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.

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

  1. 1) Nathan T. Freeman says:

    Part of the challenge here is that IBM sees things like composite apps, xpages, and Connections integration as growth opportunities. These are all awesome pieces of technology, but I personally still only know 3 people outside IBM that have ever built a composite app, and only 2 outside IBM that have experimented with Xpages. I guess there's some massive ISV / Enterprise Customer community that has some secret demand, but I've never been able to find it.

    The challenge is constantly whether product strategy should attack (by seeking new customers) or defend (by securing existing customers.) Any chess player will tell you that the right move is the one that both attacks and defends. So IBM should be doing things that both expand the ecology and support what their existing customers want.

    One example of that would be full-fidelity DXL. Another would be supporting xpages in the client (they're brilliant for brand new stuff for web clients, but they simultaneous shaft rich client users AND legacy apps, all in one fell swoop!) Another is probably Designer-in-Eclipse -- since bringing Domino into the 21st century as a platform helps both the existing customers and people thinking about using Notes.

    Something like DAOS -- as much as I think it's fantastic and well-executed and long-overdue -- is a purely defensive play. No Exchange shop on the planet is going to go "well we were thinking of switching to Domino but then we found out that they DUPLICATE ATTACHMENTS!!!!" If they're thinking of switching, it's for reliability, security and scaling reasons that far outweigh the cost of storage (which gets cheaper by the minute.)

    I have no opposition to defensive moves. I have opposition to ALL defensive moves. And part of the criteria on every front must be "how does doing this attack the market and win us new territory where we never were before?"

    If only that had been on their minds when they set out to do Traveler. *sigh*

  2. 2) Ed Maloney says:

    IBM is in a difficult position in that they really can't please everyone. They are under constant assault from MS Exchange and now Google Apps. I recall a Boston user group meeting with Al Zollar sometime around the R6 release. There were the same gripes from the user community about not paying attention to the SMB market. Al's response was "if they're less than 5,000 seats, Microsoft can have them". End of discussion.

    Despite the SMB announcements at Lotusphere08, I don't think that this attitude has changed. Foundations is a great idea, but we'll see if it isn't quietly discontinued after a year. I'm afraid that Notes as we know it will continue to morph into some derivative of Websphere. This may be what's needed to preserve and expand the large enterprise market. However, unless they can make it work on reasonable hardware and not require the global services team to configure, it definitely will not fly anywhere else. But then, how often do you see DB2 and Tivoli in a SMB? I think we can see where this is going.

  3. 3) Nathan T. Freeman says:

    "if they're less than 5,000 seats, Microsoft can have them"

    I truly don't believe that this is IBM's attitude, but if it is, they deserve what's coming to them.

    But... again, I don't think that's what they intend.

  4. 4) Ian White says:

    Great post John

    IBM I think has great intentions but that, we know, is the road to hell.

    I think that partners and activists have to turn over the stone. What we can gather from our direct relationship is the real reason of why legacy customers have left the Notes / Domino to any other platform and then collect these in a secure, but structured way. The answer will be a lemon because we know the real answer - The moment IBM decided it did not want to 'invest' in small partners it lost its coverage model, it was a ticking time bomb that has yet to fully play out.

    If IBM was to invest billions over 5 years in product (as opposed to brand) marketing, advertising and partner plays it *might* salvage some of the market otherwise..... you don't need me to paint the picture, its happened before, it will happen again

  5. 5) Axel says:

    Isn't the real problem, that the members of the community are too weak and IBM too strong?

    How about strengthening certain very experienced members of the community like in Java Community Process?

    In our parliaments the most decisions aren't taken in an open debate, but in parliamentary commissions. The open debate is more to check the sanity of the process in the commissions.

    I would prefer an IBM - partner relationship with commissions in certain areas like server/admin tools, web-development, programming, integration, etc. IBMers and partly community voted non-IBM experts should be invited to those commissions. The commissions should act dicretly. Only certain votings inside the commissions should be published to the wider public.

    I sincerely fear that the current hype around grassroot democracy inevitably generates exagerated expectations that can't be fullfilled.

    My proposal may sound elitist, exclusive and poco simpático, but with the current institutional settings any IBMer with certain internal power can push through his agenda based on allegedly demand from the atomiced community.

    Wouldn't it be much more effective to have some specially empowered community members with lots of experience with real project customers?

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