsoft’s next moves:

  • Will they take Yammer as is and just make the already existing integration stronger? Yammer right now is a cloud based product. Will that appeal to customers who deliberately chose for on-premises installs?
  • Will they incorporate the Yammer data into Sharepoint? A big downdraft I see with the existing Yammer/Sharepoint integration is the fact that the conversation is separated from the content. The document, file or workflow being in Sharepoint and the ‘conversation’ and social content about that document, file or workflow being in an externally hosted social environment. Maintaining integrity and consistency of data with a model like that over time and during the contents lifespan can be a big challenge.
  • And lastly…. Will Microsoft allow Yammer to fully incorporate into Sharepoint allowing the social knowledge Yammer has to embed itself into the more document oriented current Sharepoint environment or will it remain a little new playfriend on the sideline? From the communications right now it seems Microsoft is keeping Yammer as a separate entity within it’s portfolio and not blending but integrating it into the other product streams, not bad from an innovation stand point but not beneficial to Sharepoint either which is in desperate need of some ‘social understanding’ influx.
Leading by example, building from experience

So what does all this mean to IBM Connection? Well, for now little I think. Of course, Microsoft will use this to strengthen its position on the social market and give some footing to it’s claims of being a social platform provider. Rightly so, it is taking steps. But to really leverage Social Business I think it needs to do more. It needs to start thinking as a social business.

And that is exactly where I see IBM’s strength coming through. IBM Connections wasn’t created as a platform to fill a gap for a new hype, it was designed from personal experience in becoming a social business, living an ideal and experiencing it’s challenges and pitfalls as IBM itself was becoming a social business. It was build on experience and is focused on getting people to leverage their strengths to grow as an organization by collaboration and participation. To say it bluntly: It’s not just about starting a conversation, it’s about getting that conversation to turn into collaboration and therefore to start generating revenue.

Taking it forward

Yammer was well on its way to build a truly collaborative social environment over the last year and a half or so. So if this move from Microsoft is going to succeed depends, in my eyes, solely on how much of this Microsoft really gets. Personally I hope Microsoft will recognize it and use the knowledge and social strengths of Yammer to, for lack of a better word, “infect” it’s organization and Sharepoint development with the social bug. Or, better yet, build out Yammer to eventually overtake Sharepoint (I know a bold thing to say!). The market for social business is booming and the combination of Sharepoint’s market with Yammers social aptitude has enough potential to grow into a major player. But I also think Microsoft still has a few steps to take before they truly ‘get it’.

After all, social isn’t just a tool to be bought, it’s a mindset and requires a major culture shift, and on those IBM can still teach Microsoft a lesson or two I think.

 

 

Social Connections & James Joyce

Just booked my tickets to go to Social Connections III in Dublin on June 22nd. Really looking forward to it as I was not able to attend the previous Social Connections events held in Cardiff and London.

One of the major things I’m looking forward to is being there where it’s all happening, the IBM Development Labs in Dublin, the mothership for IBM Connections and hearing from others using, developing and working with IBM Connections!

Social Connections Banner

Now going to Dublin in June is nice for more then just the user group. As I lately (thanks to a quirky twitter conversation with Steve McDonagh (@DominoyesMaybe) got into reading some James Joyce. The advise I got from him and others when starting this endeavor was to ‘read out loud‘ to grasp the meaning of some of the pretty complex words & sentence structures used.

So I am….

Literally!

Each night, just before falling asleep I read (out loud) a couple of pages in my best Dutch-imitating-an-Irish-accent English of ‘A portrait of the artist as a young man‘. Yeah, I know, weird hobby, but reading it out loud does absolutely help in better understanding the meanings of some of the complex words and sentences used, and besides, it can be kind of comical hearing my own bad attempts at imitating that lovely accent! So after reading about Dublin I can’t wait to see the city in real life. Too bad I’m just a week late for Bloomsday