More Guests At The Social/Enterprise Party: IBM, Escorted By Harmon.ie

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IBM may not be the only one among B2B companies offering more social features to its clients, but it is definitely trying to make sure it stays in game: today it announced that it would extend the social media features it offers through IBM Connections — roughly, the company’s enterprise equivalent of a social network for work colleagues and contacts that has been around since 2007 — to include integration with Microsoft Outlook email, courtesy of a partnership with Israel-based enterprise startup harmon.ie.

The new service will see IBM Connections appear as a sidebar for those who use Outlook. That will give people the ability to do things like access SharePoint documents, see who is online and message them while still remaining in the email application.

(And to draw a line between what IBM is doing in enterprise with what’s happening in the consumer market, this is somewhat equivalent to Facebook offering a desktop messaging app to use when you’re not directly on its site.)

IBM says the new feature is being offered as an add-on (not automatically) to all businesses already using IBM Connections, with some of the current customers including TD Bank, Cemex, Electrolux and BASF.

The move is a mark of how IBM is trying to draw in users of third-party software to use more of its new social networking features — a newish area of business for the company, but one that it would like to see grow rather than get cannibalized by smaller and faster-moving startups (such as, ironically, harmon.ie itself):

“Just because a company chooses to use another email platform does not mean they should miss out on becoming a social business,” said Jeffrey Schick, VP of social software for IBM.

Email use among consumers has declined as a result of the rise of Facebook and Twitter, but in the workplace, it remains the primary mode of communication: more than 80 percent of business users ranked email as the most important “collaboration tool” in a recent survey from Forrester Research.

That makes it an important service to loop into IBM’s Connections service to encourage adoption: “To have a truly social strategy you have to be inclusive of all enterprise users,” said Yaacov Cohen, CEO of harmon.ie. “Email is the lowest common denominator.”

Harmon.ie and IBM would not say how many users are on the IBM Connections network, but on its own the Israeli-based startup has already picked up one million users of its social email product: 500,000 who use a pared-down free version of the software and another 500,000 who pay for a premium edition.

[Image: Ladybugbkt on Flickr]