Customer and Vendor panels CAN be cool

With all of the complaining about the panel discussions at the Lotusphere Opening General Session, imagine my initial thoughts when some of my press and blogger events included customer and vendor panel discussions. It was kind of a ‘oh here we go again’ reaction when I entered a couple of these special events. I was thinking that we might get more of the same generalizations as were seen during the OGS.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The special events were so much better and more engaging than what we saw during the first 90 minutes of the OGS. In one, we got to meet vendors such as Silanis, Genus, Sogeti and Meetrix. They each talked about their products and how they worked with IBM products, and how they made businesses more social. It’s obvious that IBM was hammering home the Social Business theme, but we still got to hear real world examples and got to hear how it really worked with the products we use every day. No generalizations.

Next was a Social Business ROI panel with Jamie Page and Brian Larson from Slumberland Furniture, Kristina Verner from Windsor University and some folks from IBM Trinidad. I spoke personally for a bit with Brian from Slumberland before the panel started, and they were doing some really cool things.

Slumberland Furniture is a family owned business who has both company owned stores and franchise stores. They needed ways to share information between corporate and the stores, but they had a lot of ways they needed to secure that info. So they might have to do it by region, or whether a store is a franchise or corporate, what department a person is in (Sales vs. Warehouse) etc. Well years ago when they were evaluating platforms, they had read the book ‘The World Is Flat’ by Thomas L. Friedman and it lead them to think collaboration was the way to go. They started out with Portal and Notes and quickly added Sametime, then Quickr and recently added Connections. This was a family-owned business who was run much like the company I work for, and it was cool to see how they embraced the same technologies we did, and coped with the same issues we run into. One other cool thing they did that really fit the social business mantra, was that many stores had their own video production teams, and those teams were utilizing technology from Genus integrated with Lotus products to share productions and roll out commercials and such. It was a neat use of the technology.

Next to talk was Kristina. She came from Windsor University in Canada and spoke about how the university worked closely with IBM and the city of Windsor and Essex county to make the region greener, help alleviate asthma attacks in the region, and converting waste from road projects into housing. They were heavy users of Connections, Quickr and Sametime, and used these technologies to coordinate efforts. This helped the region become recognized as one of the Top 7 Most Intelligent Communities in the world by the Intelligent Community Forum. So to see such an accomplishment stem from Lotus products was re-assuring and good to see. You can check out their community portal here.

I think the main complaint from the OGS is that a lot of the talk of Social Business could have revolved around using any tools, not just Lotus. By comparison, these panels were hard core, real world examples of the software brands we love. IBM and Lotus products were being used, and used wonderfully. So panel discussions CAN be cool. Here’s looking forward to some more of these in the future!