“Get Social. Do Business.” Is The 2011 Lotusphere Theme
Last week I attended IBM’s annual Lotusphere event in Orlando, Florida. I went as a practitioner, someone who uses IBM’s products inside their company. Lotusphere is a big, global shebang for All Things Lotus. This year’s Lotusphere was special because it coincided with IBM’s centennial anniversary. Lotusphere attracts customers, the press, IBM solution partners and IBM employees. I had the opportunity to attend sessions, ‘IBM Labs’ and give a presentation of my own.
IBM demonstrated how important social business is to its product vision and internal strategy. Missing were last year’s buzzwords: ‘collaboration,’ ‘Web 2.0’ and ‘Enterprise 2.0.’ The new game is ‘social business,’ the person-to-person networking, inside and outside the firewall, with a nudge from ‘social analytics.’ I’m impressed with IBM’s long view and obvious commitment to it.
I couldn’t help noticing how the 2011 IBM is far different from the 1995 IBM when I attended my first Lotusphere. That year Microsoft was ascendant and the press (no blogosphere then) held IBM as a software dinosaur plodding on to obsolescence. How the tables have turned! Now IBM ‘gets’ social, cloud, mobile and enterprise while Microsoft, stumbles, several product cycles behind. IBM now talks ‘embedded experience’ and ‘experience anywhere.’ I’m not hearing this from the Microsofties.
I spent my week attending keynotes and sessions for Connections, Sametime and LotusLive. I didn’t attend any sessions on Domino, Portal, Quickr or any of the other IBM Lotus solutions.
The opening session exploded on stage with an energetic electronica band (does anyone remember the Dutch band Focus and ‘Hocus Pocus?’). Allusion – illusion were splendid: the drummer hit floating yellow nodes connected by strings (Connections?) and ‘Carmina Burana’ was hiding inside the melody (‘O Fortuna, velet luna’). They exited stage left so Kevin Spacey could do a few impersonations. (NOT a fan here; Spacey sneers at America.)
The opening session was very long. It was clearly aimed at the C-suite residents and writers in the bloggers’ pit. There was way too much testimony delivered from talking heads perched on stools. Most of the audience groused about this on Twitter:
Rank-and-file customers don’t like Torture By Stool. They readily turned to e-mail and Web surfing. There was a blue glow in the back of the hall. Let’s hope Lotusphere 2012 has more shiny things, fewer sport jackets and a better opening act. Last year’s Shatner SO out-rocked this year’s Spacey.
Andrew McAfee, father of ‘Enterprise 2.0’ and major god in the social media pantheon, popped in for ten minutes for another day’s keynote session. A captivating speaker, he dropped several nuggets and two bombs onto the audience:
- Bomb 1: “Businesses have always been social.” He clearly disapproved of the term ‘social business’ liking his term, ‘enterprise 2.0’ better. Then he said he didn’t really care (best response).
- Bomb 2: “’Being social benefits business’ is an unproven claim […] There is “no proof” regardless of what McKinsey and academics claim.” Wow!
- Best Nugget: “our weak ties are incredibly valuable to us.”
I saw many iPads. I brought mine and left my laptop behind. The WiFi was improved over previous years, but there were dead zones during the conference. Some WiFi stats:
- 3,800 concurrent users
- 843 iPhones
- 720 Black Berry devices
- 458 iPads
- 142 Androids
IBM had several sessions showcasing its latest release of Connections, version 3.0. They also highlighted some possible features of ‘Connections Next,’ due in late 2011.
Connections 3.0 appears more integrated, like a single solution. The new, shiny UI is less disjointed. Emphasis was on user experience (‘UX,’ not to be confused with ‘UNIX’), activity streams and embedded user experience: the ability to posit Connections features elsewhere (other Lotus products, even Microsoft’s SharePoint).
Microblogging is very important, and though it is in the Product Managers’ line of sight, it will be awhile before we get what companies desire most. (Can we wait?)
I’m thrilled by these 3.0 goodies:
- A step closer to microblogging. Nowhere near a SocialCast or Yammer, but now the ‘activity stream’ is easier to find. Activity streams will also go mobile (Apple, Android).
- ‘Social Analytics’ is IBM’s term for using background process to help people find each other. It is nice to see a degree-of-separation tool like Linkedin has. There is also a colleague suggester that shows why you might be interested in connecting to another person.
- Communities have a new ‘rich media gallery’ for streamed videos and pictures. Sad to say the video is Flash-based, so I can’t use it on my iDevices.
- All functionality will be available on a mobile Web version.
‘Connections Next’ (YE2011) might have these features:
- ‘Idea blogs’ which are really tools for idea jams with voting, Q&A and moderation.
- Nested Communities. This is a feature I dread. Why? Because it will become a silo-builder, a place for organizations to replicate corporate hierarchies. I know this is a must-have request from many IBM customers, but in this case I wish IBM resisted. Nesting is one of the most-loathed SharePoint features. IBM is opening the door to unnecessary complexity here (Hello? Nested security, anyone?). Dear IBM, sometimes the customer is wrong.
- Activity streams step closer to de facto industry standard Yammer with search, ‘like’ and tag features.
- And, possibly, LDAP security. This would ease administration woes most enterprises face when managing groups of people for community-level permission.
Sametime IM and telephony will come to mobile devices. IBM talked about this last year. This year is more of the same, but now with deeper integration into Connections, Notes and LotusLive, IBM’s cloud solution.
LotusLive is really cool. As a frequent user of Google’s cloud offerings for documents, voice and e-mail in his personal life, I see IBM has matched what Google has done and upped the game. Enterprises are reluctant to use Google; they fear Google’s mysterious back-end and its confusing (missing) integration of these important features. CIOs hesitate to even dip a toe in the Google water.
IBM’s does integrate mail, voice and document quite nicely. They also took UX far beyond the Google experience. Frankly, I was startled to see how closely the LotusLive Web version of mail, docs and voice match the two-tier versions. LotusLive makes Google look ‘Etch-A-Sketchy.’
I was delighted to attend a demo of secure enterprise-to-enterprise collaboration with LotusLive. Via partnership with third parties like Skype, Tungle and Espresso, companies can collaborate even if one of them doesn’t have LotusLive. A very nice surprise. Yes, that is ‘social business.’
What I Didn’t See
Yes, there was a lot to get excited about at this year’s Lotusphere, but by their absence, I ‘noticed’ some MIAs:
- Where was China? You know, that up-and-coming economic powerhouse? As usual, companies from the Americas and Europe were there in droves. I didn’t talk to one person from the People’s Republic there. China is a big part of most global companies’ strategy. I can only ask, is it part of IBM-Lotus?
- Microsoft. No IE browsers in demos. MS Office wasn’t even an option. SharePoint who? And Windows Mobile isn’t a bullet in IBM’s strategic mobile platforms. I can only speculate the reasons why.
- Hey, Apple and Google, where were you? They were missing in the vendor showcase. Yes, iOS and Android are IBM target mobile platforms, but it would be appropriate for IBM to give them a Lotusphere voice. IBM, your customers seek confidence that you three guys are talking to each other.
- And the Big Yellow Elephant In The Room, Lotus Notes. Where is the Notes Database-to-Something-Else converter? Notes was essential to corporations in the 90s when they digitized the ‘small data’ in departments. I would say there is as much Notes code as COBOL in the data centers. But Notes has become an anchor, a black hole that consumes IT budget for support. It’s the millstone that keeps enterprises from embracing the cloud. Notes databases are the reason why employees tow laptops behind them on their way home. Your customers want to leave Lotus Notes databases. Please help them. Otherwise, Microsoft will.
What I would like to see in 2012
- More Bird-of-a-Feather (BOF) sessions, and not at 7:00 AM. These are great, but hard to attend.
- More customer (practitioner) sessions, and in bigger rooms. Please.
- Less executive testimony; instead, get project leads and evangelists, and in bigger rooms. I had the opportunity to present this week. The room was packed. People were diverted to two overflow rooms.
- Video recording of all sessions. Almost everyone had to miss some sessions. Yes, we can review the slides later, but this is not enough — we miss the context. All presenters wore a mike and faced a camera. Take the next step and save to a streaming server, please.
- Malcolm Gladwell,, Keynote Speaker for 2012.
- Someplace other than Disney. No WiFi in hotels, shrubbery that plays banjo music, pirate songs on the shuttle bus. How about Miami?