Note: I wrote this earlier today, and was planning to post it first thing Monday morning.  However, with the upcoming IBM Social Business Jam starting Tuesday, and after reading Alan Lepofsky's remarkably-similar observations earlier today (see, we really are the same person), I thought it was worthwhile getting these thoughts into the conversation sooner. --Ed

Several years ago, I remember answering a question at the Lotusphere "Ask the Developers" session which basically went something like "you seem to be becoming more like IBM" as if it was a bad thing.  After I gave a few factual statements about how being part of IBM was helping the former Lotus subsidiary run our business more effectively and do more for customers, John Paganetti grabbed the microphone and asserted, "We wouldn't be here today if it weren't for IBM!"

That was a key moment for me, and perhaps for attendees, to understand that Lotus was part of IBM and there was no going back.

Fast forward to 2011, IBM's centennial year, and there is wide recognition within the product teams that build and manage Lotus software, along with the other software divisions, that the IBM brand is the strongest foot we can put forward to customers.  Tivoli software, for example, has started to call products "IBM Security ..." and "IBM Service Delivery...".  It doesn't change what the products do or what markets they serve.  Instead they leverage the #2 most-valuable brand in the world, and its brand promise of solutions for a smarter planet.

For too long, I allowed myself to be stuck in that moment at Lotusphere years ago, wanting to take advantage of what we then called "Uncle Lou's deep pockets" but yet fiercely asserting the independent spirit that Lotus stood for.  After Lotusphere 2011, I now realize that the best way for us to collectively be successful is to lead with the IBM story.  

What happened this year to shed any vestiges of past thinking?  Four things that show that IBM as a company gets this space more than ever, and that when we tell an IBM story, we will get more of the vast 400,000-person IBM army, and the entire marketplace, to march in this direction:

  • The opening general session, whatever its flaws, featured two components that signaled IBM strength more than ever.  First, a long list of customer successes.  That might not have been important or even interesting to everyone in the room, but when the competition is out whispering that you don't want to be the last customer using something, it's pretty important to highlight in fact that tons of customers are using it.  Further, when I went to the press conference after the opening session, a reporter with Forbes highlighted the themes of the customers in his question.  The 200 CIOs sitting up front cared to hear they were in good company.  So that worked.  
  • The second bit in the OGS that signaled IBM strength was the presence of Laurence Guihard-Joly, VP Enterprise Services -- the first time that IBM Global Technology Services ever participated in a Lotusphere keynote, and one of the first times that we worked across divisional lines to offer a great cloud solution to customers.  Why does that matter?  Now Laurence has an organization full of people who want to do something new and right for the market with Domino -- it's the amplified effect of working together.  The result?  Over 200 responses to the Lotusphere offer around Domino applications in the cloud came in the first 24 hours.
  • In the Tuesday business keynote, IBM SVP of corporate marketing Jon Iwata participated in Lotusphere for the first time.  Iwata's presence alone was a huge internal signal at IBM that this social business stuff matters.  Iwata showed that he understood the importance of the technologies and solutions being discussed at conference in shaping IBM's future market awareness and opportunities.  A super-smart guy, and the comments about him being at Lotusphere that I read all over Twitter and the blogs were incredibly positive.
  • The closing session at Lotusphere featured Watson, the showpiece of an incredible amount of IBM research and technology.  And you loved it :-)  Nobody asked me after the closing session "why was there so much blue up there?" or "what did Watson have to do with social business?" or "what Lotus technology does Watson use?"  

In fact, Julian Robichaux nailed it:
However, in a "social business" world, that kind of technology is exactly what we need -- not only for analysis of social data, but for things like the medical industry where you are running tests and making diagnoses based on people rather than raw numbers. ... [When Julian tweeted about Watson and got a reply, he said] And it's a fantastic bit of social interaction by the IBM team. They're online, they're listening, and they're responding. Money where their mouth is.

It's also the kind of thing that eventually encourages me to write a several hundred word blog entry about IBM Watson, rather than a short mention that would otherwise be buried in a final conference wrapup entry. Just one word: Hello.

We build Lotus software and solutions in the IBM Collaboration Solutions division, but what we stand for now is the clearest it has ever been -- Social business.  It might sound like hype or over-simplification to you, but it resonates and it works.  Over and over and over last week, both those in Orlando and those who analyze and report on us took this buzzphrase and amplified it -- connected to IBM as a leader -- a hundred times over.  People who might not pay attention when they hear the word "Lotus" pay attention when they hear "IBM is providing the unified communications solution to manage Super Bowl XLV security".

I'll always bleed yellow around Lotus Notes, but I'm never going to hesitate to lead blue.  Heading into IBM's second century, the IBM brand promise will make us all more successful, opening new opportunities and extending the value of existing investments.  

That is what I want to be part of in 2011 and beyond -- and I hope you do, too.

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