June 15 2010
Monday was filled with angst from many different sources and on many different levels. It was a strange contrast to my expected rest of the week, where I'll be at Enterprise 2.0 later today, at an IBM launch of our new labs in Massachusetts followed by an event focused on our mobility leadership, and then internal meetings on present/future planning. In other words, I entered this week, like most, planning for optimism and opportunity.
I've never been a developer. Sure, I took C and Pascal classes at various points in my life, but outside those academic environments, I've never built a usable software program. I have known for many years that this is a blind spot in my role, but I'm surrounded by engineering and product management people who "speak developer", which helps a lot. But maybe not enough.
When I read the recent blog postings of two rational people saying that, whether by their own choice or not, they were getting away from Domino development, and the hundreds of comments that followed, well -- let's face it, my first reactions were natural human ones of sadness and anger. I was sad for Jonvon, a friend who has worked extremely hard to, well, not get to where he thought he was going. Even in the last few weeks, I've seen that spark of his energy in so many places, and know that this shift for him has come s a complete shock. I'm sorry, buddy. Anger, well, not anger at Jake or Jonvon, but at how we got to this point. I was angry at the so-called analysts who told Jonvon's company to get off Notes, despite little evidence that moving away from Notes/Domino for applications was even a relevant decision. I also was angry at some of the comments on both blogs (or pointing to them), along two veins.
One were the Microsoft employees, in the final weeks of their fiscal Q4, dancing on the graves and saying "we told you so". I'm sure they should be much busier explaining to customers why their cloud/hybrid/premises model isn't really in operation yet, why Exchange 2007 is still the engine behind Exchange Online, and how they actually differentiate in the commodity email space from someone like Google. But instead there are the guys who left Lotus ten years ago, all confidently displaying that they know "why this happened". Yeah, sure, you guys know. And it would have been so much different if you were still here, except for that whole bit about the Notes business having grown in revenue every year since 2004. Thanks guys.
Two were the usual crowd of "Lotus marketing sucks" doomsayers. Admittedly, there are more such voices in that choir than in the past. This is natural for a product now in its 21st year in market -- there are people who have moved on to something else, and will believe what they believe as to why. Thing is, other than that brief blip in 1999 around R5, Notes and Domino have never been marketed at the level the community has asked for, yet again, we've sold hundreds of millions of licenses, grown the business, and seen new adoption in tens of thousands of customers in the last three years.
None of that matters to the individuals making their decisions. I was heartened to see that some of the long-time Lotus partner community voices chimed in with "well, at least where I sit, the sky isn't falling". Others you never hear from, because, well, they are too busy selling what they make to be on top of the blogosphere every day. And I received several emails and pings of support.
But I also received several emails and pings from those that are increasingly discouraged. I heard from you at DNUG last week, I see the blog and forum discussions, and I hear the scuttlebutt. Yes, in a down economic climate, a mature product is suffering a bit for attention. Somehow, everything that has possible negative connotations that we do is always quickly remembered in these circumstances. Everyone pulls out Workplace, or NSFDB2, or IBM's acquisition of Lotus [hint: Lotus would never have survived stand-alone, and we are now so fully a part of IBM from both an organizational and strategy perspective that it really isn't "Lotus" as a separate entity anymore anyway]. I love how many customers know that the basic configuration for Notes 8 exists and choose to deploy it, even though we never mention it anywhere in our Notes 8 marketing materials. So the question of why Lotus marketing is always to blame is a puzzling one for me.
It is even more puzzling when I read what the alternatives are that developers are choosing. Can I please see the marketing budget for Ruby on Rails? 37signals? LAMP? The MS stuff that Jake is writing about, sure, I get that that's viable. But when I look at what MS does to promote tools to developers, I see things that mirror our free Domino Designer, hosting of test/developer images on Amazon, contributions to the community and human efforts via OpenNTF.org, and evangelism of our speakers at events like Admin, DNUG, ILUG, etc.
So then where exactly is the trip wire for Domino development today? I see lots of strawmen. IBM isn't getting the message to senior execs. I grant you this one. Some of my fellow IBM colleagues may not agree, but I think one of our biggest organizational strengths is also a big challenge. The fact that an IBM rep who gets to meet with a CIO, CFO, or CEO has a hundred different product lines to cover, including hardware, software, consulting, and services, is an attention issue. The Microsoft or Google rep calling on those C-level execs has a much shorter script, and oh by the way is far more inclined to get competitive in those audiences ("why would you still use a product that has only 10% share?", feeling extremely confident about the validity of the stat because it is from some "Research" firm). Whenever I write my book, this will be a whole chapter.
But I still sleep better at night knowing we are not bold-faced lying to customers and prospects. The question that I spent hours agonizing over in the last few weeks is, what are the different actions we need to take to change the Notes/Domino app dev game. The messaging side of the story is doing fine in the market -- I can't keep up with the interest in LotusLive Notes, even from customers running competitive products -- but the apps are still not front and center. This despite XPages, Eclipse, Composite Apps, OpenNTF, free Designer, and everything else. My team has been working on tools like XPages seminars, "developer roadshow in a box", the Solutions Catalog, the developerWorks wikis, and many other places to get do the monkey dance and get the right information out to developers. Yet some haven't turned the corner and tried XPages, while others are building innovative new websites with it.
So there are disconnects at other levels. The IBM brand stands for something, yet questions about our commitment to these technologies linger. These questions are prompted by FUD and competition, so I am not sure how to best address them. With more and more code from us on OpenNTF, I would think it clear that we are investing. But there must be more to do.
I've rambled on enough for an early morning, and I don't have a declarative "we will do THIS DIFFERENTLY NOW" point that an IBM executive should have in wrapping up a post like this. But I'll say this much -- I, and my peers and colleagues, see this moment in time as defining for the very discussion going on on the blogs. So we're reading. All of us. All of the posts. And my invitation to you would be, other than "market to the CIOs", "get into the schools", and "more advertising", what are other things you think we should do. A year ago, we did the LotusKnows IdeaJam, and we took and implemented many of the ideas shared there. It's time for the next wave of that. Some of the nay-sayers will say that it's wasted energy, so fine, if you feel that way, don't share. But if you have good ideas, I'd love to collaborate. My inbox is always open, as are comments here.