Partners Skeptical IBM Verse Email Offering Will 'Reinvent' Inbox Or Reinvigorate New Sales

IBM is gunning to take on Google and Microsoft's dominance in the corporate inbox market with a new Verse email platform, unveiled Tuesday, that it touts as a smarter and more social alternative to the inbox status quo.

IBM Verse mixes collaboration tools, social smarts and Watson analytics to "reinvent" the inbox for today's business needs that are more social, and are drowning in an inbox data deluge. It's IBM's first major push back into the email space since its market share nose-dived with the decline in corporate use of Lotus Notes.

IBM hopes to respark competition, leveraging its big-data guns and analytics wunderkind Watson. Verse, IBM said, is a "vastly different approach" to email, capitalizing on the way employees communicate today, using tools such as email, meetings, calendars, file sharing, instant messaging, social updates and video chats.

[Related: Microsoft Says It'll Begin Offering Free Office 365 Email Migrations Next Month]

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IBM said Verse will put the company back into the email game now dominated by Google and Microsoft. IBM's Verse announcement comes just weeks after Google revealed its self-teaching Inbox service, and Microsoft introduced new machine-learning Clutter email tools available via Office 365.

Highlights of the Verse email service include intelligent task prioritization, which will help business email users get more value out of their inbox by applying an analytics engine to examine, predict and personalize an employee's "social email experience." IBM also attempts to deliver a more intuitive experience via a reimagined email user interface that hopes to make multiple tools such as email, calendar, to-dos, social networks, chats, online meetings and documents accessible "at a glance."

The heart of what IBM said it wants to do is bring deeper "context around the people and teams involved in a given task or project to drive more valuable employee engagements" with email.

But IBM partners said the company has an uphill battle to crack the corporate email space that has been led by services such as Microsoft Exchange and Google App's email platform.

"Given how mature the market is and how late IBM is to the party, it would be hard for anyone to find success," said Thomas Vetterani, vice president, strategy and messaging at CompuCom, a Dallas-based IBM partner. "The war and battle is over for the inbox market."

One large government partner, who asked not to be identified, said he was skeptical that IBM Verse would be able get much traction in the enterprise space. "We have customers that are using Notes and Domino and if those clients need analytics or more social tools, they can write that functionality into their existing platform," the partner said.

As for new business, "We won't jump on a bandwagon until we know we can make money doing it. And, typically, there isn't a lot of money sniffing around people's inboxes," he said.

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But IBM said it has an edge over Google and Microsoft by focusing more on security, and aiding communications and collaboration versus Google.

IBM claims Google is focused on mining a user's inbox and personal data to better serve paid content to users. Big Blue's Verse, in contrast to Google, includes built-in advanced security features, such as encryption, policy management, end-point management, data wipes and other critical enterprise security protocols.

IBM also said it has a leg up on Microsoft's recently announced Clutter, featured in Office 365. Clutter uses machine learning to surface important email and separate irrelevant noise across desktop and mobile clients to help them focus on what's important.

IBM, in a comparative analysis fact sheet provided to the press, said Microsoft's approach with Clutter lacks a sophisticated analytics approach and focuses too much on simple spam filtering.

"Email is still a problem for many companies," said Myron Elg, vice president, operations, at Solutions, a Spencer, Iowa-based IBM partner. "If IBM can intelligently leverage social tools and fuse them with IBM's analytics, security and email, it will really have something unique to bring to the table. But Google and Microsoft are way ahead of IBM. My customers are not clamoring for a new solution."

IBM said the service was developed collaboratively with the help of dozens of clients and partners. The service is available now as a beta service, and will be offered to channel partners in the first quarter of 2015.