IBM To Rival Google & Microsoft with Online Office Suite for Consumers & Businesses

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Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365, and other online office suites for consumers and businesses will soon be getting some new competition from IBM. After going live some time this month with a credit card-payable social networking environment called IBM SmartCloud for Social Business, IBM plans to add IBM Docs later this year.

The new online offerings reflect a push toward “consumerization” at IBM, said Rebecca Buisan, an IBM product management exec, at an IBM event for business partners and the press in New York City.

Why use IBM Docs?

Why should people choose IBM Docs over the many rival office suites? “Enterprise-grade security” is one reason why, Buisan contended, in a meeting with NotebookReview at the event.

IBM Docs will also deliver close integration across the word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software in the suite, as well as with Social Business offerings to be rolled out this month for e-mail, instant messaging (IM), cloud storage, calendaring, file sharing, online meetings, project management, and collaboration, according to Buisan. Collaborative tools will include “activities” and newsfeeds, for example.

IBM first announced Social Business — a product based on its long-time Lotus software line-up — at its Lotusphere conference in January. Since then, though, other details have emerged.

Unlike Google Docs and Gmail, for example, IBM’s online offerings will be paid services. Although pricing hasn’t yet been established for IBM Docs, which is still in beta, IBM has set the starting prices for per user subscription-based monthly pricing at $10 for IBM SmartCloud Engage Advanced, $8 for SmartCloud Engage Standard, $6 for SmartCloud Meetings, $6 for SmartCloud Connections, $5 for SmartCloud Notes, and $3 for SmartCloud iNotes. (For more information on what these services will include, click here.)

Some of these services will be less costly than it might otherwise seem, though. With Engage Advanced, for instance, consumers, entrepreneurs and small businesess can give free “guest access” to unlimited numbers of individuals.

Engage Advanced will also support “no charge mobile meetings” among users of Android OS, Apple iOS, and RIM BlackBerry devices.

The future IBM Docs service will include lots of features for collaborative doc authoring, such as commenting and discussions, author presence awareness, and “realtime co-editing,” Buisan said.

By way of comparison, Microsoft is using a tiered pricing model — with varying prices for small businesses and enterprises — for Office 365, an online service with available components such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync Online. Microsoft’s per user/per month pricing ranges from $5 for e-mail only to $24 for the E3 enterprise package, for instance.

IBM Docs and other IBM Social Business services can allow small businesses — and even businsses run by consumers in their homes — to enjoy an online work environment similar to the ones now showing up among much larger organizations, Buisan suggested.

Bigger businesses customize the social network

Speaking of larger organizations, IBM’s enterprise customers have been using Social Business underpinnings — together with an IBM developers toolkit — to build custom social networking environments for their own employees and business partners. Some of these environments run in private clouds, some on the public cloud, and some as “hybrids” combining both approaches.

Russell’s Convenience, a multi-state convenience store chain, is using Social Business for streamlined communications between corporate management, franchisees, and project teams. Social Business provides a “central definitive location for information and project plans,” along with “faster access to experts and information inside and outside the company,” Buisan said, in a presentation at the event in New York City. 

More specifically, Russell’s is taking advantage of the “guest account” feature to allow an architectural firm, landords and contractors to join the social network, in efforts to speed completion of building remodeling projects.

There’s “no more need to spend time on the phone or searching through e-mail for the latest files,” according to the IBM exec.

The State of Vermont is using the new Social Business platform to turn its paper-based procedures for vendor contracts into a paper-free online system. Vermont’s new SmartCloud environment integrates Silanis e-SignLive to let customers and suppliers sign documents over the Web.

In a presentation at the event, Henry Macchiarola, global IT director for Colgate-Palmolive Company, cited operational efficiencies, better communications, and consumerization as factors in a move by Colgate, a long-standing IBM customer, to create a social networking environment based on Social Business.

“Generation Y workers know about social computing,” and they want to use social networking features in the workplace, Macchiarola said. IBM’s SmartCloud platform will help Colgate continue to “attract and retain a talented workforce,” he predicted.

Colgate-Palmolive is customizing SmartCloud Meetings to allow for videoconferencing. Colgate also plans to use IBM Docs on its new Social Business platform.





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