IBM Connect 2015 dates

The future of IBM Connect

Disclaimer – I have no insider knowledge on this topic, these are just my personal thoughts

There has been a fair bit of discussion regarding what might happen to IBM Connect (the conference previously known as ‘Lotusphere’) in the near future…

IBM announced in 2008 that they had signed a contract with the Swan and Dolphin hotels to host the conference in Orlando until 2015, and as far as has been publicly stated, no extension has been signed.  Therefore the consensus seems to be that there will need to be a decision made by IBM as to what they might do with the conference beyond the next event.  Here’s my thoughts on what might happen next…

1) At Connect 2014, IBM announced that Connect 2015 will take place from 25-29 January 2015.  Given that this was such a public proclamation, I cannot believe that IBM would change this plan now.  Therefore we are looking at what might happen post-January 2015.

IBM Connect 2015 dates
Connect 2015 dates (image courtesy of Chris Miller)

2) The audience for IBM Connect is clearly shrinking over time.  Efforts such as the rename from Lotusphere and the consolidation with Kenexa World haven’t made a significant difference to this trend, at least as far as I can see.  In broad and probably over-simplistic terms, as new business-level attendees have been added, loyal technical-level folks have departed.  That’s not to criticise any decision that’s been made, it’s just the state of the union – whether as a result of changes in the product lines, competitive positioning, loss of market share, marketing focus, cost of travel etc, the sad fact is that Connect doesn’t sell 10,000 tickets as it once did.

3) Let’s look at other similar IBM conferences:

a) IBM seems to be consolidating its software conferences across brands.  We have seen Impact (the Websphere conference), Innovate (Rational) and Pulse (Tivoli) all announce that they will merge for 2015 for a very large conference in Las Vegas:

Mark your calendar for February 22 – 26, 2015. We’ll meet at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino and the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Next year’s expanded conference, with 20,000 attendees, will deliver even more compelling sessions, deeper insights from industry thought leaders, more meaningful networking opportunities and our biggest EXPO ever!

b) Amongst the SWG ‘pillars’ (to use an old phrase), just IBM Insight (the DB2/Information On Demand conference) still stands alone, though it is also based in Las Vegas.  It is scheduled for 26-30 October 2014.

c) Also, IBM Edge (Enterprise Infrastructure) is based in Las Vegas, scheduled for 11-15 May 2015.  The IBM Partnerworld Leadership Conference is lined up for February 9-12 in Las Vegas.

d) Given the above, the primary location for all large IBM global conferences is clearly now Las Vegas, and in many cases, bigger is better.

4) The Lotus IBM Collaboration Solutions brand no longer exists as a standalone entity.  Under Craig Hayman it was made part of Software-as-a-service and Industry Solutions (or Industry and Cloud Solutions to keep the ICS moniker), but with Craig departing, there are suggestions that this will change once again.  Either way, when was the last time we saw specific marketing for the collaboration product line from IBM? This means that the distinct brand and following are no longer reasons to have a separate conference with all the effort and cost that this entails.

5) The shift to the cloud.  IBM’s ‘cloud first’ policy and the general direction in the marketplace is toward pre-packaged software-as-a-service offerings rather than on-premise ‘middleware’.  This changes both the audience and the technical content of conferences as a result – I would posit that attendees are more likely to be line-of-business rather than IT-focused, and the emphasis will be on solutions and ISVs that can plumb multiple SaaS offerings together rather than the nuts and bolts of installation or application development.  In the future, it could be suggested that there will be more commonality between say SoftLayer, IBM SmartCloud Connections and a Tivoli product for SaaS monitoring than there is between multiple ICS solutions today. Therefore larger conferences that bridge the gaps between the different brands that exist right now makes sense as we go forward.

Given all the above, it is relatively easy to predict that IBM Connect as we know it (January in the Swan and Dolphin in Florida) will no longer exist after the previously announced event in 2015.

This would be deeply sad in a lot of ways – so many of us have returned there on a regular basis over the last couple of decades, built business relationships, been exposed to new technologies, gained knowledge that has helped us build careers and perhaps more importantly, we’ve made and spent time with true friends around the world.

However, it would also bring to a natural close the process that started perhaps five years ago, with the shift away from the Lotus brand.  The name has gone, many of the people have moved on, the products and technologies have changed, and really the only physical thing that remains of the ‘glory days’ is the conference date and location.  Shifting to Las Vegas as part of a packed global conference would be different for sure, but could offer real opportunities to customers and partners to make connections and gain knowledge and insight way beyond the traditional confines of the Connect event.

Once again, I don’t know what IBM will do – I have no inside track.  However, as I gaze into my virtual crystal ball, that’s what I expect will happen.

However, I do have one major concern.  All that I hear from the IBM financial results suggests that the USA is at best a static market for IBM – all the growth is taking place in Asia Pacific and in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).  Therefore I wonder why all the major conferences look as though they will be located in one USA city.  Surely as a global brand operating worldwide, it seems odd (to me at least) that customers and partners in all areas of the world should be asked to pay to travel to a bizarrely located party-city in the Mojave desert to collaborate and associate with their peers.  I do realise that many of the key IBMers that would attend are US-based, but even then, many of the R&D and support teams are being shifted to locations in other areas of the world.  It would make more sense for these global conferences to be either located in Asia on a full time basis, or ideally, to be shifted around the world so that other sets of customers get the chance to attend.

So that’s my 2c – IBM Connect 2015 will be the grand goodbye to Orlando, and we’ll be invited to attend a new conference in Las Vegas.

However, what do you think?  Is this the plan as you see it?  Will you be sad to say goodbye to the memories made at the Swan and Dolphin in the past? Or will you look forward to new opportunities at a different event in the future? Might you change your plans and attend just to be at the last one? I’d love to hear from you!

IBM Connect 2014 banner

Orlando-bound: my perspective on the upcoming IBM Connect 2014 event

It’s a dark and dank early Friday morning in mid- to late-January, so as is the annual routine, I’m in a airport car headed for London Gatwick and onto the hopefully somewhat brighter climes of Orlando, Florida.

What takes me there?

I’d be surprised if you need to ask, but if you do, it’s IBM Connect – IBM’s premier Social Business, collaboration and workforce management conference –  the event formerly known and loved as Lotusphere.

IBM Connect 2014 banner

This is my tenth Lotusphere/Connect in all, with my first being a European event in Berlin in 2000 and then subsequent US trips in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009-14.

Whilst my attendance at these kinds of conferences has become much wider over the years (Le Web, SugarCon, Jive and Salesforce events to name but a few), the annual trip to the Swan and Dolphin is still a major highlight of the year.  The mix of business, technical, community and social is still a heady one, even with the continued evolution of the conference from being Notes/Domino-centric in the 90s and early-noughties, through additions such as Sametime/Quickplace/Portal/Workplace/Foundations in the mid-2000s, to the current focus on Social Business (Connections) over the past few years.  With the recent acquisition of Kenexa (the event is also tagged as Kenexa World Conference), the theme of Social Workforce will be a strong one this year too.

Dolphin and Swan

There is no doubt that the audience has changed massively over this time, with 2014 seeing the notable absence of a good number of those that have played a central role in the community (Bruce and Tom amongst many many others who will be sadly missed), however so far it is definitely the case of ‘the more it changes, the more it stays the same’.  Connect is still Lotusphere as far as I am concerned, and whilst some of the changes can be hard to accept, there are plenty more that are exciting and innovative.

IBM Connect 2013 Community

As for my role, the heady and incredibly busy days of IBM blogger programs, weekly podcasts and running the Lotusphere Blog are behind me, so this year’s event will be a calmer, more reflective affair.  With my new direction at Social 365 and continued developments at my primary customers, I’ll be approaching this event with a different focus, looking at the announcements, roadmaps and sessions from a more analytical perspective.

The Social Business marketplace is at an interesting inflection point right now. In many cases the technology is now mature, vendors are generally innovating a little slower than previously, and many organisations are taking a second (or in some cases, third) look at their investments and strategy in this area.  Since these solutions became available in 2007/8/9, many significant technology working practice shifts have taken place (and they continue to come thick and fast) – the ever increasing use of mobile devices, the shift toward the cloud, the continuing evolution of social media and the links between private and public networks, the migrations away from traditional on-premises messaging systems, the development of open standards for Social transactions and activity streams, the move from Human Resources to Talent Acquisition and Management and more.  These have meant that what was expected of a Social platform in 2014 and beyond is very different to in years gone by.  Organisations are looking for solutions that bridge the worlds of CRM, ERP, HR, messaging, team collaboration and social media.  That’s not to say that they necessarily want one platform that does it all, but Social Business reaches into all of those areas and therefore any products or platforms must have answers to questions being asked in all aspects of an organisation’s business rather than just from the perspective of internal collaboration and knowledge sharing.

IBM has a massive heritage in this space, and the strength of products such as Connections, Sametime, Domino and Portal is well acknowledged by Gartner and the like.  However, this space is more competitive than ever. Companies like Jive, Cisco, VMWare, Microsoft and SAP are driving their solutions forward.  The smaller niche players such as Box, Dropbox and Huddle are innovating fast.  Meanwhile, Salesforce are making such inroads (as they widen their scope from their position as CRM leaders) that they’ve just been given their own category in Paul Greenberg’s CRM Watchlist for 2014.  It will be fascinating to see how IBM takes their existing platforms, combines them with their Kenexa acquisition and their other investments under the SmartPlanet banner, and even throws in a little magic from Watson.  All the while, they need to be looking outside the walls and working on improved integration with social media and the established players in those other spaces I mentioned above.

I’m coming into IBM Connect with less knowledge of what’s coming up than ever before.  I have very little steer on what Connections Next will look like, or at the higher level, what IBM’s Social Business strategy for the next 12-24 months looks like.  That’s quite exciting…  In addition, changes in management always stir things up.  The switch from Alistair Rennie to Craig Hayman as GM of ICS (in addition to Craig’s existing role as head of Industry Solutions) is sure to be interesting to follow – I’m anticipating a change of style and possibly a more substantial strategy adjustment too.

So, all in all, I’m headed across the Atlantic with great expectations.  Hope I’ll see you there?  If not, look out for plenty of posts over the next few days…

Social Business Online for iPhone

IBM ‘Social Business Online’ app now available

IBM Connect is just around the corner (I travel on Friday, so better crack on with the packing!), and thoughts turn to sessions, schedules and social events.

After a few false starts this year, IBM has settled on the Social Business Online tool as the official means to view sessions, create a personal schedule and network with other attendees.  A combination of IBM Connections, Sametime and Domino/XPages platforms, it can be reached via the web, mobile browser or using the recently released native app for iOS (iPhone and iPad):

Social Business Online for iPhone Social Business Online for iPad

or Android:

IBM Social Business Online Android IBM Social Business Online Android

I’m fairly impressed with Social Business Online, and would advise all attendees to at least check in once or twice to see the latest content.  I do see this as the last year for this particular site though – I had hoped that the days of the ‘for one week only’ social sites were over.

There is also an exciting community-provided alternative from Mat Newman, Turtle Partnership and others ‘The totally unofficial, totally unsupported IBM Connect 2013 session database‘ (it does need a snappy acronym though!). This is available as a Notes database, mobile UI and now as a native iOS app too.

Either way, there is no excuse for not being properly prepared for IBM Connect.  My advice is to create a detailed schedule of sessions you plan to attend, plus a list of backup sessions should you be running late, the room is full or your first choice is not as engaging as you hoped it would be.