From the opening act of They Might be Giants, to a closing view of IBM Watson's new life in enterprise collaboration, the Opening General Session of IBM Connect 2013 was a play on the theme of “from 'liking' to leading” through the purposeful application of social technologies.

With a 10 percent increase in attendance over last year, and business leader attendance almost doubling, clearly social applications to business are top of mind.

Fifty seven percent of CEOs surveyed in the IBM 2012 CEO study indicated that social will become a primary means of customer interaction. In the same study 70 percent of those CEOs also identified human capital as the number one source of sustained competitive advantage. Combine the two, and purposeful application of social to business is a strategic imperative.

The Social Imperative

The audience, both in Orlando and through the LiveStream video of the session, heard from companies doing just that. First up was the guest speaker, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has also been leading open collaborative production company HitRecord. It is the intersection of technology with community and the notion of “remix”.

The result? Short, engaging content like The Man With A Turnip For A Head, a short film that started as a poem that eventually made it to Sundance.

The audience also heard from Caterpillar, Bosch and Regeneron Pharma. Caterpillar is transforming an unlikely industry to accelerate customer growth and loyalty at 12 key touch points across the entire customer life cycle.

In Bosch's case, being more social led product cycle times to be reduced from weeks to days. Regeneron, named 2012 top biopharma employer in the world, described how social technologies applied to smarter workforce has helped them integrate over 1800 employees -- a tripling of their size since 2007 -- into their unique culture of innovation.

Alistair Rennie, General Manager of IBM Collaboration Solutions, also had his own example as well. As a "MAMIL" -- Middle Aged Men In Lycra -- he found that social sharing of his cycling enthusiasm through a social iPhone app led to improved performance through community and friendly competition.

New and Upcoming Releases

There were plenty of new technology announcements, starting with the IBM Platform for Social Business, now used by 61 percent of the Fortune 100. IBM Notes and Domino Social is planned for a March release, with new capabilities including a social activity streams integrated right into email, embedded experiences with OpenSocial API support, and mobile support to extend to the latest devices.

IBM Connections “Next” plans include new social graph analytics, discoverability enhancements, and office productivity with IBM Docs being made available on premises. IBM Sametime “Next” plans include richer audio and video and integration of meetings with IBM Connections and IBM Notes. And no platform is complete without value-added solutions, so IBM announced there are currently over 200 certified Ready for Social Business partners.

Also announced were planned updates to Kenexa smarter workforce solutions, including predictive analytics for workforce management, integration of IBM Connections for improved employee engagement like onboarding and new hire communities, and social learning capabilities based on research with Boston Children's Hospital.

But Social is not a diet, it's a lifestyle change that requires both technology and best practice adoption. So IBM also announced new services based on best practice adoption models for social business.

Envisioning the Future

No IBM Connect opening is complete without demonstrations. First up was a demo of Connections Next, Sametime Next and Notes and Domino Social Edition, along with a business partner table-top collaboration application, “foresee,” to show how a fictional outdoor lifestyle retailer is succeeding with social.

Also demoed were new Customer Experience and Smarter Commerce capabilities including social analytics to analyze sentiment in public social media, fast implementation and testing of online marketing campaigns, a new social media publisher that automatically publishes content to social channels, and quick creation of online communities through templates.

Some of the newer announced smarter workforce capabilities were also demoed, through the eyes of that same retailer as they searched for new talent, hired them and integrated them into the organization's culture, moving from “crowdsourced” to “expert sourced” learning.

So what does this all mean for you? With over 2.5 quintillion bits per day of social data generated per day, the keys to future success increasingly lie with the ability to unlock the social intelligence inside and outside the organization. Big Data, meet Social.

Together is ultimately where the smart application of social technologies will drive undreamed of transformations in the way we work and interact with our customers. IBM Connect 2013 will have hundreds of sessions, from high-level strategy to deep technical discussions, that hope to point audiences towards that bright future.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post, where I plan on recapping the themes from the Day 2 opening keynote session.