The Lotus Community Echo Chamber and the Apple iPhone 3G; Part 2 - Who is the real customer?

June 11 2008

This is part two in a three part thought process that came after the WWDC SteveNote that took place on Monday. To can read my initial thoughts, The Lotus Community Echo Chamber and the Apple iPhone 3G, and The Lotus Community Echo Chamber and the Apple iPhone 3G: Part 1 - A hard look at the community.

Once we look harshly at the community, it is only fair to turn the same eye on IBM's view of who their Notes customer is. With all of my time working with IBM around the Lotus Notes and Domino product, we have heard so many things about who their customer is. I don't mean user vs developer vs admin vs executive. I mean who is their current customer base and what customers are being targeted for future license sales.

IBM says there are a total of 120 million Notes customers over the life of the product. They will also say there are 46,000 active companies on maintenance. Those numbers have been used in so many places, that I do not doubt them. The issue I have is who the listen to.

So with honoring my NDA's that are in place, I believe that IBM has created it's own echo chamber. They talk to customers who are active in betas, design partner programs, and things like the Global Customer and Partner Council. They hear from customers at Lotusphere and other customers. They get communication thru support agreements and their websites. They have the LDD forums, the Business Partner forum on LNN, and the numerous blogs that IBMers have set up. This is not enough.

I have heard IBMers tell me "we hear you but most customers disagree with you" way to many times over the past month. The majority of this has happened inside the Design Partner forum and conference calls, so I can not share why. Let's just say that the 8.5 release has me worried and disappointed. But IBM keeps saying that the features coming in 8.5 are what customers what. DAOS, ID Vault, Disk I/O Reduction, Document Compression, XPages without support for the Notes client, Router optimization, DCT, Auto Groups, Calendar Federation, and more is enough for the 8.5 release .. and it has to ship this year. Personally, I believe a feature like the LotusScript editor is a key piece to be in Domino Designer for Eclipse (DDE) when it ships, but they disagree. And guess what, that is their right. I am just once voice.

The problem as I see it is that IBM is talking to large customers. Customers under maintenance. Customers that are not going to expand their license counts significantly. They should be talking to Exchange shops. Customers with 10, 100, and 1000 users ... not just the 10,000 + customers. They need to break open the echo chamber. They need an official bug reporting system and idea exchange, like IdeaJam, that they host. On the web. That A N Y O N E can use. Requiring an IBM web id is OK, but none of this PartnerWorld or Passport Advantage crap.

IBM's biggest growth for Notes and Domino should be in the Medium space. Companies from 50 to 1000 users. Those should be the people you are listening to. Ask them if they want mashups. Ask them if they want Dojo. Ask them if they want more to administer Websphere and DB2 (don't get me wrong .. WAS and Portal have their place ... when you guys build administrative tools that work together). Then ask them if they want a better development environment for the Notes client. If they want iPhone support. Maybe the numbers and market data you need will show up.

IBM keeps telling me that they are about innovation and collaboration. IBM needs to eat it's own words and innovate on how they listen to it's customers ... and collaborate with them. Today. Today in IBM speak = before the end of 2008.

OK, with that off my chest, it's time to stop complaining and offer a solution. Look for Part 3 of this piece tomorrow as I make a Call to Action.