IBM’s Bluehouse: a human hub?

Even after 42 years in IT, I still tend to forget that projects are always at their most attractive before they’re implemented.

A good idea captivates and it’s easy to get carried away with enthusiasm, temporarily forgetting that there’s a whole lot of hard work in moving from idea to reality.

In the case of an IT product or service, the hurdles are not just technical. You have inconvenient things like channels to market and user acceptance to consider.

All this flooded into my mind following a visit to Lotusphere Comes To You at the Wembley Stadium the other day. Having visited the main event in Orlando earlier this year and been really fired up by Bluehouse I started to mull the reality behind the idea.

Bluehouse is intended to be a software-as-a-service offering from IBM for companies with 5 to 500 employees. According to IBM/Lotus, it will “provide extranet collaboration services for open social networking, instant messaging, file sharing, project management and web conferencing.” And it is designed to appeal to those with no internal IT.

It still sounds good to me and I am sure that IBM will have no trouble pulling it off technically. But the way ahead is murky. IBM isn’t used to dealing with small companies and its channel isn’t used to selling subscription services. Nor, in the main, are the users ready for this kind of SaaS.

It would be interesting to think of IBM as a latter-day web business with curvy corners and off-the-page selling. This strikes me as an unlikely route to market. Or it could jump into bed with (or buy) someone with a ready-made channel. But this seems expensive for an idea which might still be ahead of mainstream user thinking.

I suspect that IBM is being driven by wishful thinking and the prospect of all that lovely monthly revenue pouring in from millions of SMBs who are presently beyond reach. Once attached to the IBM mothership, the opportunity exists for lots of additional revenue from an incremental expansion of the services which can be pushed (or is it pulled?) down the pipe.

But then, another scenario occurs to me. What if a company wanted to connect its business partners to its own collaboration services? It might have already bought into the Lotus collaboration story big-time and sees value in extending its reach. This might be possible, right now, using an assortment of publicly available services, but it might not offer the security, accountability or reliability that matches the company’s governance and integration requirements.

Auto-makers and insurance companies provide intimate access to their suppliers and agencies for commercial transactions. I wonder if Bluehouse could end up becoming a hub for human transactions?

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