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, 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]

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!

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