IBM is going up against cloud-app powerhouses Google and Microsoft with its next generation e-mail client, called Verse, designed to enrich email with social media and analysis.
"We felt we could leverage analytics to build an experience that understands your priorities," said Jeff Schick, general manager of IBM social solutions, of the app that launched as a private beta on Tuesday. "We had the opportunity to reduce clutter and create priority, and to help people be more efficient in how they master their inbox."
The company plans to offer Verse in the first quarter of 2015 as a hosted service though the IBM Cloud Marketplace. IBM will also issue apps for both iOS and Android that can access all the same features as the desktop browser version.
"They are addressing known problems, inbox clutter, prioritization and the ability to access different modes of communication, from an integrated user experience," Rob Koplowitz, research analyst at Forrester who covers collaboration software, wrote in an e-mail.
Like IBM's Notes e-mail client, Verse relies on the IBM Domino e-mail server. Unlike Notes, which was built on a client-server architecture, Verse is entirely Web-based. Going forward, IBM will encourage customers to use Verse as an enterprise email client, except for those organizations that have built their own applications on Notes' Eclipse-based development platform, Schick said.
The Verse interface fuses email with other information harvested from internal and external sources. Users can access other IBM collaboration software, such as calendar, file sharing and messaging from the e-mail page.
The interface also generates a summary of information that might be of interest to the user: It can highlight upcoming appointments and tasks that should be completed. For group e-mails, it can generate a summary of each of the participants, and show how each party is related to one another in the work context.
The calendar does not require a separate page, but rather runs along the bottom of the e-mail page, where upcoming events can be quickly viewed. The service can sort email depending on its level of importance, as evaluated by the software. Verse observes the user's email habits over time and arrives at estimates of which email will be most pertinent.,
The company has upgraded the search capability, offering users a way to drill down for specific information found not only in the email messages but attachments as well. The email service will also offer access to the company's Watson machine-learning based analysis engine. Users can submit reports and other information to the service, and conduct searches against the collected material.
By adding all this informational context, IBM is hoping to make the experience of using email more useful. Today, 108 billion work e-mails are sent each day, according to the Radcati Research Group.
"While I don't think there is a single 'killer feature' of IBM Verse, it's the combination of email, tasks, calendar and people that will enable enterprise users to focus on what they need to respond to, who they need to connect with and what they need to get done," Alan Lepofsky, a principal analyst at Constellation Research, said in an e-mail.
The market for enterprise e-mail services is a competitive one, with service providers quickly adding new features to streamline the way email is handled by organizational employees. Microsoft just added a new feature to Office365, called Clutter,designed to help prioritize email. Google is also testing a new app called Inbox, which has been designed to improve upon Gmail with new features intended to simplify email management.
The move to a cloud-based release will be good for the company, as it allows the software to updated far more frequently, Lepofsky said. Deploying its analysis software for email and collaborative tools might also give the company a competitive edge.
The company did not reveal pricing of Verse, other than state it will offer a no-cost "freemium" version that would be available for individual users. A version of the software that can be run on-premise will be released later in 2015.