IBM ConnectED 2015

Some thoughts on IBMConnectED 2015 from afar

For the first time in 7 years, I’m missing the annual IBM ‘collaboration and social business’ conference in Orlando.

Sadly this has also coincided with the conference being ‘down-sized’ somewhat and thus being deprived of the live video-streaming and playback support that it has had for the past 3-5 years. I’ve therefore been watching the event through the somewhat murky and confusing lenses of Twitter and PlanetLotus.  This has most likely led me to more than a few misconceptions or confusions on the content shared over 4,000 miles away.

IBM ConnectED 2015 banner


However, that said, here are my thoughts so far:

    • That there is a conference at all this year is a major testament to the efforts of many truly committed folks at IBM and in the community.  They have had to pull out all the stops to get the ‘powers that be’ to cover the cost and risk of running the event, and then completed far more of the tasks themselves than in previous years when they would have been outsourced to other agencies. Kudos to them for making this happen. All my comments below should be taken in the context that I am darned impressed they’ve achieved what they have.
    • The rebrand to IBMConnectED (from IBM Connect and before that Lotusphere) has confused many. Watching Twitter over the past few days, I’ve seen a good number of questions from those not present asking about the scope of the conference, the level of content (technical versus business), the audience that was invited and so on.  Given the general consensus so far, I’m not sure that the ‘much more technical’ target has been met, and thus perhaps the additional rebrand was a little unnecessary – however, maybe there were political reasons why this change needed to happen?
      • That said, the attendance is said to have exceeded expectations, and perhaps even to have exceeded the ambitions of those on the organising team.  Early on, a number of 1,500 attendees had been mentioned, and I’ve now heard that a large number of late (or even, on-site) registrations have taken the attendance past 2,200 people.  This is an amazing success and should be applauded.
      • IBM ConnectED TechnOasisHowever, when one plans a conference around one audience size and you get 1.5x that number arrive, it obviously puts pressure on the arrangements and compromises that were made for the original plan.  It sounds as though the TechnOasis is very tight for space, the welcome party was somewhat under-catered and that there have been a few issues getting into packed sessions.  These are understandable issues and I’m sure that most attendees (and sponsors) would trade some minor inconvenience in these areas for having a vibrant, well-attended conference.
      • This (perhaps unexpected) success has lead to some discussions around the future of this event and I’ve heard more than a few whispers that IBM has an open mind on the future of ‘Lotusphere’ after 2015, and might be convinced to continue the conference in the future should it be a commercially viable venture.  I sincerely hope that this is the case. It has a vibe entirely unlike any other event I’ve ever attended, and for the sake of the community that has built up around these products and solutions, I really do want this not to be ‘the final goodbye’. We’ll see what gets announced at the closing session.
    • As the January event has always been the number one marketing effort for ICS throughout the entire year, the news made here has to make a splash around the world.  Whilst this may change as part of the consolidation into the Vegas based events, I do think that at least for 2015, IBM has to ensure that the impact of the content shared in Orlando is a big one.  Clearly a big part of this is IBM educating the analysts and press, and I’m sure they’ll be doing this as well as ever (I’ve taken part in a number of press programs at this event in the past, and have always been impressed with the way they’ve been delivered).  However, from my perspective, particularly given my position this year, the event must have a footprint that extends beyond the Swan and Dolphin complex. For me that means:
      • Live streaming – I can understand that budget was likely an issue this year.  However if I had been asked, I would have suggested that streaming at least the main-room sessions was absolutely essential.  Heck, that could have come down to just an immediately uploaded Youtube recording of the OGS if truly necessary, but really there should have been no way that even a 1,500 user conference should have been cut off from the rest of the interested audience.  I’ve long held (and shared) the opinion that session recordings and presentations are IBM’s best promotional materials for this conference. For me, it is madness that the fantastic news from the OGS yesterday didn’t make it out unedited to the rest of the world.
      • Ed BrillNews summaries of the key OGS announcements – I made this point last year.  ICS misses Ed Brill most of all during the week of this event.  If you were to trawl back through the archives of his blog, you’ll see that January always saw upwards of 50+ blog posts, mostly during and soon after Lotusphere week.  As a blogger attending the event, I could always be sure that immediately following the OGS we’d have a handful of insightful pre-written posts detailing what was shown, what would be delivered and how it would impact users of the software.  In the past couple of years, we’ve come away from the OGS thinking, yeah that was exciting and well-produced, but with little in terms of real details, dates or feature lists.  I know that this will likely come in the breakout sessions at the event, but not everyone onsite can attend all these sessions, and of course those that aren’t there have even less to go on.
      • Press releases – Nothing that was announced yesterday at the event was deemed worthy of an IBM press release.  Again, whilst the press on-site will have been briefed, the rest of the world’s media (and bloggers) will be left uneducated about the news.
      • In summary, I find this ‘you have to be here’ approach to be unfathomable for such a well-organised event run by a multi-national tech vendor.
    • The actual news from the OGS as I could glean from the tweets, Facebook posts, photos and Skype chats that I followed was really positive in a number of areas:
      • The IBM Verse demos looked really fantastic.  I’ve been honoured to be involved in some of the beta testing for the product and so have used some earlier iterations of the platform. However, what was shown yesterday was a massive step forward in terms of usability and UI polish.  The integration with Connections looked very powerful, and the omnipresent Calendar bar at the base of the display had many Tweeters commenting on how useful that would be in their daily work-lives. I’m hearing that Scott Souder’s presentation and demo went incredibly well, and it’s clear that the community both likes and respects his approach.
      • I love the idea that Verse will be available as a Freemium service, and will be open to anyone to use as the client for their email.  I’m not sure how the greater IBM will get their heads around this as an offering, and there is previous for free products from IBM (Symphony etc.) being folded when they don’t become commercially self-sustaining.  The biggest question I have though is how IBM will advertise and market Verse to the world.  As we all know ‘build it and they will come’ is a sure route to failure, so they do have to find a way to win mindshare in startups and small-businesses. IBM Verse has to somehow be considered alongside Office365 and Google Apps – a challenge.
      • New Way to WorkI still have some concerns about Verse, primarily that IBM’s ‘New Way to Work’ message risks over-promising and under-delivering on what is effectively a new UI for iNotes.  I do think that a ‘New Way to Work’ is absolutely needed, but don’t think that this means email, in any form. That’s not to say that I don’t think it will be a mighty fine mail client and productivity tool, but I think that that are other vendors out there that are making similar strides forward on mail management (thinking about Google Inbox and Dropbox’s MailBox app in particular).  At the end of the day, it is still email, and my position is that whilst any improvement in the management of ones email load is important, we need to be shifting away from email at a personal and organisational level.
      • Too many browser tabsMy other small concern is that I find ‘web mail’ in whatever format really difficult to manage – particularly when shifting from web research to mail or and back again.  I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday and the advice was to use pinned browser tabs or even a separate browser altogether.  However, I find that what works best for me (and for many users I meet) is a separate app for email/calendar/to-dos (that’s currently Mailbox/BusyCal/Todoist in my world, but could be Notes or Outlook), even if this is just a lightweight container that renders the web views (think of MailPlane for GMail).  I’d love to hear how IBM plans to deal with this for its own internal users – will all 300,000+ IBM mail users be expected to have a browser tab open all day for them to access their mail?
      • On the other hand, IBM Connections Next looked awesome, really really great.  The new Verse-inspired UI looked fantastic, and is a credit to IBM’s renewed focus on ‘design-thinking’.  In addition, the features that Luis Benitez demonstrated were really well received – not least the new and reimagined Homepage and Community Overview elements.  We also heard of many planned enhancements to the IBM Connections Cloud SaaS platform – primarily to bring it up to feature parity with the on-premises release.  It’s clearly a case of further evolution rather than the revolution that we’re seeing in Verse, but given IBM’s position in the ESN space, that’s no surprise.  I really look forward to getting hold of some of the deeper-dive roadmap presentations to find out more. (One feature I am not keen but I know others will adore is that we’ll finally have full nested folders in Connections later this year!)
      • IBM plans to release a separate paid file sync tool based on Connections that will compete with Dropbox and Box.  This is another good step into the ‘general tech utility’ space – a tool that doesn’t require an entire enterprise to buy into it in order to return demonstrable value.
      • As far as I could tell from the Twitter coverage, there was very little mention of Notes, Domino (apart from it’s integration into BlueMix) or Sametime in the OGS.  I’m sure that this will disappoint many, but surprise few.
    • There was one significant omission as far as I am concerned:
      • Slack iconOne of the major stories of the past year has been the rise and rise of Slack and it’s contemporaries in the Social Communications space.  These lightweight mobile chat platforms have rapidly grown in scope and popularity, and it’s now very unusual for me to meet a customer that doesn’t have at least one of these tools in use in a department or job function around the business. It’s not just Slack either – think of Hipchat (from Atlassian), Flowdock and Hall, all of which are doing well.  Also, Cisco has launched Webex Project Squared, and Jive is working on Chime, both of which will compete in this area.  All have dynamic mobile apps and most have lightweight desktop apps for OS X and Windows.  I’m seeing these platforms compete with (and beat) solutions in both the ESN and IM categories.
      • In the IBM world, we’re still looking at the complex Sametime platform on-premises, or the more limited (though still complex) hosted variant.  To get efficient persistent group chat functionality you would need Sametime Advanced.  At the client level, we’re working with the 1 gigabyte (!) install that is the Eclipse-based rich client.
      • I am surprised that we didn’t hear IBM responding to this threat with either a completely new cloud-based Social Communications platform, or else a substantial commitment to to improve IM and group chat in the Connections Cloud solution.
    • As always, it sounds as though the social side of the conference has been as spectacular as always.  People come and people go, but relationships built at previous events and maintained online tend to withstand change incredibly well.

As I stated at the top, all of the above has been gleaned from following the social media coverage and from speaking to trusted friends.  What do you think? Do I have it right, or have I misjudged the conference as far as you’re concerned?  I’d love to hear from you…

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!
  • Peter Smith

    I was lucky enough to go to 5 Lotuspheres, the last a few years ago when I moved out of the BP arena. Even so, the thought of this being the “last one ever” meant I was scratching round seeing if there was a way to attend, just to be there at the end.
    Looking for closure from a technical conference does sound odd, but the ‘Sphere was a defining part of my career and gave me knowledge, contacts, friends and even a job once!
    I’m glad it’s going well this year but wonder how many of the “late surge” were people in a similar state of mind as me, just with the opportunity to actually do it. Would the numbers dip again if it gets a new lease of life?
    Looking at InterConnect, which itself is a merger of 3 distinct conferences, I think we will see it appear there next year as the “fourth pillar”.
    As for the announcements, Verse may be a great product but where I sit today no one is even talking about IBM, let alone considering them as an option. Verse may be a palatable option for existing customers, but breaking into non or ex IBM shops will be challenging. I don’t have the answer, but then it seems IBM never have either….

  • Oliver Regelmann

    Couldn’t agree more to the comments regarding Ed’s blog. It’s really hard for someone not attending (like me) to get any info about those “fantastic news” and “fantastic demos”.

  • charlie reid

    This is such a great article , the section on the competitors of Sametime was enlightening to the the state of the marketplace. I reviewed the products mentioned and found in my opinion that IBM has missed the marketing boat again. All these features offered could be done using Notes/Sametime with or with out Connections. If IBM had not turned away from the Technical and Business Partner community but had embraced them all these add-ons that integrating with all these different products could have been integrating with their Products and building the overall IBM product base instead of siphoning the energy in this product space. Neither IBM or MS are really delivering the collaborative dream that the Market is driving, Neither is really embracing the opportunity of building products that can leverage the platforms that are being offered. As we found in the last 30 years, “It’s the APPs stupid”, that make computers money makers. It’s supplying the Users with what they need that makes them want to buy and drive revenue. The last few years of IBM selling only to C Level and marketing Price points and not marketing to people and to the technical has been blind to innovation and selling how to make money with their products. What these new products offer is what drew me to Lotus in the first place. The promise of easily and quickly delivering the information to people that they need every day. They are supplying the “Portals” we all talked about in the 80’s. IBM still has the product base to deliver on this promise but the Internal politics of move everything to Websphere, which is a joke, and Kill the Lotus brand that continue to makes them money, is killing IBM, just read the Analysts. It may be to late to revitalize the marketing , or create marketing in the first place for what the Domino platform can do and open up the api and build the developer base up again to build these type of bolt on’s from Business Partners like what Slack and the others have, These all could have been Notes apps. These all could be delivered to Mobile and Xpages. This all could have been IBM’s market share. The failure of IBM rests on IBM’s Management and Marketing. They talk a great game of Collaboration but fail in collaborating with their Business Partners and the Technical People that make their products look good in the field every day.

    • Hi Charles, I don’t want to knock your contribution to this thread, but I do think we have to look forwards. I would be the first to argue that IBM has made some fairly drastic mis-steps with the Lotus brand and the Notes/Domino portfolio in the past decade, but that ship has well and truly sailed in my opinion.

      Looking around I see that IBM has a core group of relatively loyal enterprise customers that are still engaged with the ICS portfolio. The Connections platform is well regarded by analysts and the press, and is steadily growing in the marketplace (though I am sure not as fast as IBM or its partners would like). Sametime has somewhat stagnated, and Notes and Domino are treading water frantically to avoid sinking.

      Outside of the ICS bubble, we’re seeing Microsoft getting its act slowly together around building on Office365 and fully integrating Sharepoint and Yammer, the Jive/Cisco partnership promises much, and generally speaking, the Social Collaboration space is booming. As I mentioned in my original post, there are a lot of really innovative solutions out there, both from established names and fast-growing startups. Where the traditional on-prem messaging and IM space has plateaued, I see ‘collaboration’ as a whole (and from mobile devices particularly) being the truly exciting tech space over the next 5 years or so.

      Into this situation, IBM seems to be taking a three-pronged approach. IBM Verse to re-ignite the messaging vision, partly to offer a future to those running Notes/Domino, and equally to try to grab marketshare outside their existing customer base. IBM Connections will cover enterprise collaboration and sharing, plus in certain situations to support extranet-style communities. Finally Bluemix is the future for application development.

      There are certainly some gaps in that vision (or at least as I see it) – not least in terms of the organisations that demand on-prem solutions, and the social communication platform requirement I spoke about in my post.

      However, I do think that based on what I’ve seen and heard, the ‘new Lotus’ under Jeff Schick is showing at last showing the guts to get out there and try to do something new, aggressive and innovative.

      Having told you not to, I’m gonna looking backwards for a moment… I see the years from 2009-2013 as somewhat wasted in ICS terms. Too many half-hearted attempts to fudge a future plan for the older products and technologies, and to rebrand Lotus in a meaningful way. It always seemed to be about trying not to scare the high-end enterprise customers, rather than to forge a new future.

      From my vantage point, whatever flaws might be present in the Verse+Connections+BlueMix vision, I applaud that there is a demonstrable plan in place that is exciting and paints a positive future for those that buy into it.

      • charlie reid

        Again I think this article is as good a piece as I’ve read in a long time, I went and looked at, thanks to the storm, all the products you listed, and found that Notes/Domino/Sametime could have offered all these options since R5. Marketing for IBM has been a weakness since the AntiTrust decision and has not helped the Lotus product line and all the attempts to move away from it, have hurt IBM not helped it. I’m not on the bleeding edge like I used tobe and am in a situation now where it is the eternal MS/IBM power struggles with no vision of moving to a collabrative way of doing Business. I know you have a better vision as a whole then I do, That’s why we all read and listen to you, o wait the podcast is gone, but i really respect your insights, I don’t have a vision that will fit into todays Large enterprises that doesn’t cut the middle manager head count, I think they know that moving to the Vision that IBM puts forward cuts the last area Corporations can cut and that is Management., todays Cloud move cuts employees and puts off the cuts to middle managment until they move to the cloud and mangers will become Contract Analysists and middle manager with no employees will be cut. This being my 3rd in 25 years of outsoucing waves have no faith that in the long run hiring someone else to do what you can do cheaper, have more control over, be more versitial will be a long term solution. I believe in MY people and OUR ablity to do a World Class Job to serve the needs of the business. If I higher you , your job is to make money for your company not mine. I understand the moves by IBM, I just don’t think it is or has been the best for them or the long term health of IBM or their customers.

  • This is a pretty long post considering you weren’t there ! 🙂 I know I’m not Ed Brill and will never aim to replace him. I am going to start posting some recaps starting tomorrow, though, as you would expect, they’ll be specific to Connections. re: Sametime it was both in Scott’s demo and my demo as well though mine was a flyover.. Scott spent a bit more time on it and got applause.

    • Ah but I was following incredibly closely from across the pond!

      I’ll appreciate your posts, Luis so thanks for sharing them. I’m sure that all the information will eventually make it out. As both Vowe and myself noted, it was just tough at the time to get confirmation or detail on anything that was shown. I really love the more fluid and story-like OGS approach that has been evident in the past few years, so no criticism there – just that once you get out the door it is good to have something more concrete to review. That is especially true when watching from outside. That’s what Ed used to do so well.

      Glad that Sametime was covered in the other demos. Hopefully we’ll get a roadmap made available publicly?

      • I’ll let the Notes / Sametime PM’s publish their roadmaps. I’ve done my part 🙂