Survival of the ‘socially connected’ fittest

Will those who shun the cloud and social networks fall behind in the work place? IBM thinks so.

IBM used Lotusphere 2012 in Orlando this week to hang out the party streamers in celebration of its new social business tools. IBM Connections provides data monitoring and intelligence processing, carried out in IBM's SmartCloud, and features IBM Docs – a similar service to Google’s cloud-based document service.

In keeping with its wide-ranging macroeconomic way of doing things, the company has introduced new programmes, services and partnerships to help organisations “develop and deepen” skills to accelerate social business adoption. This includes introducing new technical workshops designed to improve skills, along with consulting offerings to help develop a business culture that fosters open collaboration and sharing among employees, clients and business partners.

IBM will now provide online courses, live support and one-on-one guidance with IBM social business experts to “educate [the world] on the benefits of applying social networking technology to their organisations,” – the company aims to do this pragmatically and help “assess barriers” to social business adoption.

Yeah, right, but…

The question is, would IBM be doing all these things if Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others had not arrived? The cloud computing model has helped drive social connectivity and tablets have had a massive effect too. Despite having comparatively meager onboard resources – but pretty good Wi-Fi connectivity – tablets are essentially ‘cloud devices’ drawing all their content – and a good degree of their processing – from online resources. So would IBM be doing all of this had the iPad not arrived?

Unsurprisingly, IBM claims to have been following a programme to develop social business for some time now. One of the company’s execs tried to suggest he had “done his first Tweet on a BBS bulletin board service 20 or 30 years ago,” which might be a cute line, but the complete story needs a little more explanation.

IBM social business evangelist Stuart McRae suggests IBM’s social business strategy (allied and underpinned by cloud computing services as it is) goes back to Sam Palmisano’s vision for service-based computing. IBM’s CEO is widely recognised as having skewed the business away from its hardware pedigree towards the IBM Global Services division, now augmented by its various cloud divisions as it is.

“Palmisano aligned the business culturally towards services and divisional managers were appointed around the world based on roles and skills, rather than geographical location in the first instance,” said McRae.

IBM envisages a time not very far into the future when browser-only computing will have taken a far more significant stronghold on our usage patterns than it already has. But, it was Sir Tim Berners-Lee who said: “Data is a precious thing and it is destined to last longer than the systems (which hold it) themselves.”

Perhaps this means the cloud model of computer processing and storage is only in its first iteration. Later on, soon perhaps, we will start talking about the “Second Age Of Cloud” as if it on were some prehistoric timeline.

But what of those who shun the cloud?

IBM talks verbosely about culture and people, but what of those who shun the cloud and social media? Doesn’t the lowly admin assistant risk falling behind if he or she refuses to use Facebook at home or has no interest in Twitter and so-called social “tools” applied to the workplace?

McRae confirmed those who don’t use social tools will probably fail to progress professionally as others who do.

“It’s a little bit of a case of survival of the ‘socially connected’ fittest yes,” he said. “Those who don’t work with social tools will see other individuals who want to be proactive and chase promotion using them to their advantage. IBM for its part champions this type of culture in the workplace and I think the attitude will spread.”

So the message is clear then; traditional firms or “legacy organisations” as we might like to refer to them now, will have to pick up their game and move to cloud, services, social and embrace the multifarious usage of devices. The ‘dyed in the wool’ boss who balks at young upstarts bringing in their own smartphone and tablet PCs to work will have to wake up and smell the coffee.

Sir Tim-Berners Lee spoke at this year’s Lotusphere, saying: “We are moving from a web of documents to a web of linked data. This semantic and social web is world where computers understand and comprehend the data in these documents.”

“We are not just talking about helping humans become more intelligent, we are talking about empowering computers and making them more intelligent so that they can then in turn help us in much more powerful ways.”

Our artificial intelligence-driven cloud-based future

During the closing keynotes at this year’s Lotusphere, attendees listened to a presentation from IBM’s Manoj Saxena who heads up the company’s Watson data analysis division. Saxena echoed Berners-Lee’s references to empowered computers operating with artificial intelligence and “reasoning” based on hypothesised outcomes.

“Look at the facts,” he said. “Ninety per cent of the world’s data was created in the last two years and 80 per cent of that data is unstructured.”

This, he suggests, validates IBM’s efforts in cloud, social and data analysis at both the hardware and software level.

Cloud 2.0 technologies with web 3.0 semantic natural human language based reasoning might be a bit of a mouthful today, but it may earn a brand name soon.

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