An introduction to Lotus Connections

IBM Lotus Connections can be your company's secure and business-oriented social networking tool. Get started on the cheap with LotusLive Connections.

IBM Lotus Connections wants to be your company's Facebook. Since no organization wants employees to waste time gossiping about who is dating whom, the aim of Connections is business networking. The term business networking generally includes services such as:

  • The ability to keep track of who you know within your company
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  • The ability to organize your contacts into various interest groups
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  • The ability to track project, tasks and deadlines
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  • File sharing
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  • Instant messaging
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  • Stored messaging to users who are not currently logged on
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  • Company-confidential wikis
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  • Status updates about your activities, as well as responses to your colleague's updates
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  • Mini-blogs and discussions on work-related topics

Because Connections is such a feature-rich product, the server infrastructure that supports it is fairly complex. A minimum pilot installation of Connections requires you to create a new server and install Websphere Application Server, DB2 Express, Tivoli Directory Integrator and Connections itself. A robust, enterprise-grade installation can require up to 10 servers with separate machines for an RDBMS, LDAP, Tivoli, a network file share, redundant HTTP servers and redundant Connections servers.

Luckily, there is an easier option. The LotusLive Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) from IBM allows you to rent Connections for just $6 a month. For this nominal fee, you can invite an unlimited number of people to join your Connections network -- from people within your organization to outside team members. For $72 a year, you can use Lotus Connections with no setup time or infrastructure costs. The price is fixed, for any number of users.

However, there is one caveat: The $6 per month LotusLive version of Connections does not contain all of the features you get with your own installed version. It does not contain wikis, blogs or stored messaging between users. That said, it does contain a lot for a great price.

I tested LotusLive Connections through a free trial -- which allows up to 99 users. The sign up and set up process is simple and fast. The administrative interface is also fairly intuitive, making the learning curve minimal. The features I found and tested are:

  • Contacts -- I invited other users to join my Connections network. They received an email from IBM containing logon instructions and had no problems logging on. I was then able to organize my contacts into logical groups of communities within my Connections interface.
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  • Projects -- Connections contains an impressive project management feature considering its price. A project is called an activity and each activity can contain subprojects (sections), tasks (entries) and action (to-do) items. These project parts can have priorities, due dates and person assignments.
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  • File sharing -- This contains all the standard features that you'd expect to see.
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  • Instant messaging -- The Connections IM feature makes direct use of the Lotus Sametime product through a download of the standalone Sametime client. Since this is a SaaS product, IBM runs the Sametime server that you connect to. My IBM server IM accounts were waiting for me after I registered users within Connections.

    In my opinion, this feature alone is worth the price of admission. You can run a complete IM infrastructure for everyone in your company for just $6 per month. If you already have a Lotus Notes shop, you can use the embedded Sametime features in the Notes client with the same results.

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  • Skype -- LotusLive Connections lets you add this application within the Connections dashboard. However, since every businessperson I know already has Skype installed on their desktop, this feature probably won't be as useful as the others.

IBM hopes you like the LotusLive experience so much that you'll upgrade to one of its pricier offerings, which include additional capabilities like online meetings, desktop sharing, forms creation, event management, polling and a full email client. The price for expanded LotusLive products tops out at $10 per user, per month.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chuck Connell is president of CHC-3 Consulting, which helps organizations plan, install, customize and use Lotus products.

This was first published in November 2010

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