What’s new at Lotus ? Coherence, openness and value

0
2485

connections-logoI rencently had the chance to attend Lotusphere in order to gauge the feeling of what what happening at IBM/Lotus. I took some time to write this post because I was not sure of the point of view I had to take.

It was obvious that “I saw tools doing this and this” was not relevant. In the enterprise 2.0 solutions arena I don’t think this is the point. There are many tools that help to create communities, wikis, social networks, twitter-likes… So when you are IBM (or Microsoft) you must have everything in your portfolio while smaller competitors may focus on only one part of the E2.0 offer. Notice that the latters tend to enrich their offer what makes  products  looking more and more similar with the risk of including a very good application into a suite that is not as good.

In short, if you’re looking for a product benchmark I think there are enough things writen on the web. In my opinion the point is elsewhere. Being able to make bricks coherent, being able to provide user with a coherent experience in various contexts, find one’s place in the workday workflow. And, last but not least : demonstrate that the needs of organizations are understood and that a clear and relevant vision of the future exists.

Let’s see how things are doing.

• Coherent bricks :

Lotus Collaboration PortfolioBlogs, wikis, communities etc… at IBM all these things are included in one product named Lotus Connections. And, logically, these bricks are made to work together in a coherent fashion. The rest is about interface and the easiness of use. A few words about the interface : everyone has his own taste and saying that a product is better than another is rather subjective. I may be very comfortable with a given interface, not with another… it’s up to you to make your own opinion. However, I have to say that I like the sober interface. It may look deceiptive compared to what can be seen on the web but we have to remind that in a corporate context crowded with prehistoric browser, where Flash or Ajax support is often far from being optimal, where the bandwith is far from being what we can have at home, having an interface that is not full of “special effects” helps the product to be usable by all in nearly every context. It may also be useful to overcome the “gadget effect” that sometimes puts user and decision makers off..

• Face multiple contexts

As I said here, work is not made only of communities, social networks and blogs. People are involved in collaborative activities that may be of many different kind, that can happen in many perimeters with various tools. Email, groupware, instant messaging, social networks : there no new or old model, new or old tools but many contexts, each one having its dedicated tool. But they all address the same need.

I often mentioned the risk of building a social bubble apart from the rest. This may have many consequences :

• make people spend their time switching from one tool to another.

• poor data exchange between tools

• scare people who feel they have to abandon what they know

• difficulty in developing new practices with the new tools, users getting tired and prefering to stay with the tools they know.

In the IBM portfolio this risk exists : Notes, Sametime, Quickr, Connections…all these tools are used for collaboration. But how ? When to use what ? How to unify the user’s experience, who can’t spend their time juggling.

The good point when all these tools come from the same vendor is that coherence arrives one day or the other. That’s a work in progress at IBM. Each tool now has a clear positionning and the upcoming evolutions will make them share more and more services. This is for today. For tomorrow the solution is named Project Vulcan, what is not a new product but a vision that will be implemented into existing tools This effort was unavoidable because of the richness of the offer that was causing complexity for both users and decision makers who like clear offers.

• Respect people’s workflow

The world is not made of IBM tools only. There are hundreds of tools to communicate inside and outside the enterprise and as many enterprise tools that are not used for collaboration but generate data around which people collaborate. Work with a tool then use the data that are inside and collaborate around them sometimes with one’s team, sometimes within a community is a natural flow for people. And such a flow can’t be executed in a seamless way in today’s context. Add to that that the concerned people may be known, unknown, sometimes outside of the enterprise, sometimes reachable on different platforms….and you understand why collaboration often looks a nightmare.

Notes already offers the ability to interact with many general punlib external tools and services. Project Vulcan aims at making it possible with any enterprise software vendor who’d like to play the game through APIs.

What can we dream of ? Having an ERP or CRM report that appears in Notes and, from Notes, send it by email, share it with my team, submit it to a community, publishg it into a blog, each mode being about a given purpose and a defined collaborative objective.

In the same trend, we’ll see more integration with Sharepoint and Quickr will be able to leverage nearly any ECM.

The message seems clear “use us as you want, with who you want”? In concrere terms, IBM not only thinks its offer as a suite but also as a platform with which everything should be able to integrate and interact.

• Understand where the future is

As it’s including more and more protean practices, the collaborive offer is getting richer but also more complex. On the enterprise side, it means “stop selling me functionalities and technlogy but a real value proposal that also includes usage scenarios and metrics that are relevant to my industry”. On the vendor side : “Elaborate a value proposal that is at the same time, rich, comple, specific and does not make the client the only one in charge of understanding what’s happening but be able to accompany him”. Said differently “your job is to be successful, our is to bring you what you need to succeed and avoid you to waste you time understanding why and how to use our product”.

In the collaboration software field, the “every problem can be solved by technology” does not make sense anymore. It’s an ambitious but unavoidable new sales approach (because it starts with sales). According to the conversations I had I can affirm that IBM has the right DNA to  sucessfully manage a transition that will be essential to any vendor in the future. Maybe we can even think that in the future the ability to sell a tangible value proposal instead of a list of functiunalities will be more differenciative than the product itself. This is the sense of  Collaboration Agenda, about which  Martin Koser wrote a good post here.

• Conclusion

IBM brings credible answers to what I think being the challenges that will matter in the future and are, today, a real barrier to the adoption of the “social” part of collaboration.

– avoid bubbles

– collaborate in a multi-context mode without being constrained by tools and channels

– build strong connections with enterprise software, fluidify collaboration around data coming from these applications and create an unified work environment.

Of course, it will not happen in a day but the fundamentals are healthy. The corporate DNA too, what is not trivial when you need to be sure of the vision of the vendor before making a long term choice.

In one word : “Student Lotus passes the exam with a B grade that may turn into A+ if he keeps his promises…next exam will tale place at Lotusphere 2011”. As Stuart McIntyre wrote, a new Lotus may be emerging.

A little bonus to end…

Next “product posts” : a flashback on the last Microsoft Techdays and the “new” blueKiwi.

adoption, collaboration, collaboration agenda, enterprise-social-software, ibm, intégration, lotus, lotus connections, lotus live, lotusphere, ls10, project vulcan, value