What an interesting week

by Volker Weber

Monday, John Vaughan (a.k.a jonvon) published an honest to the bone account of The Long Goodbye from Lotus Notes. John is a developer, and his company has decided they don't want to invest in Notes applications anymore. This must have been the most clicked story on Planet Lotus, ever.

It was the beginning of a week in which the yellow bubble pulled their collective heads out of the sand.

It never has been so clear to everybody involved, that Notes applications are the cornerstones that keep Notes where it is. They are pretty hard to replace with something else. You can easily migrate mail, calendar and contacts to competing products, but sophisticated apps are hard to replace. Truth to be told, the majority of those apps are not very sophisticated, but a few mission-critical apps can save Notes from being ousted at customer sites.

But Notes isn't really marketed as a development platform. It's mostly mail and calendar. Because it's easier to explain, and because IBM may have other plans. Ed wrote a relatively long posting I Have Never Been A Developer, which attracted a lot of comments, so many actually that he posted today:

I'm going to close down the comments on this thread tonight. I will never be able to respond to everything that has been said here. And I'll never be able to DO everything has been said here.

Not everything in the comments is worth doing, but it certainly helped people understand what's at stake. And maybe, just maybe, many have understood this week that no amount of happy talk can help IBM market a product. IBM is a hugely successful company. You can assume that they know what they are doing. It may not be what you want them to do, but they are going to have it their way.

Ed continues to comment:

Not surprisingly, Microsoft is having a field day with the Lotus community blogs this week.

I think the Lotus community, person by person, has gained more this week than any other week before. The german saying goes like this: Einsicht ist der erste Schritt zur Besserung. The value of this community lays in how they help each other, not how they try to help IBM.

Comments

nicely summarized, Volker... well done.

Thomas Duffbert Duff, 2010-06-17 18:39

Well said! Some possibly relevant quotes from other spheres (some paraphrased):
It's the applications, [silly]
The church is the people, not the building [Ok, maybe a bit overblown, because as I am also fond of saying:]
It's a tool, not a religion
If it solves more problems than it creates, do it. Otherwise, don't.

Bob Balaban, 2010-06-17 18:42

Thank you Volker - that sums it up really well.

Stuart McIntyre, 2010-06-17 18:42

I'm not sure who expects IBM to dump their current strategy and go the way we (each of us with our own plan) want them to overnight.

I think of IBM's decision process as a sort of asteroid tumbling through space, far more on it's own momentum than anything else. If we as a community thing standing in front of it and hitting it really hard is going to change its course, its a mistake. The best we can do is keep up what angular pressure we can over a long time and try to influence it just enough to keep us all away from an extinction level event.

Andrew Pollack, 2010-06-17 18:53

You are missing the most important gravitational force. Customers. It outweighs "community" by many orders of magnitude.

Volker Weber, 2010-06-17 19:04

From first hand experience, this week's blog postings and comments have sparked some very interesting conversations within several of my customer sites. If you think that these posts were read only by people within the Lotus community and did not affect a wider audience, you are sorely mistaken. I believe that there will be some IBM Sales Reps and Managers that will be confronted with some very uncomfortable questions in the coming weeks and months.

Gregg Eldred, 2010-06-17 19:05

Gregg,

"I believe that there will be some IBM Sales Reps and Managers that will be confronted with some very uncomfortable questions in the coming weeks and months."

Possible. But only if - and that is a big IF - they actually talk to their customers. From several comments over at jonvon's and Ed's it seems they can't even be bothered to keep an actual customer relationship going.

Plus, as we've learned, once a customer has paid for N/D licenses, the sales reps are not really motivated to actually keep the customer on maintenance - since they only get commission on new sales. (BTW: How stupid is that?)

So, this may actually play out in the sales folks' favor:

Customer: "Hey, I've been reading lots of negative stuff about Notes last week. Seems this times it's really dying?!"

Sales rep: "Yes, it's pretty much dead meat. Didn't I tell you that? Anyway, look what I've got here: Websphere, DB2. Oooh, it's all Java and soooo shiny. Want some?"

Joerg Michael, 2010-06-17 19:49

Andrew & Volker..Love the analogy about the asteroid and gravity.

It reminded me of a saying... "It's hard to stop a charging dinosaur".

Brent Henry, 2010-06-17 20:34

Ed Brill has said it several times and he also did it in the linked post. He says that revenues for Lotus Notes are up since 2004. I do not know how this works and recent IBM reports do not support this statement but if it is true then I really don't know what IBM is doing wrong. They are growing their revenues while reducing costs.
From an outside view there can even be a lots of companies that give up Notes and Domino and IBM still "wins". As a partner I would be worried, as a customer I would be worried but for IBM this seems to be a perfect strategy.
I am a bit puzzled but indeed it has been an interesting week.

Henning Heinz, 2010-06-17 20:41

Thanks, you are right: "The value of this community lays in how they help each other, not how they try to help IBM."
On the other side: The Lotus community and IBM are interdependend. Lets hope that doings follow the insight.

Werner Motzet, 2010-06-17 20:45

Henning, they are up from 2004. But IBM reports lower numbers from last year. And this includes fast growing products like Connections.

Werner, IBM does not depend on the community. They make money either way. They can fire band 10 engineers and move their work to China. Bad for the engineer, but good for IBM.

Volker Weber, 2010-06-17 20:55

Volker, I always waffle too much whereas you get straight to the point. Well done. If the dialog that has taken place these past few weeks has caused us all to pull our head out of the sand then I suspect the value in that will be much more than any gain Microsoft is making by taking selective quotes out of context from that conversation.

Peter Presnell, 2010-06-17 21:49

"It never has been so clear to everybody involved, that Notes applications are the cornerstones that keep Notes where it is. "

Perhaps somebody should start to wonder why a cornerstone to keep Notes is being needed at all.

Oliver Regelmann, 2010-06-17 23:36

"Fast growing products like connections"

Fast growing, by percentage, is easy to achieve when a product is new and and is being adopted initially -- but it doesn't add much to the bottom line until it's mature and in millions of seat installations. Growth is harder at that end of the scale.

Andrew Pollack, 2010-06-18 01:54

Of course. It also grows fast if your sales people sell Connections licenses and throw in Notes renewals, because they would not be compensated on the renewals. And we haven't even looked at selling them 3 years of licenses to keep the revenues up.

In any case: if the sum of all parts shrinks, then it's unlikely that the biggest part is growing, especially if the smaller parts are growing.

Volker Weber, 2010-06-18 08:11

The scary thing about the conversation this week is that there is nothing that we haven't been saying to IBM since about 2002 - market the damn product, support the product, sell the product, build mindshare. Most of that conversation has been in smoke filled rooms, and most of the pressure has been brought to bear on senior Lotus management guys.

Looks like that didn't work, eh?

Time and time and time again we've been ignored, told to shut up and so forth. It was only a matter of time before someone actually told the emperor that he had no clothes/strategy/sense.

Perhaps indeed we shall exert just enough influence to make things happen - but your right. You cant kick a dead whale along a beach. And poor Ed is there, shoved in front of the baying crowd having pitchforks and burning crosses waved at him, and he cannot fix this. It has to come from much higher up.

If I could direct Steve Mills attention to 'this conversation' then perhaps IBM might realise that a consumer focused strategy might actually work in terms of lifting the brand out of the doldrums, and help promote the new products.

So whilst its been enormously cathartic, I still am waiting for something to actually be done about it.

---* Bill

Bill Buchan, 2010-06-18 11:41

I may have to repeat myself. Steve Mills knows exactly what he is doing. Make your plans accordingly.

Volker Weber, 2010-06-18 11:55

A good point, well made.

---* Bill

Bill Buchan, 2010-06-18 16:04

Volker,

I am always amazed and quite often awed at your analytical abilities, which just makes this post that much more incredible for me. I read it yesterday and I still don't know what to say about it. So I'll just say thanks, and very honored to be discussed in this way on your excellent blog.

John Vaughan, 2010-06-19 00:05

My comments grew bigger and finally it is made as a separate blog entry

Senthil Kumar, 2010-06-19 12:48

Isn't the whole enterprise software business at a dead end? And aren't the Lotus debate and the angry and disappointed IBM / Lotus Business Partners just a symptom of a dying business model which relies in principle on IBM (or any other corporate software maker) selling software licenses? The rise of Sharepoint is just a temporary blip, a short-lived attempt with inferior technology and the same fundamental business flaws as Lotus Domino / Notes.

The BPs have had the role of being close to the customer and providing the solutions, but IBM understandably also likes that kind of business for themselves, which is a permanent conflict of interest. And selling licences is an annoying process which nobody really understands (what licenses are needed and how much they cost) and most often the license cost is just a fraction of the overall project costs anyway. Which underscores my point, why pricing the licenses in the first place?

Regarding the fore-mentioned salespeople, isn't the real cost of commercialisation of this type of revenue generally underestimated? Especially since this type of marketing leads to over-optimistic project estimations and budgeting?

I have put my thoughts in this admittingly long post about the demise of the enterprise software business model and the growing need for agile business concepts.

Moritz Schroeder, 2010-06-21 02:34

Looks like I picked an interesting week to be away on holiday. Coincidentally, I was entertaining similar thoughts about the Lotus market, the ongoing rise of SharePoint, and my personal future, while away.

Volker - having caught up with some of the blog entries, and many of the comments elsewhere, thank you for this razor-sharp summary. "Steve Mills knows exactly what he is doing. Make your plans accordingly." - indeed.

Julian Woodward, 2010-06-21 08:46

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vowe.net is a personal website published by Volker Weber a.k.a. vowe. I am an author, consultant and systems architect based in Darmstadt, Germany.

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