Earlier this week IBM kicked off their yearly Connect conference in Orlando. Think of Connect as the conference for all things formerly Lotus, collaboration, customer and employee experience - and everything around the Kenexa products. With over 5000 participants the conference was well attended, in a Q&A session IBM shared, that over 35% of attendees are first time attendees. That's an encouraging sign for renewed interest around the products being part of Connect.


Opening Keynote Takeaways

Anybody sleepy for the (early) 8 AM start was certainly woken up by American Authors, Jay Bear led through the keynote with his usual flair and Seth Meyers told us how social media has changed recruiting in the comedy space. It used to be - have you seen the comedian? - today it's - what is your Twitter account?


Notice Hayman's shoes - un-IBM-esque

30 minutes in it was up to Craig Hayman to bring in the over arching message - not only is there a re-branding in regards of product names with Connections in the bushes - but the overarching message is around rhythm - something Hayman made plausible - as it's all about orchestrating employees in the right rhythm - but it was somewhat lost later in the keynote and other sessions.

Check out my colleague Alan Lepovsky's blog - he will have something on the re branding to Connection and the overall social and collaborative take aways up there soon. 

From the cloud perspective the interesting part is that IBM announced to move Domino Application capabilities over to a PaaS powered by - no surprise here - SoftLayer. A good move for IBM to bring more load to it's SoftLayer data centers and help customers to renovate their Domino Applications.

Demo Showcase - well done - but still dizzying amount of product 

IBM faces the challenge on how to tie together the diverse product set shown at Connect in a compelling keynote demo. And IBM did a good job - picking a bank as the showcase - with IBM employees picking roles that dealt with customer experience, talent management and mail / collaboration. The product scope is dazzling - and while IBM did a great job of showing the product name in the middle of a giant screen - as it was demoed - it was hard to keep the overview. 


IBM Social Learning as part of the demo with Abby Euler and Tim Geisert 

Jeff Schick then walked through the new product announcements in detail - but it would have been good to know what was really new during the demo. 

Customer testimonials by Pepsi, Performance Bicycle, Sika and Petrobas were powerful and spanned the range of products well.  

Kenexa Talent Suite

Not surprisingly Kenexa is bringing together its various products in a talent suite, complemented by the new Connections collaboration suite. So in detail the Kenexa Talent Suite comprises

  • Talent Acquisition - which brings together recruiting, assessment and onboarding. 

  • Talent Optimization - which brings together performance management, succession and compensation planning

  • Social Networking - basically the capabilities of the (newly branded) Connections products

Additionally IBM has a BigData angle on talent management and - again not surprisingly - Watson is there to help - with the recent announcement of Watson Foundations. 


Kenexa keeps growing

IBM acquired Kenexa about 14 months ago - and it's interesting to chart the strategy IBM is taking - here are some of the pointers we learnt about in Florida:

  • Suite building  - Not surprisingly IBM is bringing together the Kenexa products in a suite. Good for customers  - but we will have to see how well integrated this new suite will be.

  • New functionality - IBM announced the new Social Learning product - which basically brings social capabilities to the learning process - both on discovery, sharing, usage and creation of learning content. A proof point of the strategy to enrich Kenexa capabilities with Connections capabilities.

  • Complement with Connections - As HCM systems are all about people and people need to cooperate - this can be a leg up for Kenexa - tight integration to a collaboration suite. The area to watch is, what IBM will do with customers not using IBM collaboration products.

  • Complement with Watson - Watson's analytical capabilities are interesting for many of the decisions that can be automated in a modern HCM system.

  • Move to SoftLayer - This is IBM's cloud strategy and it's being executed for parts of the Kenexa products in 2014.

So as Kenexa goes in it's 2nd year under the IBM umbrella, it keeps growing in all possible directions - adding more core capabilities, bringing products together in a suite and enabling and complementing products with the capabilities of other IBM technology products.

Product vs Services

One of our concerns around enabling more decision management and analytical processes - is that these are usually service driven businesses. And IBM certainly has enough smart consultants and data scientist to deliver amazing value to customers in these engagements. But the holy grail for analytical software is to enable these decisions in software, without a professional services intervention. This is not easily done - neither for IBM nor its competitors - but IBM's strong professional services DNA may not help the productization process. 


Overall good progress on all fronts by IBM for all products being part of IBMconnect. Bundling Kenexa capabilities to a Talent Suite is a good move - but to a certain point an overdue one. Complementing Kenexa with other IBM capabilities (e.g. Watson) makes sense - but these need to be productized - not services offerings in order for IBM to protect license revenues vs. the usual competitors. 

If IBM can pull off the productization process, Kenexa will have a strong DNA of differentiators vs the competition. Always helpful when selling enterprise software. 2014 will be a key year for IBM to make this productization happen - the out of the box delivery of analytical, BigData, collaborative and Watson capabilities as a productized offering complementing Kenexa talent processes. 


You can find a Storify collection of the keynote here.