ibm slant

Tools as a catalyst for culture change (in IBM)

A fascinating article by Bill Higgins, the IBM Distinguished Engineer that lead a major project to revolutionise the company’s approach to product development:

When our CEO Ginni Rometty hired Jeff Smith as IBM’s CIO, with the mandate to help IBM achieve better business and technical agility, I proposed to Jeff that we provide the entire company with a great continuous delivery toolchain that fostered radical collaboration across disciplines. Jeff agreed and for the past two and a half years, that’s what my team and I have been working on.

We chose and deployed best-of-breed collaboration tools like Slack and Mural, and best-of-breed continuous delivery tools like GitHub Enterprise and Travis CI to continuously deploy their services to the IBM cloud. About a year into the project, we’d seen some amazing uptake, but we’d also realized that providing great tools was a means to an end, but not the real goal.

Bill goes on to explain the methodology the project utilised, along with some of the challenges and issues they faced, and the subsequent advantages that were enabled by the new technology. It’s a really interesting read, particularly when you’ve seen many of the challenges that IBMers have faced over the past decade or so. I highly recommend that you take the time to consume the entire article.

However, there are a couple of passages that I wanted to pull out here…

The first is on why ‘tools’ are not the answer. Or rather, why tools alone are not the answer. We’ve all seen this in our work, but the way in which Bill puts it is particularly succinct (emphasis mine):

What I believe wasn’t obvious then – and remains non-obvious now – was that tool adoption was not the real problem to solve. The real problem to solve was getting teams to discover and adopt the modern practices that the tools enabled.

The tools we picked all had good surface usability – attractive UIs, good performance, etc. – but the magic was in the new workflows and collaborations that they enabled. For instance, you can use GitHub as just a more attractive Git UI, but it becomes magical when you fully buy into its pull request workflow to support peer reviews and social coding across teams. As another example, you can use Slack as simply a more attractive instant message client, but it becomes magical when it becomes the cockpit for your human colleagues and continuous delivery tools to collaborate on updating a production application.

The magic is in the new, better practices that the tools enable. A tool is a vehicle for practices. Practices directly shape habits and tacit assumptions. Habits and tacit assumptions are the foundations of culture.

So organisations don’t just need to provide their staff with great tools, they need to utilise them within new working practices that make the most of the capabilities that they offer.

Secondly, user adoption will likely never be a constant or even growth curve – it relies on a a series of linked but unpredictable events that enables the spread of the new working practices across the organisation. Again, Bill explains this brilliantly:

I think of tools as a catalyst because – if you manage to communicate and execute well – you can set off a positive chain reaction:

  • Diffusion of Innovations curveYour top folks think “wow, our leaders are clueful, and they’re serious about transforming our culture.” They jump on board and immediately experience and demonstrate better performance and better morale. They view you as a clueful leader that they will trust vs. an unhelpful pointy-haired boss. They also become your champions and sources of local support with later adopters.
  • The next set of folks see the improved performance of the early adopters and say “I want some of that!” If you help frame the problem as adopting modern practices, and make it clear how the tools support these practices, this group will ultimately change behavior, and experience the benefits of this change with their own improved performance and happiness.
  • The more productive and happy employees do a much better job recruiting great talent from college and industry, as they rave about their excellent set of tools, their modern ways of working, and their clueful leadership.
  • As more long-time and new employees gain mastery of the tools and the practices, you hit the diffusion curve’s critical mass point (the yellow line’s first inflection point in the diagram), where your early adopters and early majority become a self-sustaining force for the diffusion of the practices and tools to everyone else, allowing you to move on to the next whitespace where you can add unique value.

As I mentioned above, the entire piece is worth your attention.

It’s clear that there is a much-needed revolution taking place inside the walls of IBM’s development and design labs.

From the partner and consultant perspective, the first half of this decade had seen product development and innovation appear to slow to a crawl with products that were heavy, difficult to deploy and provision, and unappealing to users and business leaders. Something needed to be done.

We’re now hearing of new approaches being taken to all aspects of the software (and service) development process, and the benefits are being seen in the planning and delivery of products across the portfolio.

What’s enlightening from articles like these is that descriptions of IBM’s efforts to revolutionise internal collaboration are missing one obvious component… IBM’s own collaboration tools!

Whilst the Notes to Verse migration has most likely improved email, this isn’t where the cultural change is anchored.

Instead of hearing about Connections or Sametime as the tools that are enabling developers to embrace new ways of working, it’s Slack and Mural that are taking the plaudits. Not that there is inherently anything wrong with that – IBM should be using the best tools that can support their business.

However, it’s tough for IBM and its ecosystem of partners and ISVs to be recommending their own solutions to customers when they are not using (or rather exploiting them fully) internally. For example, there’s barely been a mention of Watson Workspace in the press since the announcement last year, whilst IBM has been referencing their use of Slack on a regular basis – and Slack even used IBM as a launch reference for their enterprise solution.

So where does this leave IBM Connections and it’s related solutions? In a 6-9 month lull waiting for these new development practices to evidence themselves fully in the delivery of Connections Pink…

We’re already hearing of massive changes in the build and delivery approach for Pink, and the first element (OrientMe) was shipped in the recent Connections 6 release. It’s clear that this is a sea-change from the glacial pace of development that we’ve seen over the past few years, and I’d pin this at least partially on the cultural changes that Bill Higgins and others have implemented.

My hope is that the improvements delivered in Pink are enough to make the Connections solution effective at enabling true collaboration across teams and between individuals, in such a way that the IBM development teams themselves find it essential for their own use. That will be a true test of its value in modern tech-based organisations.


APQC logo

Webinar: Surviving the Gartner Hype Cycle for your Enterprise Social Network

The APQC (American Productivity & Quality Center) are hosting an interesting webinar in a couple of week’s time, looking at how to manage a successful ESN:

When The Chartis Group launched its enterprise social network (ESN) in April 2016, the initial deployment and usage was a tremendous success, but engagement gradually slipped after the first 4-6 weeks. Through persistent promotional efforts and making the ESN a part of how employees do their jobs, adoption steadily improved over time.

During this webinar, The Chartis Group’s Director of Knowledge Management, Darrin Brogran, will discuss ways to strengthen any ESN within an organization. He will emphasize many of the challenges and pitfalls likely to be associated with a post-deployment ESN environment, actions designed to revitalize and refresh an ESN, and ways to optimize opportunities for your social network to become an embedded part of the organizational culture.

The webinar takes place on Thursday, April 20 at 10:30 a.m. CDT. Register now.

ibm connections cloud hearts

IBM Connections Cloud: Rakin’ in the 💙s

Coming in the next release of IBM Connections Cloud on 22 April 2017:

Now you can put your heart into it when you like something in Connections Cloud. The new heart icon has universally replaced the word “Like” or, in some places, the happy face icon.

ibm connections cloud heartsClick the heart icon 💙 to like a file, blog, status update, or comment.

I ‘like’ this move… 😉

The ‘like’ verb always seemed a little out of place, particularly in the more formal of Connections environments. The new heart icon still indicates the same action, and therefore the same important indication of approval for the content or interaction, but I feel as though it is a better fit with current best-practices in social media terms, as well as the overall context of IBM Connections Cloud communities. Look out for the change in three weeks or so.

SOCM2017 header

Have you completed the State of Community Management 2017 survey yet?

The Community Roundtable’s ‘State of Community Management’ annual analysis of online communities is one of the resources that I use almost every day in my role as a digital strategist. It contains vital information on what constitutes best-of-breed communities (both internal and external), how mature platforms are continuing to evolve into new areas, how the art (and therefore professional role) of community management is developing and much more. The 2016 edition is available here – I really would highly recommend that you download a copy if you’re at all interested in this topic.

The survey for this year’s edition launched a couple of months ago, and is expected to close soon:

Community managers and program owners in all communities – large and small, internal and external, SOCM 2016 Cover with Shadow Finalpublic and private, and across all industries and use cases are encouraged to take the 25-minute survey, which explores critical elements of successful communities. Survey participants receive:

  • A free estimated Community Maturity Score, which compares your responses to The Community Roundtable’s database of hundreds of surveys, and gives you a sense of where your community ranks on the Community Maturity Model.
  • Access to the full State of Community Management 2017 report on the day it’s made available (expected mid-May).

If you’re a community manager, and you haven’t yet taken the survey, please do so ASAP. It’s a fantastic opportunity to contribute to the understanding of progress in the profession, as well as gathering some incredibly useful information on your own community:

The 25-minute survey explores your community across the 8 competencies of the Community Maturity Model, and generate an exclusive (and private) scorecard of where you stand in:

  • Strategy
  • Leadership
  • Culture
  • Community Management
  • Content and Programs
  • Policies and Guidelines
  • Tools
  • Metrics and Measurement

Plus, you can use the included ROI calculator to get a sense of how your ROI stacks up, based on the value of answers created in your community use our ROI model.

Take the survey now!


Building enterprise software today: A partnership in openness (IBM’s Jason Roy Gary at FOSSASIA 2017)

FOSS ASIAThose that were at IBM Connect or on recent partner calls may have seen versions of this presentation from Jason Roy Gary of IBM. However, I am thrilled to find a video version recorded at last week’s FOSSASIA 2017 event held in Singapore.

Jason is a Distinguished Engineer and since last year has lead the IBM Connections engineering team. It’s fair to say that his arrival has resulted in a dramatic revolution in the way that IBM is approaching the Connections product, infrastructure and development process. The plans for Connections Pink demonstrate this in an emphatic way.

In this presentation, Jason outlines his beliefs, the challenges that vendors face in 2017, and why an open approach is essential for enterprise software.  It is a fascinating hour’s worth of listening, and I’d recommend it to any IBM customer or partner.

IBM Connections 6 summary

IBM Connections 6.0 announced, generally available March 31st

They told us at Connect that IBM Connections 6.0 would be made available in Q1, and here’s the announcement that they’ll be sneaking it across the line on the 31st March…

IBM Connections 6 summaryConnections V6.0 adds new capabilities for creating and customizing engaging Communities, and offers users increased flexibility in syncing and managing their online and offline Files folders.


  • Community customization capabilities can help to make a Community more useful and engaging for the Community members.
  • Doing so can lead to greater Community participation and provides a more effective collaboration experience for the Community members.
  • File folders can be taken offline to a PC for local work and then synchronized with the online folders.
  • Advanced analytics provide an optional personalized and prioritized home page that will surface information that is most relevant for the individual.

The significant new features are highlighted in the announcement letter, along with some of the implementation details:

Communities are more customizable

Advanced Community customization capabilities provide Community owners additional options for designing their custom Community. These changes allow a Community to be more useful and engaging, leading to increased community vitality. As Community owners build these vibrant communities, they can copy the existing layouts and designs from one Community into a new one.

Community owners can:

  • Create Community experiences with enhanced rich text content editing, so that Community members can enjoy an engaging experience.
  • Choose from new modern layouts with a horizontal navigation bar to better use space on Community pages and match the Community’s purpose more effectively.
  • Create new Communities faster by choosing from existing layouts, which can help to save time and establish guidelines for Community design.
  • Reduce clutter on Community pages by hiding a widget while retaining its link in the navigation menu.

Files delivers added flexibility

Files users can select a top-level folder in their Files and mark it for sync. This permits the users to take the content of entire folders offline to their desktop and keep them synchronized with the files on the server.

Relevant updates are brought front and center

A new optional program, IBM Connections Orient Me, can be used with Connections V6.0 to provide new home page capabilities that apply advanced analytics to surface information and people that are most relevant to an individual.

Individuals can take advantage of new capabilities provided by Connections Orient Me:

  • See, at a glance, the updates and information most relevant to users, displayed in a new visual layout and prioritized based on their interaction with content and people.
  • Apply new content and people filters to better control what users see.
  • More easily view updates grouped by a person, a Community, or content.
  • Receive suggestions about the people most likely to be important and relevant to their work.
  • See a snapshot of their day in the Action Center, accessible throughout Connections.

Connections Orient Me is planned for availability on the availability date of Connections V6.0. Connections Orient Me is planned to be made available for download from the Fix Central website by organizations with entitlement to Connections V6.0

As previously blogged, this is set to be the final on-premises release of Connections built the run wholly on the traditional platform of WebSphere/DB2/IHS/TDI etc. Connections Pink will start to arrive in pieces from later this year, running on an entirely more dynamic and easier-to-manage infrastructure. You will need to be running 6.0 to make that transition, so start the planning process now to get there as soon as you can.

Connections 6.0 will be available to download from Passport Advantage or Partnerworld as usual.

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”