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Analysis

IBM Verse finally launches today (March 31, 2015). Originally announced in January 2014 at IBM Connect (now IBM ConnectED), IBM is now ready to unleash its new vision of corporate communications, collaboration, and productivity.

IBM Verse is one of a new generation of productivity software that combines messaging (email, social, and chat/instant messaging), and analytics to better manage communications, scheduling, and other information flows vital to organizations of any size.

Next generation communications differ from the current platforms including Microsoft Outlook and Google’s Gmail in a number of ways. First, next generation platforms integrate a number communication media into one platform. Email, IM, and social collaboration have been creeping closer together.

From the user perspective though, they often seem cobbled together. Next generation platforms are more deftly integrating them and allowing end-users to pivot from one medium to another seamlessly.

Another difference between second generation platforms and current products is the use of analytics. Microsoft Outlook for Android’s Preview has some rudimentary analytics to determine if an email is “focused” or “other,” namely something to pay attention to and something to look at later. Inbox by Google, which is also in preview mode, similarly has message prioritization. IBM Verse takes this to a different level, organizing messages by analyzing message content.

Even better, analytics can help us surface content, whether in messages or files, that pertain to upcoming meetings or answers questions posed in an email.

Finally, next generation communications look more and more like consumer applications. Designers are changing the way information is presented to highlight important tasks, meetings, and messages and help organize work.

Now, the type of consolidated view found in Microsoft Outlook or Google Gmail simply shows everything on one very busy looking page that does not highlight the importance of objects.

Pros and Cons

Like all new technology, IBM Verse has its pros and cons.

Pros:

  • IBM Verse reflects the new IBM user-centric design language and principles. The design of IBM Verse goes beyond simple usability and tries to predict how an end-user will be most productive using the software.
  • Migration tools make moving from current IBM Notes and Domino email and calendaring environments easier. IBM has put a lot of effort into helping existing customer transition to IBM Verse.
  • IBM Verse leverages analytics to prioritize messages, help end-users manage their schedules, and find answers to questions posed in communications. The integration with IBM Watson has great promise for future features as well.

Cons:

  • IBM is not providing Microsoft Exchange migration tools in this release. This will limit IBM Verse’s impact to existing IBM customers who are dissatisfied with their current IBM Notes and Domino environments.
  • This initial release does not include support for mobile devices. While planned for an upcoming release, for many business users, however, this will mean that IBM Verse is of limited usefulness given their mobility need.
  • IBM Verse is, for the moment, cloud only. Customers who require on-premises systems will have to wait to a later time no matter how wonderful they think IBM Verse is.

Guidance

Existing IBM Notes and Domino Email customers should consider IBM Verse. It is a new generation of messaging application that provides superior features and design. The integration of analytics creates a more productive environment in the here and now with the promise of more automation to come.

There are some caveats though. Organizations that require an on-premises system or have a significant number of mostly mobile users will have to wait. However, they can use this time to plan a migration to the new platform.

For organizations that are not IBM email customers but are excited by the new features, the wait might be even longer. Now, plans for Microsoft Exchange migration tools are vague. The suggested strategy of migrating first to IBM Notes and then to IBM Verse is unnecessarily complicated and time consuming.

Conclusion

IBM Verse is a prime example of the next leap forward in corporate communications and productivity management. The design is superb and feature set rich. The adoption will be inhibited for a while by a lack of support for on premise installations and Android platforms. These are likely temporary and only change the trajectory of IBM Verse and not the outcome.

The real anchor that will weight down IBM Verse growth is lack of tools to migrate efficiently and safely non-IBM email systems, especially Microsoft Exchange and, to a lesser extent, Gmail.

IBM has a chance of convincing non-IBM email customers to switch to IBM Verse. With the anticipated release of the next generation of Outlook looming and launch of new products such as Inbox by Google, IBM might lose the opportunity to take some customers from Microsoft and Google.

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