IBM Verse and email reinvention


One of this year’s most noticeable product announcement was IBM Verse. Like in Orlando when I see the first announcement and screenshots during the latter IBM Connect conference, I could not nothing but admit that the collaboration product that draw the most attention and curiosity in 2014 is…an email client. What is not that surprising : on the enterprise social network side we’re reached maturity and improvement are only incremental while the next big disruptions will be about email. I’ll discuss the future of collaboration and the next big trends in a future post but in this post I’d like to focus on IBM Verse.

I had the chance to get a personalized presentation and demo by Jonhatan Benichou (Mr “social mail” at IBM France) and he made me the pleasure to answer a couple of questions.

Bertrand Duperrin : Hi Jonathan. Before going further, could you tell what’s been the journey to IBM Verse ? What’s the positioning of the product in the IBM offer ?

Jonathan BenichouJonathan Benichou :At the very beginning there was Notes. Then Sametime brought messaging capabilities and couples together with Notes. Then, in 2007, Connections brought social networking capabilities. As the work practices evolved over time, we built bridges between these solutions, bridges that brought collaboration functionalities to users whatever the product they were using. That’s the Social Business approach, which purpose was to offer other solutions than using email for anything, most of all to share large attachements. Then, in 2013, with Notes Social Edition, we made all the interfaces uniform so users are never lost whatever the product they use.

IBM Verse is the ultimate evolution : the integration of these three products within an fully redesigned interface to bring users a revolutionary unified collaboration experience. Within a single interface, users get synchronous communication, asynchronous collaboration and social networking.

BD : But, concretely speaking, what gets an enterprise buying IBM Verse ? A piece of Connections and Sametime, flanged products coming with verse or full products ?

JB : That’s an important point. What’s new is the user interface, full HTM5 with an offline mode. But the back bone remains Notes + Connections + Sametime. We’ll first launch Verse in the cloud and customers having the 3 products will, of course, have them with Verse. If not they’ll get Verse for the applications they have and as an option for others. And those who’ll buy Verse “full package” will have get the full version of the three applications.

BD : Will it be an easy migration ?

JB :We’ll launch Verse in the cloud in february/march and it’s going to be the natural evolution for all our cloud customers. We’ll offer full migration flexibility to our clients to manage their move to Verse. Administrators will be able to decide either to move only some users to Verse, to move all of them or to give them the choice of keeping the “old” Notes Client or to move to Verse. So clients will decide the environment they want, make both coexist or let the end users decide.

BD : A smart way to manage pilots at the beginning…

JB :Of course ! One can start with a “pilot” population, learn from the feedbacks and then design the most relevant change management program to roll out Verse for everybody. It’s important to offer such flexibility to give clients as many options as possible in terms of change and progressivity.

The on premise version will be launched in the 2nd half of 2015 and, in this case, it’s obvious that there will be more technical requirements. As a matter of fact there’s not only Notes, Connections and Sametime but also analytics, a new multifaceted search engine since, from a single search box, we’ll be able to address the whole content of the three applications : mails, chats, forums, wikis, documents wherever they’re stored, events, calendars, tasks…

BD : So there’s been a lot of improvement made on search…

JB :Yes. Since you’re expanding search to your whole collaboration environment and to what your ecosystem shared with you, it’s easy to understand how powerful our offer is compared to the rest of the competitive landscape. You don’t have to search 2 or 3 applications one by one, in silos, to find what you need.

My POV:  Today, most of what we call collaboration consists of using colleagues as search engines. Many organizations think they have a collaboration or sharing problem while they only have a search problem. A very welcome evolution that will help people to focus on purposeful collaboration.

BD : So, back to the product. The first thing that strikes me is the interface. It’s obvious that it makes people want to try it.

JB : That’s the result of the effort made from the opening of our Design Center in Austin, a strategy rolled out by Phil Gilbert  who’ve said that “design must be at the service of users“. So we stared with a blank page and designed an interface not only to bring users functionalities but also pleasure. There’s been a lot of criticism about the Notes client so we had to show users that they’ve been heard. With, of course, an ergonomy especially designed for mobile devices.

By the way I advise you to watch the video of the launch of Verse and the part where Phil Gilbert explains how Design Thinking has been applied to Verse and Shane Snow  talks about lateral thinking. A true pleasure !

[Here’s the video. It’s worth being watched from the beginning to the end but if you’re in a hurry, this part starts at 01h01.

As for mobile use, let me tell your that the application reuses all the codes of general public services and application, Apple’s codes, codes and experiences people are used to in their personal lives. A consistent experience on PC or mobile. For us that’s also key in change management.

We’ve long been accused of not being present enough on the consumer side. Our response is to use in our professional applications all the codes they are used to in their personal environment.

My POV : what I see in the workplace is that people often adopt or reject a tool not because of its functionalities but because it’s consistent with the experiences and codes they know. So that’s a good move. However I see here an answer to a problem I mentioned months ago : B2B vendors like IBM have no shared experiences with end users before they join the workforce. The freemium version of verse will help IBM to address new markets, independant workers and people who don’t trust Yahoos and Googles regading to their personal data. That’s a great marketing shot and, surely, a Copernican revolution for Big Blue.

BD : We’ve been discussion the importance of search. What will Watson bring to Verse ?

JB :Watson won’t be available from the beginning but later, hopefully by the end of 2015. Watson will complement the analytics embedded in Verse. Here’s how it’s going to work.

If you remind having seen something in your collaborative environment about rebates and make a search without knowing the exact words that were used, you’ll use 36 words and waste a lot of time before you find your information. With Watson, if you write “rebate”, it will understand your question even if the actual text was “low prices”.

As you’ll ask questions to Watson he will understand your more and more and provide you with more relevant answers. The more he knows you the more he’ll be good at interpreting what you ask and,  of course, will inform you of the level of accuracy of his answers.

BD : With the ability to ask questions in natural language, we’ll be able to get answers instead of information. If I ask “what’s the price of a connections licence…”

JB : Watson will understand your question, look in your collaborative environment and if he finds an information or a price list he’ll say “I’m 99% percent sure that the answer is…” or “75%” if he knows that you only got an extract of the price list.

My POV : we’re reaching the point I described in this post. Instead of asking question to colleagues and make them waste their time, we’ll ask an intelligent agent that will come with an answer if the information is available somewhere. The end of the “message in a bottle”.

In fact saying that Watson will be into Verse is not exact. Each user will have his own Watson assistant that will adapt to him, learn from his searches, from the way he asks question, his expectations…and will improve his cognitive capabilities in the field of the user.

By the way, Watson can be used as an assistant. If you receive an email saying “are you available tomorrow at 11.00 am for a meeting” and you’ve activated the “Watson answer” functionality, Watson will read the mail, look at your calendar, aswer positively or propose new slots if you’re not available. “I’m Watson, answering on the behalf of Bertrand. I’m authorized to say you that he’s not available  at 11.00 am but that 3.00 pm is possible.”

My POV : I expect most users would like Watson to answer based on the person sending the request, on those we are always availabe for and those who can wait…

That’s Watson as it’s today. But we have no idea of what he’ll be able to do in the future, of all the innovative use cases our customers and partners will develop !

BD : Anything else about analytics ?

JB.Of course. We’re using analytics to prioritize information in Verse. When users log in, they’re showed their priorities of day : tasks he owns to others, tasks others own him, next meetings, a calendar bar allowing to see what’s their workload today.

BD : Email prioritization too ?

JB :Yes. Emails can be put forward if the system detects someone is important, for example si you often interact with someone or if you have a meeting with him soon. That’s not only based on email conversations but chats or interactions in the social network, communities. You can also declare that someone is important : the manager of your managers does not write a lot to you but when he does it matters.

BD : Another sensitive issue : security. What do you offer ?

JB :Everything is hosted in an IBM data center with the same technology and human security we have on Smartcloud. We had no issue with security so we’re keeping what’s been successful so far.

BD : Can I choose where my data are hosted ?

JB :Yes you can choose between our data centers in europe, USA etc…

In the end Verse is the best example of our CAMSS strategy so far : Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social, Security. Everything is in Verse !


Then I had a demo. Maybe you’ll find more comfortable to watch this video. You can even find more about Verse in the above video.

And the mobile version.

My POV (there are points Jonathan showed me that are not in the video). What I like :

– The interface : clear and providing an overall view

– Putting forward what matters now

– Being able to mute some conversations

– Being able to link to an attachment, whatever where it’s stored, and automatically generate the right sharing authorizations.

– Ationable emails : turn an email into a task and assign it to someone

– Watson assistant

– Being able to access all my collaboration channels from a single interface

– Being able to re-route a message from a channel to another  (ex : I receive an email and share it as a blog post)

– The multifaceted search engine that searches and all my collaboration applications as well as my extended environment (what people shared with me).

– The embedded experience (what is not new but still very impressive) that allows to run an application in the body of an email and be able to act on the application without leaving the current screen. Another way to make any content actionable whatever the application the alert comes from and the one it’s processed in.

My conclusion :a very promising too that fix a bunch of issues. Even technology alone will never kill bad habits, good habits are now more easy to adopt. I won’t go further today but I’ll deal with the evolution of mail clients and their role in the future of collaboration in a next post.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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