Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent

Thomas Schaeck, Distinguished Engineer, Collaboration Solutions, Web and Social Software, IBM

By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications

When Thomas Schaeck talks about the future of social networking and collaboration at the enterprise level, an apt way to sum up his description of what’s possible is: You ain’t seen nothing yet!

While enterprises are already realizing great benefits from social collaboration solutions, what’s in place today essentially lays the groundwork for extraordinary capabilities to come. Schaeck, a distinguished engineer working on social software at IBM Collaboration Solutions, is helping lead research and development that will take social business collaboration to the next level.

Nothing demonstrates the future and potential of social business collaboration more than Smart Social Q&A, a research initiative that lets an employee ask a question and then analyzes it and routes it to the best people in the company to answer it. Schaeck conceived the idea to integrate the IBM Connections enterprise social network and smart social analytics with advanced routing algorithms to enable employees to get the most useful answer to any question they may have, as quickly as possible. He works with IBM Research and customers on realizing this idea.

“What we’re doing now enables all the employees of a company to really connect and work together in a very different way compared to what was possible before,” Schaeck said. “People don’t have to first find colleagues in order to ask them something. Instead, they simply ask. We make sure the questions find the right people to answer them.”

Pinpointing the best people possible to answer a question

Schaeck, who was lead architect for the WebSphere Portal platform and portal standards for several years, has played a key role in advancing social business through his work on IBM Connections. “We now have the opportunity to leverage the Connections platform and build powerful new applications and services on top of it,” he said.

Smart Social Q&A leverages the vast amount of employee social data contained in the “social graph” that’s established by IBM Connections. The social graph includes people and content, and maps all the interrelationships between people and content, across an enterprise. The graph draws from employees’ profiles, connections, tags, blog posts, forum posts, status updates — you name it.

When an employee asks a question using Smart Social Q&A, the solution analyzes the social graph to figure out who in the enterprise is most likely able and willing to respond. Using advanced text analytics, the solution can also consider people’s “willingness to help others” in routing decisions.

Whether an employee asks a simple question or has a high value and urgent request, such as needing specific data in order to close a deal, Smart Social Q&A will effectively direct it to the right people. The solution also stores responses, so if someone else asks the same question in the future the answer will be immediate.

Smart & social equals a competitive advantage

The beauty and great innovation of Smart Social Q&A is how the “smart” and “social” elements are integrated into the social networking concept. “We’re not just putting up a Q&A service that is separate from other things,” Schaeck said. “It is deeply integrated into a company’s social network.”

IBM is collaborating with Robert Bosch GmbH, IBM’s research partner on this initiative. The two are integrating an early version of Smart Social Q&A with the multinational engineering and electronics firm’s Connect platform, which is based on IBM Connections. Schaeck believes that within several years, social business platforms and smart applications leveraging them, like Smart Social Q&A, will be common and essential for large enterprises to remain competitive.

“Smart Social Q&A builds a bridge between all the people and all the knowledge within a company, whether it has a couple thousand or hundreds of thousands of employees,” Schaeck said. “It gets knowledge from people’s heads into the social business platform, where it becomes useful to everybody.”

In another initiative that points to social’s importance to building a smarter enterprise, Schaeck is helping integrate the social networking and collaboration capabilities of IBM Connections with IBM’s WebSphere Portal, Enterprise Content Management and Business Process Management solutions.

“Bringing all these capabilities together is essential,” Schaeck said. “It’s where the real value for enterprises can be achieved.”

Schaeck, whose background had been strictly technical for much of his career, finds his endeavors in the social sphere highly gratifying. “It’s very exciting to work in this area, which is really about connecting people and helping them be more productive and innovative through smart use of modern technology,” Schaeck said.

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 Watch IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty discuss the roleof Social Business in the New Era of Computing at the Council on Foreign Relations on March 7, 2013.  

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