IBM Connections 6 summary

IBM Connections 6 is coming soon… So what is the killer enhancement?

Earlier this week IBM published a press release previewing the headline features of the upcoming new on-premises release of Connections:

IBM today announced it is bringing new capabilities to enterprise social networks for a simpler collaboration across the workforce and employee onboarding experience. The latest version of IBM Connections also integrates with IBM Cloud Object Storage, providing companies an ability to scale their storage needs with their employee’s usage while improving storage costs.

The press release most notably included the GA date for Connections 6:

The newest version of IBM Connections will be available on March 28.

Some of the key new features are mentioned in the press release:

  • Connections 6 Orient MeA new Homepage experience (known as called ‘Orient Me’) designed to do a better job of surfacing topical and relevant content from across the individual user’s network.  This new feature makes use of a new containerised, API-driven architecture to select and display the most relevant information for the user,  providing a more interactive experience that the old activity-stream Homepage ever offered.
  • Connections 6 also provides a “Touchpoint” onboarding experience for new users, offering a a more helpful and intuitive introductory process for new users, with easy login, ability to follow colleagues and join communities to begin working more efficiently. (A few years ago I discussed a previous iteration of the Touchpoint technology back when it was a paid asset offered by IBM Services.)
  • The ability to copy designs and layouts from existing communities enables more effective and standardised community management, as well as saving time when setting up new use cases.
  • Connections 6 My DriveAn improved user experience for file access provides a simple to use interface and desktop sync for easier access to files, providing large file uploads, rich text editor, new preview/editing features in File Viewer and search improvements.
  • Integration with IBM Cloud Object Storage enables a hybrid option for Connections, storing the ever-increasing volumes of social data and allowing companies easy access to that information for analytics and new learning.

All these enhancements are valuable for loyal Connections customers and their employees, particularly the new Orient Me feature which has been needed for as long as I can remember.  It’s similarity to the Verse user experience is pleasing for those that run both Verse and Connections, and I look forward to testing the effectiveness of the filters and AI-driven content selection when it becomes available. (I would still like to have seen more options for pushed Corporate Communications-style content, rather than what seems to be a sole focus on content from the user’s network, but we can’t have everything…)

However, in my mind there is no doubt that the single most important enhancement contained in Connections 6 is not mentioned at all in IBM’s communication, and so it is that which I want to explore here.

It’s all about the Use Case…

My methodology for deploying effective and engaging online communities is based on a foundation of well-defined use cases, developed by understanding the immediate needs of employees and community members within a specific context, the issues they face in their current workflows and business processes, and the cast and audience that are (or should be) engaged within the activity being analysed.

Some (very high-level) sample use cases could be:

  • A marketing team creating promotional campaign materials and delivering them to the sales channels
  • A sales team working together and working with supporting teams to respond to a tender with a proposal for products and services
  • A customer service team taking customer questions, finding the answers and responding to the customer
  • A corporate communications team communicating the strategy of the company to all employees
  • A research & development team creating new products and delivering them to the market

Once the use case is defined in detail, we move on to the containers, content types and interaction methods that will best support an improved approach within the online community. Lastly, we develop and publish wireframes that specify how use case content, calls to action and navigation will be surfaced within the community. Finally we build the defined use case within the technology, seed content and invite pilot users.

In this way, each and every use case has its own definition, interaction model, layout and flavour. Sure, common patterns are often a starting point (for example, communities of practice often follow a similar design and structure, no matter what the practice might be), but the look and feel of the use case will be different – the content types, calls to action, navigation and surfaced information will be specific and relevant to the use case supported.

This approach has always been difficult to implement in Connections. The definition phases could be undertaken, but when it came to delivering a customised experience for each use case that reflected the requirements of the audience, the process or workflow to be undertaken there, and the actions that users are being called to engage with, the static nature and feature-driven of the Connections community model was always a hindrance.

Here’s a relatively positive and visually appealing experience within a Connections community, taken from an IBM marketing screenshot:

Connections community layout

Whilst the order of the widgets in the centre column can be customised, a graphical overview pane created, and a few of the community’s options tweaked, really every Connections ‘place’ will follow the same structure.  Most critically, the various content types (blog posts, wiki articles, forum discussions etc.) can only be displayed in their specific widget, and with no real context as to how those content types should be used or when they are relevant.  In addition, most follow a strict sort order, versus allowing curation by the community manager.

Look at how this differs from a similar Sales ‘place’ within a demo Jive environment:

Jive sales place

The place owner gets to choose the column layout, the banner, the tile selection and placement, a variety of dynamic and static display options, including a number that allow curation of specific content, people, places and links.

In addition, each of the first four tabs on the place header (Overview, Sales Development, Field Sales and Sales Engineering) are different layouts surfacing content within this place and from around the community:

Jive sales place 2

[Please note that I don’t hold the above Sales place up as a particularly great example of design or configuration in a Jive context, it’s just a pre-seeded place that I have available to screenshot, and is somewhat similar in purpose to the IBM example.]

This isn’t meant to bash Connections, both that product and Jive-n/x have their own advantages and disadvantages, but it’s always been apparent to me that if we want to encourage specific groups of users (say Sales) to adopt our platform, or wish to support their specific use cases (a need to onboard new salespeople more quickly and effectively), then we have to have a means to create a user experience that is relevant, engaging and carefully considered. This needs to be easier to create

So what’s the killer enhancement in Connections 6?

In Connections 6, place owners will finally get the ability to create truly modern communities that better support a wider variety of use cases:

IBM Connections 6 communities
IBM caveat: Designs subject to change

With new widget layouts, greater levels of customisation at the menu and design level, and a fresh new look, Connections 6 will allow community managers to create engaging places that suit the needs of their community members.

IBM Connections 6 communities 2
IBM caveat: Designs subject to change

Whilst Connections communities still have some way to go to match the level of place customisation, navigation and curation available in Jive, these new features do bring Connections much closer, and more importantly allow existing on-prem customers and community managers to immediately improve the user experience for their users.

As IBM continues forward towards the vision that is Connections Pink, I would love to see them continue to further develop the community layout model, allowing more visual widget options (for those vital Calls to Action) and widgets that enable selection of multiple content types (all content tagged ‘project’, or all content created in the past 7 days, or featured content as selected by the community manager etc.).

However, this is definitely a step in the right direction, and I look forward to working with the new functionality!

IBM Sametime banner

IBM extends Sametime support to 2021. What next for IBM in the UC space?

IBM Sametime is a robust communications offering designed to accelerate your social business by driving faster decisions, with more complete information powered by the business experts in your organization. The suite of tools in Sametime helps unlock the value in your underutilized communications systems by integrating them into a more intuitive system. Sametime tools and services can be accessed from within the applications and business processes that you use every day.

Support for Sametime V9.0.1 is extended to September 2021.

Support for the following associated entitlements is also extended to September 2021:

  • IBM Sametime Complete
  • IBM Sametime Conference
  • IBM Sametime Communicate

More >

It has been obvious for a while that the future for the IBM Sametime brand and product set is not overwhelmingly positive.

As I see it, there are several key drivers for this situation:

  • The marketplace has shifted away from heavyweight on-prem unified communications platforms towards more nimble, lighter-weight cloud-based social communications tools such as Slack, Vidyo, Hangouts and Zoom. I’m hearing from increasing numbers of customers that they’ve either migrated away from Sametime or Lync/Skype for Business, or else are no longer considering such solutions in their budgeted plans.
  • IBM’s partnership with Cisco suggests that it will rely on Cisco’s well-regarded tools and services in this area in the future.
  • Sametime’s long-time need for on huge (1GB+) client installs and clunky Java-based browser plugins means that continued restructuring would need to be undertaken to keep it relevant in the modern world of mobile devices, apps and constant software delivery of new features.
  • The future of some of the underlying components, most notably Domino, but also the WebSphere stack is no longer guaranteed. We’ve seen a previous announcement of extended support for Domino (to the same September 2021 date), but there’s little doubt that further investment in unified communications solutions built on Domino is extremely unlikely.

All that said, I think IBM is making a good decision to very clearly commit to supporting both Domino and Sametime for the next 4.5 years. This gives its customers a decent runway to plan for the future and to consider their options. Many customers have been using both platforms for a decade or more, and shifting away will not be straightforward.

The challenge for IBM is to develop alternative solutions, whether home-brewed (such as Watson Workspace) or in partnership with Cisco or other similar vendors, that are both forward-looking and also of a quality and scale that can support both medium-sized and enterprise customers.

I’ve been impressed with the Connections Pink announcement in terms of plans to build a dynamic new infrastructure based on modern open-source components and services, with a clear migration path from the old developed-at-IBM heavy duty frameworks. If IBM wants to stay active in the UC space and keep those customers, I fear it would need an effort of similar size and cost to replace Sametime (or at least the components and features that are still relevant today).

Worryingly, IBM is now 2-3 years behind the curve in the area of social and video communications platforms and so those new solutions are needed now, not in a year or two’s time…

I was expecting to hear more of their plans announced (or at least intimated) at the recent IBM Connect conference, but as far as I have seen communicated, nothing has been forthcoming beyond a cementing of the relationship with Cisco and maintaining a holding pattern in terms of detailing plans for the future of Sametime’s feature set.  (This extended support announcement is at least helpful in giving reassurance that support will not be withdrawn sooner than 2021.)


If you’re an IBM Sametime customer (or partner), I’d love to hear from you… What are your plans for the future? Do you remain loyal to Sametime for the time being? Are you already in the process of migrating to other solutions? Do let me know via a comment or email!

Google Assistant

Conspiracy theories, courtesy of Google Home

This kind of (accidental?) misinformation is going to be become an ever-increasing issue as intelligent assistants become more deeply embedded into our lives. Deeply worrying…

Update: Google has changed the answer, saying: “unfortunately there are instances when we feature a site with inappropriate or misleading content”

Internet Trolls

Want to comment? Prove you’ve read the article first!

This genius concept was mentioned in a WSJ article on the nature of Internet Trolls:

A site published by the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK just rolled out a system that gives readers a brief multiple-choice quiz about the contents of an article—proving they really read it—before allowing them to comment.

Reading more on the idea, I really think that NRK are onto something:

NRK quizThe goal is to ensure that the commenters have actually read the story before they discuss it.

“We thought we should do our part to try and make sure that people are on the same page before they comment. If everyone can agree that this is what the article says, then they have a much better basis for commenting on it.” said NRkbeta journalist Ståle Grut.

Forcing users to take a little extra time to think about the comment they’re about to post also helps them think about tone, NRKbeta editor Marius Arnesen said. “If you spend 15 seconds on it, those are maybe 15 seconds that take the edge off the rant mode when people are commenting,” Arnesen said.

This isn’t just relevant for social media and news sites either…

I can see a need for this type of check-before-comment in all kinds of online communities, particularly in large-scale enterprise social networks – not so much to combat trolling (though that does occur on occasion), but in order to ensure some level of comprehension before enabling a further discussion (and potentially a tangential one at that) to be initiated.

You certainly wouldn’t want every document, discussion or blog post to have this feature enabled – it would add an additional element of inertia that would be tough to overcome.

But as an option that authors and community managers could enable on potentially controversial posts (such as CEO and VP-level blog posts, re-structuring announcements, etc.), I could really see this feature adding value.

What do you think? Would you be in favour of an optional comprehension check before allowing comments to be added?

Engage 2017 abstract submission closes today

Engage logoEngage 2017 is about 2 months away.

Monday-Tuesday, 8 – 9 May, 2017, at the Elisabeth Center Antwerp, Belgium. A brand new conference center, in an historic frame. In the city center, next to the 19th century Zoo and the stunning Antwerp Central train station.

Our target is to have more attendees than the 425 attendees we had last time.

Close to 80 sessions in 5 tracks: Business & Strategy, Development, Administration & Deployment, Emerging Technologies
and for the first time: Big Data & Analytics!

Please submit a session proposal as soon as possible (deadline is Feb. 28th, 2017).

Engage is probably the best IBM Collaboration user group anywhere in the world, and the 2017 edition is looking like it will be the best yet! And yep, that deadline is today

So, if you have a story to tell, submit your abstract now!

Ghost Browser logo

Ghost Browser – the Productivity Browser for Tech Pros

You may already be aware of Ghost Browser, my apologies if so. However, I’ve lost count of the number of advanced users that I’ve met in the past month or so that haven’t seen it yet, but who would benefit significantly from its features, hence mentioning it here…

Ghost Browser logo

Put simply, Ghost Browser allows you to have multiple authenticated sessions open to the same site simultaneously, with each session having its own cookie jar, isolated from other sessions. This allows users such as web developers, testers, social media managers to easily work with multiple identities or use case perspectives without the need for multiple browsers, bookmarks, saved passwords etc.

What makes the app more powerful is the ability to have colour-coded projects – groups of sessions (with stored logins) so that daily workflows can be setup once, and then launched with one-click when they’re needed. Projects allow work to be focused and productive, and switching tasks is made more straightforward as you can always pick up right where you left off.

Ghost Browser screenshotI regularly need to log into multiple social media accounts on the same network, customise sites and communities and test them as a non-admin user, build communities and content as different identities, use different affiliate IDs for similar transactions etc. All these tasks benefit from the Ghost Browser’s ability to have isolated sessions.

What takes it way beyond other browsers and plugins though are the Projects… I tend to work with as many as a dozen customer projects at a time, using different site identities depending on whether the relationship is direct or through a partner, and often needing to use as many as a dozen different personas when creating demos and populating content. The ability to setup and maintain sets of browser tabs that can be called up on-demand is a massive timesaver and really helps my productivity.

Ghost browser projects

I’m currently trialling using Ghost Browser full time when on my Mac, but even if you’re not ready to switch from your default browser on a permanent basis, this is a super option to have installed for when you’re deep into a project and need the capabilities it offers.

Ghost Browser is a free download for Mac or Windows. A Linux version is coming soon.

 

 

Slack takes aim at the corporate sector with Enterprise Grid, names IBM as one of the launch customers

TechCrunch yesterday reported on Slack’s plans to unveil an enterprise version of its service:

Slack, the business app that lets teams of users communicate, share files from other services, and work on them with each other, has taken off like wildfire since launching three years ago, with 5 million daily users, 1.5 million of them paying today. Now, Slack is embarking on the next step in its ambition to be the go-to platform for all workplace collaboration, no matter how big the company may be.

(Or up to 500,000 employees, to be more specific.)

[T]he eponymous company behind the app is today launching Enterprise Grid — a new product aimed at corporates and other very large enterprises.

Slack Enterprise Grid

All good news and not wholly unexpected so far. But then it gets a little bit weird…

The new version goes live today, and to kick it off, Slack is announcing some initial customers: financial services giant Capital One, Paypal and IBM.

IBM is a particularly interesting name to see here, given that it sells its own collaboration product for large enterprises, IBM Connections, and it is also working on what appears to be its own AI business intelligence product, Watson Workspace. Other would be competitors include Workplace from Facebook, Microsoft’s Teams, Jive and Spark from Cisco.

Yep, IBM is named as one of the reference customers for this new enterprise Slack service, despite having recently launched its own AI-driven chat service, Watson Workspace.

Many of us already knew that IBM were using Slack internally – I got to see that first-hand on a visit to the Austin Design Lab back in the summer – but it is still a surprise to see IBM named so dramatically on a competitor’s launch communications:

The ‘customer profile’ linked from the Slack site goes directly to this PDF, stating:

[IBM CIO, Jeff] Smith cites that he’s able to have more consistent, dynamic conversations with his direct reports in Slack, reducing his meeting load. He’s also able to deliver messages to the right audiences and avoid blasting people with information not relevant to them. The fact that he can send messages to team members even when they aren’t logged in is another bonus, given the nature of his globally- distributed team.

For Smith, much of the value of Slack comes from the fact that it aligns with his vision for how teams should work together. “Collective intelligence will always outweigh individual insights,” he says. And with the additional security provided by Slack Enterprise Grid, there was little hesitation in his decision to get the whole team on board.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve long argued that IBMers (including those in Lotus/ICS) needed to use competitor solutions in anger in order to better understand their value, their USPs, and the user experience they delivered. I remember making that point regarding Dropbox in particular back in the days of Lotusphere. Therefore I have no issue with IBMers (particular in the IT/CIO office, where extensions and integrations with support platforms are so important) using Slack, nor with IBM integrating Slack into their own solutions.

However, it does seem a little tone-deaf to be so actively promoting a competitor’s enterprise solution on day of release, when there is a similar IBM offering (Watson Workspace) currently in preview mode and likely to be formally launched in 2017, plus numerous other IBM solutions (Verse, Connections, Sametime) that make similar claims regarding the ability to transform work practices.

Let’s take this paragraph from the reference PDF:

Smith notes that it’s not just people who are communicating in Slack. His team has connected numerous apps and integrations that push information from other services directly into Slack channels, sparing team members from having to switch between apps while also allowing them to quickly spot, discuss, and resolve issues. Alerts from other tools and services show up in Slack channels as new deployments go live or any issues in the delivery pipeline need attention.

and instead write it as:

Smith notes that it’s not just people who are communicating in Connections. His team has connected numerous apps and integrations that push information from other services directly into Connections communities, sparing team members from having to switch between apps while also allowing them to quickly spot, discuss, and resolve issues. Alerts from other tools and services show up in Connections activity streams as new deployments go live or any issues in the delivery pipeline need attention.

Wouldn’t that be a fantastic case study for IBM to be sharing with ICS customers at IBM Connect 2017 later this month?

If I was attending Connect as an IBM partner, I’d be asking the ICS execs some tough questions on what it means for IBM at a corporate level to be promoting competitor products ahead of their own solutions.

What do you think? Does it give you additional confidence in your investment in ICS solutions that IBM is working so closely with competitors like Slack, Box and Cisco? Or are you worried that this signifies a lack of positive reinforcement of quality of their own solutions in this area? I’d love to hear from you!

What not to miss at IBM Connect 2017: Connections Pink

IBM Connect 2017 takes place later this month in San Francisco, and the last-minute push to increase attendance is already underway.  I’m a big fan of the new venue, and the shift from Florida to California, and so really hope that the event is a huge success.

IBM Connect - new city

One of the interesting aspects of the registration push has been the unveiling of some information that previously being kept relatively quiet – if not under NDA, certainly out of the limelight:

IBM Connections provides the platform of social tools you need to transform your organization. At IBM Connect you can explore the future of Connections including Connections Pink, in which virtually everything is an API, and continuous updates are achieved instantaneously. This collaboration platform learns and evolves with you, using cognitive computing provided by the power of Watson to give you more time to complete critical tasks and make your life a lot easier. This is the future of connectivity.

Highlighted Sessions

“What Is New and What Is Coming with IBM Connections”

Tuesday, 4:00 PM – 4:45 PM | Room 2011 | Session ID: 1305A 

In this session, explore what’s new in the brand-new IBM Connections release and preview a few new features being planned for the next release. See first-hand how IBM Connections can work for you and how you can embrace all the new capabilities coming.

Speakers: Baan Slavens and Rene Schimmer, IBM

“The Future Is PINK: IBM Connections Your Way”

Wednesday, 11:00 AM – 11:45 AM | Room 2007 | Session ID: 1048A 

Get an introduction to the PINK way of extending and customizing Connections – in the cloud and on-prem. PINK will allow you to work against modern APIs and easily adjust the behavior of Connections through powerful extensibility features. Come learn how!

Speakers: Andre Hagemeier and Maureen Leland, IBM

Connections Pink has been a rumour for a year or so now, and has been presented at a number of invite-only IBM events and conferences. I’ve not been an attendee at any of them, and so am still in the dark on a number of the architectural and implementation details. That said, what I have heard makes me extremely keen to hear the specifics when they are unveiled at Connect.

As you’ll know if you’ve followed me for any length of time, I’ve long been a huge fan of IBM Connections, and was probably one of the most vocal advocates for the technology over the first 5-6 years of its life.

Recently however, it’s been clear to me that there are some significant issues with the current releases of Connections that IBM have not been able (or perhaps willing) to overcome:

  • Complexity of the install, configuration and management of the platform (just listing the IBM framework products that Connections relies on takes a paragraph or two).
  • The length of time it takes to get an on-premises install configured and available for use.
  • The difficulty of making the codebase truly suitable for multi-tenant/SaaS use, which has lead to user-facing differences between the on-premises and cloud versions.
  • The complexity of developing third-party solutions that integrate with Connections, extensions that interface with Connections APIs, and applications that reside within the Connections UX.
  • The challenge of customising Connections on both on-premises (complex, difficult to maintain) and cloud platforms (limited) to truly suit an organisation’s needs.

That list above isn’t meant to bash IBM. Connections is still a massively powerful enabler for collaboration and communication. However, the issues listed have hindered Connections’ ability to deliver this value to organisations rapidly and then on a sustained basis, meanwhile the huge community developers (within partners and customers) that were used to creating solutions on Notes/Domino or other platforms have never been able to effectively transfer those skills to Connections.

My hope for Connections Pink is that the shift from Websphere to a platform built on well-known and understood open-source technologies that are easier to manage (‘continuous updates are achieved instantaneously‘), plus a real focus on ease of development and integration (‘virtually everything is an API‘) will once again make IBM Connections not just a platform that analysts consider to be one of the leaders in the market, but one that community managers, developers and end users are all passionate about and want to use.

I wish I could be at IBM Connect to hear this first-hand! However, I will be there virtually, watching all the sessions that are streamed and speaking to as many attendees as I can to get the lowdown on what is revealed.

So… Are you excited about Connections Pink? What are you expecting or hoping that IBM will announce?

Dropbox Paper: Grow bigger, brighter ideas

Dropbox announced that they are rolling their Paper collaborative content creation platform out on a global basis today:

Dropbox Paper logoMore than a doc, Dropbox Paper is a flexible workspace that brings people and ideas together.

Paper supports all phases of the creative process – from start to finish:

  • A connected space to create and ideate together
    • Teams find flow together in Paper, where everyone can contribute to growing better ideas in a beautiful, flexible workspace.
  • Review and revise work in a single, shared space
    • Working in Paper feels more connected and human with real-time conversations around the work, so it feels more alive, and there’s less switching between tools.
  • Manage and organize work in Paper
    • Paper is accessible and always up to date to keep teams organized and informed around the work without additional task-management tools.

I’m excited to give Dropbox Paper another try (it’s been available in beta form for a year or so)… It’s a very simple way to collaboratively create content, and yet is hiding some very complex abilities. I’ll be testing it more over the next few days.

Paper_screenshot

One minor concern – Paper definitely reminds me of Google Wave in a lot of ways! I’m hoping that Dropbox have a better idea of the potential use cases and customer base than Google did with Wave…

IT revolves around you

T’was ten years ago… (Lotus Connections & Quickr)

Unfortunately I’ve just missed the actual anniversary, but I thought it worth celebrating that this week marks a decade since the announcement (on 22nd January 2007) of two products that have had an immense impact on my working life, Lotus IBM Connections and Lotus Quickr.

Lotusphere 2007

IT revolves around you

I was relatively late to the Lotusphere party, attending my first US-based event in 2004 after a couple of the European events. Therefore I never experienced the sell-out 10,000 attendee events pre 9/11. Even so, in comparison to the events I had taken part in, it was clear that 2007 was set to be a significant milestone for the IBM/Lotus brand.

The context for Lotusphere 2007 was that whilst (thankfully) the days of the ‘two-lane highway‘ of IBM Workplace were drawing to a close, Notes and Domino were suffering for the lack of investment that had been caused whilst funds were being channeled elsewhere, and ever more Lotus personnel were being consumed into the wider IBM organisation with every quarter that passed.

Despite (or perhaps as a result of) this somewhat overcast outlook, the energy around the Lotusphere 2007 event was huge, with real expectation of significant announcements being made on all product fronts. This was an opportunity for IBM to recommit to the products in the portfolio, as well as laying out a new strategy for collaboration in the years ahead. More than 7,000 attended, and as a result the auditorium was packed for the OGS, with IBMers shipped off to a second room.

My personal circumstances were that I’d just returned to the Lotus partner community after a year away working at a primarily HP-focused ITIL/systems management consultancy, and had re-committed to collaboration, unified communications and personal productivity technology as the core tenets of my career going forward. I was ready for IBM to kick on with their plans for what had been the Lotus business and hoping for a set of announcements that would enable me to build solutions for my customers for years to come.

The Opening General Session

Lotusphere 2007 Opening Band

It was with this in mind that the 2007 event kicked off with what was undoubtedly the most memorable Opening General Session I ever experienced:

  • Neil Armstrong at Lotusphere 2007Guest speaker Neil Armstrong. The most famous astronaut of all time tells the story of going up to the moon and setting up mirrors that would allow scientists to measure it’s distance from earth ‘so that the astronauts could know how much mileage to put on their expense accounts.’ The mirrors have been used numerous times since for experiments and research.After dozens of guest speakers at Lotusphere and other major tech conferences, there’s no doubt in my mind that Neil Armstrong set the highest bar in terms of gravitas and story-telling, and I still remember his presence on stage a few meters from me like it was yesterday!
  • UC2 – Unified Communications and Collaboration. IBM takes the existing Domino-based Sametime chat and meetings product and layers on Eclipse clients plus technology that is designed to make IM and presence a core component of the collaboration solutions of the future.
  • Dropping Hannover code name, Notes 8 beta announced. ‘Hannover’ had been previewed back in 2005 at the DNUG conference, laying out a vision a new generation Notes client UI/UX, built on the Eclipse framework. At Lotusphere 2007, Hannover was formally announced as the forthcoming Notes 8 release, and was made available as a beta for existing customers.
  • There were also the expected OGS segments for Portal, development tools and so on.

In their own right, the UC2 and Notes 8 announcements would have been pretty significant, if not ground-breaking, news for the Lotus faithful. However, what ratcheted up the importance of this keynote for me was the final two announcements (at least that was the timing as far as I recall…):

  • Lotus Quickr. Lotus Quickplace had been part of the portfolio since 1999, a web-based collaborative project-management platform, based on Domino (but not requiring the users to have Notes clients). Sadly, in the early- to mid-noughties, like a number of other Lotus products, Quickplace had been allowed to languish in somewhat of an unloved state. Briefly renamed to Lotus Team Workplace (and then returned to the original moniker again soon after), Quickplace regularly fell out of version step with its Domino host, and in some ways, the promise of a business user-administered team collaboration platform was never quite realised due to tricky administration and a somewhat esoteric UI.  In the meantime, Microsoft had been seeding Sharepoint into their user base via the ‘free free free’ Sharepoint Services offering, and Quickplace was under real pressure.However, Lotusphere 2007 saw IBM attempting to bring the product up to date with a bang! Taking the lead from the cool internet services of the day, IBM gave it a funky new name (missing a vowel, of course), Quickr, a new vision based on a modern web UI that could interface with a variety of storage backends (Portal, Domino, and in theory at least, Sharepoint), and a desktop component that allowed users (on Windows) to access and to drag/drop files directly to and from their Quickr repository.Lotus Quickr logo
    What captured even more attention was a couple of somewhat throw-away announcements at the end of the Quickr demos. First, the Notes client intercepting the sending of an email to suggest to the user that files were better shared via Quickr links rather than as attachments, and second, the availability of a personal version of Quickr for every licensed Notes user.It’s fair to say the Quickr announcement was hugely exciting for the potential it offered. Quickplace had shown promise for years, but was losing out in the market. Lotus Quickr showed that IBM realised this, and were prepared to invest significant funds in taking the core competency of the Domino-based product and building on new server and client functionality to give Microsoft Sharepoint a decent competitor again.
  • Time Magazine 2006 person of the YearLotus Connections. Closing out the OGS, almost in a Steve Jobs-esque “One More Thing” style was an announcement that completely took my breath away. Whilst IBM had been rumoured to be working on a new platform for a while, codenamed “Project Ventura”, I knew very few of the details, and hadn’t thought it to be anywhere near ready to release.Yet here was IBM describing the rise of social media in the past couple of years, Time Magazine’s recent announcement of ‘You’ as their Person of the Year, the need for new ways to connect, collaborate and share, and the organisation’s own shift from email toward interactive social platforms.Ready for Social BusinessWhat followed was the unveiling of Lotus Connections, ‘the first-ever integrated social software platform for business’.IBM Connections logo 2007
    At that stage, Connections was a somewhat primitive set of little-integrated social services – Profiles, Communities, Blogs, Bookmarks (‘Dogear’) and Activities.Connections services
    Built on IBM’s own nascent W3 social applications, at this stage there was no home page, no activity streams, no status updates, no file sharing, no wikis etc, what was shown was really very basic.

    And yet there was so much potential! A fresh, modern, attractive web UI. The complexities of the underlying infrastructure hidden from end users, no need for costly and complex client rollouts, a shift away from the productivity scourge of email, and a platform for a new culture of openness and sharing.

This was all so hugely captivating!

At that stage of my career, I was already increasingly cynical about the state of email and traditional collaboration tools. Yet I was also experienced enough to understand the realities of corporate business requirements, the challenges that both the LoB and IT folks faced, and the massive pent up demand for individuals to take ownership of their personal knowledge, expertise and productivity, their career growth and their relationships with team colleagues and those further afield.

Lotus Connections ticked so many of those boxes. Whilst the release of the product was still 6 months away, I knew that Connections (and tools like it) had to be the core component of my future career.

Finding my voice

What’s more, there and then in the OGS, I also realised that I’d found the voice for which I had spent the past couple of years searching… I was already convinced that I didn’t have enough expertise to blog about email, Notes or Domino – just spending a little time in the company of Chris, Paul, Bill, Ed or Alan made me more than aware of that.

But Quickr and Connections? I could see the potential, the relevance and the possibilities. What’s more, I was on the same start line as anyone else outside of IBM (well, with the honourable exception of Rob!), and I was desperate to found out more about these new products, and to share what I had learnt.

So before I’d even left the Dolphin Ballroom that morning, I’d registered lotusconnectionsblog.com, quickrblog.com and number of other related domains. Within a week or so, those sites were in a state where I could ask Ed to share them via his own blog, and subsequently became the gateway to my taking up a role within the Lotus community I love so much. [Sadly, as a result of joining Jive back in 2015, I had to let those domains expire, but many of the posts are still kept for posterity here on stuart-mcintyre.com.]

Within a couple of months I was part of both the Connections and Quickr beta programs, within a year I’d started my own business (Collaboration Matters) and was soon consulting on Connections and Quickr for my own customers. By 2009 I was presenting on Connections at the Lotusphere event itself. I can trace all that back to the announcements in 2007.

A decade on…

Looking back now on that keynote at Lotusphere 2007, it’s not difficult to find oneself comparing it to the iPhone unveiling that was made just a couple of weeks earlier.  That Steve Jobs keynote has passed into folklore – I’m not alone in stating it was the best and most important product announcement I’ve ever seen (‘three devices – widescreen iPod, mobile phone, internet communicator – are you getting it yet?‘). You can map out a world pre-iPhone and post-iPhone and the intersection was that presentation on 9th January 2007.

You won’t find many tech folks holding up the Lotusphere 2007 keynote in a similar vein, and yet for me personally, it was literally life-changing!

Lotus Connections showed the way ahead, for the industry, for organisations that desperately needed improved collaboration, and for my career.

A decade on, I’m even more passionate for digital transformation, for the potential of online community, and for the role of platforms like Connections in revolutionising corporate culture and collaboration. I owe Lotusphere 2007 and IBM Connections a huge debt of thanks.

Happy Birthday, IBM Connections!