This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Business Agility, sponsored by IBM. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Business Agility site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

Cloud Productivity Heats Up with IBM Docs

New contender will vie with Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365.

IBM Docs is a cloud-based productivity suite that will directly challenge Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365 when it emerges from beta. We could see other big enterprise providers moving into the cloud app space.

IBM Lotus has introduced a cloud-based suite of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software, with collaboration and social integration features baked in. The work was done by the same team that is updating other Lotus-legacy products to bring the offerings into the era of the social enterprise. If you are currently evaluating desktop application replacements, you'll want to give IBM Docs a look. (IBM sponsors BusinessAgility.com.)

Cloud-based productivity applications can provide a major boost to the nimbleness of companies whose workforce is distributed and/or mobile -- which describes more and more companies as time goes on. IT departments are going to want their organizations to standardize on a single suite for which they can offer solid support. With IBM's move, competition in the space is about to heat up, and the coming year may see new entrants.

IBM Docs -- perhaps the name was deliberately intended to invoke echoes of "Google Docs" -- is in beta, and will be released this year, according to the company. There are reports of rough edges in the beta package. When these are ironed out, IBM Docs could be a credible component of the story IBM takes to enterprise customers and prospects. Pricing was not announced; this will be an important piece in the competitive picture, along with discounting and incentives.

According to a video introducing the beta product, IBM Docs offers more deeply integrated social collaboration features than its competitors do. These features go beyond the ability of multiple people to edit a document simultaneously, which all of the cloud packages have. Rudimentary workflow is built-in: you can assign people to work on parts of a shared document, and track the progress as these tasks are completed. You can attach and reply to notes in documents (or spreadsheets or presentations) to converse with collaborators in different timezones, or to converse, IM-like, in realtime with others who may be sharing the editing session.

Big Blue's entrance into the cloud productivity arena, as it rebrands IBM LotusLive under the IBM SmartCloud for Social Business moniker, will serve to validate cloud-based apps and hasten the slow fade of desktop client apps. Watch to see whether IBM's enterprise-services competitors -- Dell, HP, and Oracle/Sun -- introduce productivity suites of their own in the coming year. It would not be surprising to see one or more of them team up with Microsoft or Google to plug the new hole in their services that IBM's move just created for them.