IBM and grassroots marketing

by Volker Weber is the clearinghouse of open source Lotus Notes templates. Template is Notes parlance for an application. Some of them have been downloaded thousands of times, one help desk application almost 15,000 times. And OpenNTF has only started to count downloads last year.

Some of the templates work around limitations in IBM's own templates, like OpenNTF Mail Experience as a replacement for the standard mail template, or DomBulletin which provides a much better web discussion forum than IBM's discussion template. Others like HELP or DominoWiki provide capabilities that are not shipped by IBM. And templates like OpenLog provide standards that frankly should have been set by IBM. And since OpenNTF is open to all contributors, you sometimes come across a reinvented wheel.

When Ed posted an article about an Australian company dumping Notes for Exchange, a comment thread with well over a hundred contributions started. During this discussion one participant mentioned that Microsoft Sharepoint ships an impressive number of business oriented templates:

Absence and Vacation Schedule, Board of Directors, Case Work Management, Change Management, Classroom Management, Competitive Intelligence, Employee Activities Site, Employee Timesheet and Scheduling, Employee Training, Event Coordination, Expense Reimbursement, Help Desk, HR Programs and Services, IT Developer Team Site, Legal Document Review Workflow, Loan Initiation Management, Marketing Campaigns, Meeting Management, New Product Development, Performance Review, Professional Svcs Contracts, Professional Svcs Site, Project Team Site, Public Official Activity, Public Relations Work Site, Publication Editorial Review, Recruiting Resource Center, Request for Proposal Management, Room and Equipment Reservation, Travel Request

John Head took the initiative and suggested that the Domino community should match these templates with Domino equivalents. While this is a noble idea, it begs the questions why IBM can not do it themselves. Or pay somebody to do it. Especially since there is already an entity like OpenNTF which provides templates that IBM doesn't.

This is clearly a marketing initiative designed to prove that Notes can match Sharepoint (plus Exchange) in out-of-the-box functionality. Grassroots marketing for IBM has been tried before. It collapsed when IBM stopped to back it up. The discussion currently revolves around simple templates which show, what could be done with Notes. My opinion on this: This ain't good enough. What you need is real out-of-the-box business benefit.

And IBM has started to do just that with the Notes/SAP integration they just shipped. This is good stuff. Continue along this path and provide more functionality that customers need. And have been asking for. And as mentioned before with OpenLog, start using robust design patterns for your own templates that partners can pick up. The mail template has long lost its ability to serve as a blueprint. And you certainly don't want people to learn from pubnames.ntf, do you?


Q: "How can all drug problems be solved?"
A: "Legalize all drugs and let IBM do the marketing!"

Andreas Decker, 2006-08-01

I am not quite sure if Domino is the Sharepoint-competitor. Websphere Portal or Workplace Services Express are playing after my opinion in the same league - more or less. WSE for example comes with an equally impressive "marketing"-list of portlets/templates. But as always - this certainly is valid with Sharepoint - it is not the quantity that matters, it is the quality. How many of the Sharepoint-templates are really useable? And how many of the WSE/WSP-portlets are really useable? That are the really important questions.

Frank Mueller, 2006-08-01

Try to get some numbers from IBM for WSE shipments, and you hope this is not a Sharepoint competitor. And WP is for companies who can afford to waste invest quite some money.

Volker Weber, 2006-08-01

As I said on John's site, if the intention is to compete with SharePoint's bundled applications, given that they appear to be fully functional "out of the box", then the initiative will fail. Such a thing has to come from IBM, no-one else.

Yes, I know the blah about Business Partners, building a valuable ecosystem around your product, etc., etc., but that kind of thing has to come from the vendor, no-one else (nothing to stop IBM sourcing the development work from a BP though).

So. What's this really about then? Well, the current proposal is more about giving some building blocks to businesses, some nice clean templates, with basic functionality, that corporate developers can pick up and run with. In my book that's no bad thing. But when you start getting into discussions about support etc., it falls apart. Keep it SIMPLE!

Ben Poole, 2006-08-01

Volker, that is the other side of the medal. In the eye of IBM WSE is a Sharepoint competitor. No. not correct. Sharepoint is the WSE competitor ;-)

I do not have any numbers but i know the internal IBM status of WSE. They are not convinced of their own product.

Frank Mueller, 2006-08-01

Quickplace is a Sharepoint competitor...

Hubertus Amann, 2006-08-01

Completely agree Vowe.

I simply do not understand how IBM cannot see the buzz that Sharepoint is making. I'm sure many of you have stood by whilst Microsoft makes some announcment or other and said 'but Notes has done that for Donkeys years'.

They are catching up.

We need something to put distance between us and Microsoft.

Only IBM has the resources to do that.

@Vowe - full name now - sorry!

Garry Lees, 2006-08-01

Excellent article.

In the business world (i.e. -- the world of customers who might be willing to spend money on a product), there's a big difference between saying "Notes can do that" and "Notes does that, let me show you..."

The marketing people might tell us that we don't understand marketing, but we can respond that they don't understand what happens when the marketing people aren't in the room.

Julian Robichaux, 2006-08-01

Volker is correct.

Another day one company ask about other templates that Notes have.

I sugested someones like Team room, discussion, ... and the templates that exists in OpenNTF.

When i showed a blogsphere,Jobs Database, dominoWiki, !Help!, his eyes opened! :)

Portlets that came with WPS and WSE are nice. But all companies have the same "all day" necessities like: Travel Expenses, Travel Requests , Jobs Oportunitties, .... and in WPS and WSE they don´t exist.

OpenNTF can help IBM! So IBM can help OpenNTF?!?!

Enio Basso, 2006-08-01

Yes, more templates. Why doesn't IBM finance Domino communities such as OpenNTF on a large scale? Why does IBM want to own copyright on the templates? The OpenNTF license shouldn't prevent IBM from including those templates in Domino... I wish something like OpenNTF would have existed in the early Notes days, customizing would have been so much easier...

Moritz Schroeder, 2006-08-01

IBM should offer a price for the best 3 template developed (business profit, so not a question of the best design) through the last quarter or so and then move these "core apps" into there notes template porfolio they will support for web & notes & in the most important languages (and support these small template for more than 1 or 2 years).
Every small business customer will be satisfied with such an offer to find his business built up within Notes (I know for a long time that Excel won't be delivered with basic templates, but this Excel isn't - in most cases - a workgroup application).

The focus must be web, notes, multilingual, support for future Notes releases & an evolution of the application itself. Continuity counts and it would be fine that these new apps get one name for their complete lifecycle.
We don't need another notes domino websphere portal product/application story.
And this point is overdue for years or tell me: How many users must a company have that a Notes infrastructure implementation can have a positive ROI (and nothing else counts).
Until today you won't find many companies below 500 seats which jumped into the Notes workgroup world from zero (to hero). The ones I knew where driven by new Top managers who used notes in their previous jobs and then asked for innovations.


Wolfgang Andreas Bischof, 2006-08-02

Thanks Volker for a perfect summup of what i think about this issue.

Thomas Schulte, 2006-08-02

Absolutely Volker, absolutely. I can't count the number of times I've thought something very similar.

Jonathan Lewis, 2006-08-02

Volker - Thank you for blogging about this and helping it get more attention. I agree with everything you said ... and some might find that surprising. I am not doing this because I support IBM's decision to have let this lapse. The exact opposite. I am trying to get somethinig started. Maybe even to kickstart IBM. Maybe they will do nothing, maybe they will. I do not know. What I do know is that after two days, we have the following:

- 76 comments on my site (which never gets comments :-) )
- over 150 emails
- 3000 direct hits (no RSS there) to that posting ... way more than I have ever gotten
- at least 10 blog entries by other people

This is not about me. This is not about anything except seeing what our options are. I believe that there is enough people out there that want to do something, so something will happen. I am not sure on what level or to what degree, but maybe that is not the point. I just want to see people act, not talk.

I have been told that I am making a big mistake. That I am 'out of my mind.' That I am the wrong person to do this. That IBM wont care. And while I respect everyone's right to voice their opinion here, They are just fueling the fire :)

I am going to do a follow-up blog later today to start to change the conversation around forming a plan of action.

John Head, 2006-08-02


Read what Julian had to say about this back on August 4, 2005

Bruce Elgort, 2006-08-02

Sharepoint is being evaluated against QuickPlace at some organizations, not against WSE. Managers see "collaboration" as a set of functions performed by a group, in a controlled environment and temporal in nature, but beyond this there is little definition in the minds of many business people. Some think in terms of documents, others in terms of business processes. Both of these products enable productivity that contributes to this hazy definition in different ways - with Sharepoint being strong on the UI and "document integration" end and QuickPlace being strong on the customization, business process and flexibility end - so the evaluation proceeds, while the true business need and a clear understanding of collaborative context and needs becomes secondary.

Sharepoint doesn't compete against Notes. Sharepoint competes against Notes and Domino applications -- which are sadly hard to come by (as in, not as intuitive to find, even the free ones) unless you have a good Business Partner relationship as part of the mix. So on the Notes end, I am in agreement with all of the above. On the QP end, I am seeing them competing head-to-head out of the box.

Rob Novak, 2006-08-03

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