Whatever we call it

July 2 2011

I always seem to be traveling when controversy breaks out in the Lotus community. This week, it's an identity crisis, and it's one where my company and I are not doing everything we should. Some say we're not doing anything that we should.

So while I should probably have written this days ago, sometimes having a few days to read, reflect, and react helps these types of posts.

Let me start with the unwavering facts:

  • IBM continues to invest in Notes/Domino products and services at roughly the same rate of expenditure as we have for the last several years.
  • IBM continues to generate revenue from Notes/Domino products and services. That much I can say without getting into financial disclosure issues. I would like to be able to say more, it would be reassuring to do so, but I can't.
  • IBM is committed to the future of Notes/Domino products and services. We have shipped a release of the software annually, are delivering 3-4 releases of LotusLive Notes a year, are delivering 3-4 updates/releases of Notes Traveler a year, are posting code to OpenNTF.org almost every day.
  • There will be a new feature release of Notes/Domino in 2012. I have been discussing this release in every public presentation since before Lotusphere 2011. We at IBM have not yet chosen a name for this release.
  • IBM Software increasingly uses the IBM brand rather than the sub-brands e.g. Lotus, Tivoli, etc. on products. Tivoli now has a line of software that is called "IBM Security ____". The latest versions of Sametime, Connections, and Forms have moved to IBM branding.
  • Lotus as a brand has existed for 30 years, and is used commonly not just to refer to certain IBM software products (e.g. Lotus Symphony), but also to refer to a line of products and the community around them, e.g. "Lotus community".

Since Lotusphere, the Lotus community has had a subthread of discussion about a seemingly gradual disappearance of the Lotus brand. Each step that IBM has taken to align a product/service/solution with IBM branding has been discussed and dissected. Some -- mostly partners, a few customers -- have asked or demanded to know what IBM's strategy is around branding. Some have, with justification, leveled an accusation that IBM is not practicing what we preach around being a "social business" -- engaged, transparent, nimble.

I personally feel like I have let some of you down by not doing all those things, especially since my own personal career and reputation has been built on them.

While I was on the community call earlier this week, I didn't have a chance to review the content in advance. Scott Neuman and I had had a few discussions about the call, including a pre-call with one of the IBM Champions to try to anticipate the questions, but I never went over the slides. I should have. But what Scott did was answer the question in the only way you would expect IBM to corporately answer the question -- where are you going with this business? He said that the "social business" message gives us the opportunity to unite not just our collaboration solutions but analytics and other componentry from across IBM software. It establishes a framework where we can expand into new markets. It gives us a non-branded way to approach customers and prospects, leading with IBM and leading with a market need. IBM as a company engine works best when we have a theme to unite behind, it energizes sales and marketing across the world. Thus "social business" is a really good approach to telling the story.

Some ask whether Notes/Domino have a place to fit in that story. The answer is yes. In the second half of this year, we are going to talk about both "Get social - build apps" and "Social mail" as conceptual market messages to go along with the Notes/Domino technology solutions. We also will talk about the capabilities from Notes/Domino in the context of LotusLive, the IBM SmartCloud offerings, and more. We will not continue with "Lotus Knows" as an advertising and marketing theme, though. The purpose of that effort was to establish clearly for the market that IBM is committed to the Lotus branded products. However, we've come to the realization on some products, e.g. Connections and Sametime, that to get into new customers, the Lotus brand sometimes brings history, sometimes challenging history, and thus, rather than try to force the brand to fit into places where it isn't a best foot forward, it makes more sense to use the 2nd most-valuable brand in the world, IBM.

The inevitable next question is then whether the Lotus brand goes away from Notes/Domino. Scott Neuman correctly said on the call that decision hasn't been made. Long-time blog readers and friends know where my head is on this, but formally, we haven't decided. This probably surprises some people. To which I respond--somewhat defensively and even slightly belligerently--how we make decisions at IBM, and when we make them, and how we execute them, is not necessarily always going to be transparent. A social business is transparent, but it isn't a democracy or community. For those of you that are IBM partners, does this really surprise you? Do you post your business plans on your websites and share them with your own partners? Do you have reference stories for all of your clients (sometimes ANY of them)? Do you discuss your plans with your competition? Do you see Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco, SAP, or Google operating in this open and transparent approach? Heck, do you see Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or ANYONE in the social business space doing these things? Like, this week Google launched a social network that nobody knew they were about to launch. It's even a closed community during the "working out the kinks with a small group of testers" phase, how transparent is that?!?!

I think we are WAY ahead of those companies in understanding the value of engaged and transparent. But one thing I've learned this year is that we run the risk of being too far at that end of the spectrum, and it can impact the business. Several of the comments on the blogs this week have said it is a self-generated crisis, that by the hue and cry that comes out of the blogs, things that aren't major issues are seen to become major issues. IBMers and partners have approached me privately and said that their reaction, and their customers' reaction to many of the recent blogosphere discussions, is "who cares" and "stop talking about it, just do it and move on".

I will agree that the call this week started with mis-set expectations and ended with a missed opportunity. I will even take responsibility for that since I could clearly have done more to anticipate the type of call it was going to be. But to read some of the comments this week, which have included a "screw IBM, let's buy the product back from them" and ironic calls from people who are not Ed Brill fans wondering where I am on this (answer - product management does not drive branding, but we are clearly stakeholders), the situation sounds far more critical than it is. Nothing has changed about Notes/Domino, not the product, not the commitment, not the roadmap. Nobody cancelled their plans to come to the DominoPoint.it DDive event that I'm at today because IBM didn't completely answer this week what its strategy for the brand "Lotus" is going forward.

From challenge comes opportunity, and as I survey my inbox from the last few days, it's clear that the outcome of the call this week was to get many more IBMers to pay attention to the community and to what we say and do. I don't have to speak for them, you can find almost the entire IBM Collaboration Solutions executive team on Twitter these days. Or reading the blogs. Or in the linkedin discussions. And I believe it is clear we have a collective to-do to come back, say more, and keep the lines of communication open.

I personally am going to go push for that, push for being nimble, and push for the ability to be even more transparent. Considering all we have been through together, it is not just my responsibility, it is my obligation.  

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