Redbooks petition – an update for IBM

As you probably are aware, it was recently leaked that IBM is in the process of closing its Lotus Redbook centre in Westford, MA.  Whilst IBM still claims that they will produce Lotus Redbooks at other locations, there are likely to be far fewer of the excellent “howto” guides in the future, with more resources focused around online tools such as wikis.  I see this as a huge mistake by IBM/Lotus and one that will leave many IBM partners and (more importantly) customers without the detailed step-by-step implementation guides that they need for these increasingly complex products and technologies.

Following the initial furore regarding this decision, Ed Brill posted a response on September 23rd that included the following:

I appreciate all the feedback already shared via the links above.  I can tell you from what I’ve seen internally that the decision to go with this new approach is a done deal.  However, I also know we’ve done some 2008 budget planning that would include Lotus-related Redbooks.  We will have to see how/what/if that comes to fruition.  I can’t comment further on the how/what/if, since, again, this isn’t my area at all.  I just wanted to share what I do know, since that’s what a community is all about.

Well, here we are 3 weeks on, and we still don’t have a formal statement from IBM on the matter – this is a big disappointment given the levels of support that IBM gets from the Lotus community.  Indeed, of the well-known IBMers that blog, only Ed has even mentioned this matter – I sense an element of discord regarding the decision.  Ed seems, to suggest that this is a done deal, and nothing that the community does will cause a rethink, yet at the same time IBM seem to be less than confident to have this discussion in the open.

Well, in the meantime, since I feel so strongly about this issue, I started an online petition asking others to sign their agreement with the following statement:

“We believe that ITSO Redbooks are an essential aid to the Lotus and Websphere Portal community, that more Lotus Redbooks are required for new products such as Notes/Domino8, Quickr and Connections, and that they should continue to be published in the future.”

Since September 22nd, 143 individuals have signed this petition. Whilst not a huge number, I still see this as reflecting a significant number of IBMers, partners and customers who disagree with the decision to close the Lotus redbooks and feel have made the effort to sign the petition.  Perhaps more important are the comments that have accompanied their signatures, e.g.

“Lotus Redbooks are invaluable to me. Especially because they provide an unobstructed view from the “real world” perspective, which is impossible to provide by technical writers who does not have customer experiences.”

“Redbooks are an utterly invaluable resource that I use on a near-daily basis. Lotus are out of their minds to even consider abandoning them.”

“IBM must be crazy to cancel this, God only know how much of a help it has been while working with Lotus”

“Redbooks are part of the enablement lifeblood beyond the virtual walls of IBM. Whilst a shift towards externalising the development of in depth technical material is generally a good idea – it should be done as an extension to a core of material that is developed within IBM as the definitive source of knowledge about Lotus products.”

“Redbooks are an invaluable tool for techies, and are the only counter to the sea of books available for Microsoft software. Customers take comfort in the fact that as books are written about a product they must be in wide use.”

“IBM Redbooks are the best source for good and liable information about IBM Lotus products. Without them it would be much harder to provide customer focused solutions.”

“Redbooks are indepth, valuable resources that encourage the use of Lotus products and help admins and developers get up to speed with complex issues in a way that is more realistic that a help reference. If Lotus make it harder to get this knowledge, then developers and admins will choose the path of least resistance – which could be competitors products. It’s sad that IBM/Lotus made this decision in the light of recent announcements”

“Redbooks are THE authoritative source of information. It is something that makes a difference from the competition.”

“Dear IBM, please do not remove the redbook ! In more than 10 years working with domino, these books are the bible… you can not remove the bible. Thanks”

“Please, the redbooks are simply fundamentals for people like me that work from many years with the IBM middleware.”

“As an IBM Premium Business Partner, we are implementing Lotus infrastructures at our customers’ premises every week… the numer of times we have been able to solve problems using RedBooks is simply countless. Please don’t stop to release this great source of information!”

“It’s a shame that Lotus has taken the decision of not producing redbooks anymore. This was a huge advantage we had against our competitors, an enourmous source of information for the community and a differentiator.”

“Don’t let Lotus focused Redbooks die ! They were and are useful help for Lotus programmers and administrators.”

So IBM, that’s 143 key members of the community that evangelises, supports, implements, troubleshoots, innovates and genuinely cares about your products, all stating a clear view that closing the IBM Lotus Redbooks centre is a grave mistake. And yet no one is prepared to even make this decision public, let alone have a reasoned discussion regarding its merits.  I thought you were better than this…

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!