About a year ago IBM first announced they would be developing their next generation email client, code named MailNext. Today in NYC (and similar satellite events around the world) IBM unveiled the official product, now named IBM Verse. That's verse as in converse, or social interaction, not the shoe company. It's not a play on universe, nor a song or poem, nor related to Lotus "Notes" making up a verse!

One of the most significant things about IBM Verse is the level of attention it has within IBM. Full disclosure, I have been advising IBM on Verse for over a year now, so I have seen this first hand. The resources being put into Verse, from design and development to sales and marketing far exceeds anything I have seen from IBM related to collaboration in a long long time. From the very top down, meaning Ginni Rometty and her entire executive team, the company is viewing the launch of IBM Verse as a critical event. The internal attention to IBM Verse is the type of thing we dreamed about during my time working at Lotus. I say that not to stir up bad feelings, but instead to put into perspective how vastly improved the situation is now.

The codename MailNext does represents a limited part of the vision of this project. The concepts behind IBM Verse are not solely focused on creating a better email client. Instead, IBM has used their reinvigorated focus on Design Thinking to more holistically look at improving the way people deal with communication and collaboration. That said, the first manifestation of IBM Verse is email centric, but it's just the start of IBM's longer term vision.

How Does IBM Verse Compare To the Competition?

The hardest part of that question is defining who the competition is. There are several categories that combine to contribute to the way people work. The market for improving communication and collaboration includes an array of vendors, each delivering a different set of capabilities. Here are a few things various software vendors are doing:
- Google recently launched their new Inbox for Google (currently available only for personal accounts, not Google Apps accounts) and Microsoft launched Clutter for Outlook.
- Startups like Slack , Glip and Convo are providing people with alternative ways of working, more social networking than email.
- Unified Communication vendors are launching new collaboration tools focused on blending social networking with VIOP and web-conferencing, such as Unify Circuit and Cisco Squared.
- Vendors like Contatta and Nimble are focusing on helping people take action on their email, not just respond or file it.
- There are dozens of "mobile email" clients introducing innovative new features, lead by the popular MailBox by DropBox.
- There is an entire industry of social task management tools, including Asana, AtTask, Clarizen, LiquidPlanner, SmartSheet and many many more.
- There are new modern online document editors from Office365 and Google, but also startups like Quip and Evernote.

While IBM Verse offers a vastly improved experience over existing IBM products, it is not yet a major leap forward in changing the way people work. It is not "best of breed" in any of the areas mentioned above. But what it does do is bring many of them together. IBM Verse's first release competently accomplishes its initial goal of improving people's email experience. Features like a dashboard of my email-centric action items, people-centric navigation along the top, the ability to easily filter and search email with facets, share a message to a blog, snoozing and setting reminders on messages, and learning more about recipients all combine to create a compelling user experience.

What IBM Verse accomplishes is placing IBM back into the conversation with companies that are evaluating Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps, especially in the SMB market where they previously would not have considered IBM.

Looking Ahead

As I mentioned above, it's been a long time since I've seen IBM as committed to collaboration as they currently are. Looking across the key areas of IBM:
- IBM Design is making a huge difference in the way products are developed. Instead of product managers prioritising a long list of feature requests from large paying customers, IBM is now developing products based on solving the challenges people face at work.
- IBM's vast analytic capabilities will play a large part in shaping how IBM Verse will help people know what they should be working on.
- IBM BlueMix will provide the application development capabilities for business partners to expand and integrate the features of IBM Verse.

This first release of IBM Verse has set the framework for a new generation of communication and collaboration from IBM. I hope future releases of IBM Verse will seamlessly blend the plethora of tools people use including email, chat, text, and video conferencing with collaboration features like task management, social networking, file sharing and document co-authoring, as well as the core business applications people use to get their jobs done. A tool that combines these features and wraps it with a layer of assistance (powered by analytics) to help people focus on what they should, and should not, be doing is what is needed to change the way people work.

The signup page for IBM Verse is now online, but accounts are not being set up yet. After you register, you'll receive an email saying "as soon as IBM Verse is ready to try, we'll let you know." After months of seeing prototypes and early builds, I look forward to trying out the official release.

By the way, while I am not a fan of IBM's marketing phrase "A New Way To Work", I do like that it brings back memories from our old Lotus advertising!

Image:Introducing IBM Verse


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