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Analysis

Most organizations agree that email is essential, growing, and for the most part broken. The complaints are coming, not from IT (though they think so too) but from the ordinary knowledge workers. Knowledge worker complaints about email tend to fall into two categories: first, there is too much email and much of it is irrelevant; and the second complaint is that email’s interface is old and tired.

Too much email, too much irrelevance

Knowledge workers, especially senior level managers, often feel as if they are drowning in messages. As organizations emphasize collaboration, knowledge workers find themselves interacting with more of their colleagues and the email flood has become even worse.

Email’s interface is old and tired

The same lists and folders that marked the email programs of 20 years ago are still the way email works today. Finding and organizing information is hard, trying to figure out what is important to do, and what can be ignored is incredibly difficult. Most email software is no longer suitable for the digital workforce.

Over the past decade, organizations have tried to supplant or augment email with other types of messaging including instant messaging and enterprise social networks. Unfortunately, organizations have limited success with these new channels. For example, under 15%[1] of knowledge workers are regular users of enterprise social networks. Part of the reason for such low user acceptance is that knowledge workers have to shift from one mode to another, often in different software packages. Consider the situation of a knowledge worker using a portfolio of common business communications tools, Microsoft’s Outlook, Lync, Skype, and Yammer. Each addresses a different but overlapping range of digital communications. Users have to switch from one software package to another to participate in the full range of communications channels. This leads to communication silos wherein groups of users stick to certain channels and few use them all.

IBM Verse attempts to solve this problem. While IBM Verse has made many small improvements that will excite users, it tries to address the aspects of corporate digital communications that chip away at productivity. It combines all communications channels – email, instant messaging/chat, social network style microblogging, and web conferencing – into one unified interface. IBM Verse makes it easy to use and “pivot” between multiple communications channels. The interface pulls in task management and calendaring to provide a complete view of the day ahead, as well as the people with which a user interacts.

The unified, easy to navigate, and attractive interface solves one set of problem but the real value comes from the integrated analytics. Analytics drives features that help to manage large volumes of messages, meetings, and tasks. IBM Verse can prioritize all of a day’s work and communications. It reorders tasks based on importance and identified people critical to completing those tasks.

Guidance

IBM has clearly studied the real pain of email, messaging, and productivity in general and has created a way to alleviate much of that pain. To ignore IBM Verse is to ignore the lost productivity and sheer aggravation that most knowledge workers experience with email, messaging, and staying productive.

Current IBM Notes customer will be delighted by IBM Verse. The improvements over the current offerings are enough to make the migration worthwhile. Moving to the cloud (IBM Verse is a SaaS product) will also ease some of the burden of managing future growth in IT systems associate with messaging.

Neuralytix advises that any mid-sized to large enterprise at least take look at IBM Verse as an alternative to the current Microsoft mishmash of Outlook, Exchange, Yammer, Skype, and Lync. The innovative web and mobile interfaces are much more intuitive than anything Microsoft has to offer at this stage. The ROI will come from increased productivity as users have better tools to cope with rising volumes of messages from multiple channels, spending more time on what is contained in messages rather than the managing them. It will be harder for small businesses to justify the migration. Microsoft 365 subscriptions essentially give the messaging applications away free with traditional Office applications, making the added expense of paying for a different email system hard to justify.

User-Centric Design

IBM Verse is also one of the first products to emerge from the new IBM Design studio and it shows. The user-centric design is focused on solving common user problems. It eschews a simple facelift or more features of dubious value, for specific solutions to the types of problems that dampen productivity.

Risks

There are some risks, of course. Analytics driven prioritization has to work in a way that users notice a difference. Otherwise, knowledge workers will assume it was all for show and find little value beyond a well-designed interface and many conveniences; IBM Verse will be are nice but not thrilling. In this case, a pretty face is not enough. There has to be real substance driven by the analytics.

Conclusion

IBM Verse is a fresh approach to an old set of problems. There are many improvements that IBM can (and hopefully will) make in the future such as extremely personalized prioritizations based on content and work habits. They will, however, be starting from a position far ahead of where all the other communication and email products are today. Organizations that are worried about how collaboration and communication impacts productivity should be looking at IBM Verse.

The marks of IBM Design are clear on IBM Verse. If this signals the future of IBM software then rivals need to be worried. IBM Verse looks and behaves like the right mix of corporate and consumer. This is something common to mobile app startups but surprising in Big Blue. IBM Verse is putting the industry on notice that enterprise software can be much better than it is.

[1] Neuralytix 2013 Enterprise Social Networks Update, December 2013.