Saturday, April 14, 2007

is dogfooding always a good thing?

1. dogfooding (to dogfood)

In a nutshell, dogfooding means "using your own product". A product which is being dogfooded tends to be a lot more polished. When a normal user is annoyed by the product, they can't do anything about it. But when a developer is annoyed by the product, they can stop what they are doing and make the product less annoying.

The above is from Urban Dictionary, and I think it's safe to say we're all familiar with this concept. Dogfooding is generally regarded as a good thing since it allows developers to experience customer pains first hand. But dogfooding has another side beyond just development. What happens when when through the process of dogfooding you become one of your own largest customers? How do you balance your own needs against those of the rest of your customers? And how do you get your developers in a mindset where they are focused externally and not just internally?

According to Lotus sources about half of Domino's customer base is SMB. I have seen different people from Lotus define that as 1000 user and 5000 users. There is a tremendous problem with this definition. I've discussed it before, but it's relevant to this conversation. According to the US Small Business Administration SMB's may vary from 100 to 1500 employees depending on the industry. The average works out to 500. The European Union defines a SMB as under 400 employees. More importantly, SMB's employ over 97% of the people in the US and account for over 99% of the businesses. IBM's definition is so far out of line with the rest of the world it's absurd, and this disconnect is the source of a lot of their perception problems.

When adding functionality to the Lotus product line IBM's focus is on big companies and large environments because they are one. First and foremost they have to make sure their tools work for themselves. I get that and it's certainly understandable, it's just being done in a way that has alienated a large portion of their customers: the SMB's.

Since IBM took over Lotus the evolution of the product set has been schizophrenic. From a "two lane highway" message to spinning off a competing product line (Workplace), to mostly dismantling that effort and assigning that product's name as the overarching "strategy" moniker for all messaging and collaboration products -- it's been a real rollercoaster. It's been almost as difficult to keep up with as the renaming of the server lines that happens every few years. (It'll always be an AS/400 dammit!)

After Workplace was largely disbanded as a product line portions of it started appearing under the guise of Domino functionality. All of a sudden we started hearing about integrating Activity Explorer with Notes. Workplace Designer was rebranded as Lotus Component Designer and would allow consumption of Domino data with either a Notes client or web interface. In separate news the Sametime Realtime Community Gateway was going to allow federation to several popular public IM networks. The Domino community rejoiced. We were finally first-class citizens alongside the Websphere crowd! Then the other shoe dropped.

None of the new functionality uses Domino. Activity Explorer is deployed on Websphere and DB2. The Sametime RTC Gateway is as well. Lotus Component Designer can't deploy to Domino, you have to deploy to Websphere Portal. The only real interface is web-based, but you can wire it into a composite application in Notes 8 -- provided you use the Standard (Eclipse-derived) client, which comes with its own huge list of caveats. The early buzz changed to cries of outrage.

IBM kept trying to spin all this positively. The justification given for Activity Explorer and the Sametime RTC Gateway using a non-Domino underpinning is scalability. Allowing two different backends was considered, but written off as too expensive. During the discussion about the Sametime RTC Gateway we were told it had to scale to "carrier grade deployments" of the VoIP integration. Okay, I'll bite. How many SMB's out there (by a standard definition and not IBM's) are telecommunications carriers? If there are any, how many are deploying Sametime for VoIP?

Someone at IBM finally realized that SMB's couldn't afford Websphere Portal so IBM released Websphere Portal Express. It promises under 60 minutes installation time and a more attractive price point. I've not installed it so I can't comment on that, but the price I saw was $40,000. If that's more affordable I'm glad I don't know what the non-Express version costs. It shows yet another disconnect between IBM and their customers.

Just when I thought the news for SMB's couldn't get any more depressing, at Lotusphere 2007 Mike Rhodin announced Connections. There is a lot of compelling functionality and I was really excited about it, so I went on a fact finding mission. I wanted to know how it is licensed and how is it deployed. It's been three months since Lotusphere and there is no information on the Connections site so I started contacting people inside Lotus. So far I've been through four contacts and as soon as I say "about 200 users" my phone calls and e-mails aren't returned. I don't take the dismissal personally, but it does tell me that Connections isn't intended for SMB's.

Coming full circle, I think in this case dogfooding has hurt IBM. They are releasing exciting products with amazing features and functionality. They're just doing so on an infrastructure that's too heavy for the average SMB to justify, and at a price point that's unreachable for them as well. I encourage IBM to continue the practice of dogfooding, but I also encourage them to use the experience wisely. Let the developers fix the things they find wrong. Listen to all your customers and do the things they ask you to. Don't be afraid to try another flavor, possibly something in the "lean" or "light" area, or different packaging. Hint: licensing (i.e. "Express") doesn't go far enough.

N.B. I intentionally left out links to references to protect both the innocent and the guilty.


  1. Very interesting post, Charles. I think you make some very good points.

  2. Charles, you're a Domino shop. What on earth do you want Connections for anyway?

    The basic challenge that IBM has is that it builds products exactly in reverse of Microsoft. If Microsoft built Connections, it would work brilliantly for 10 people, and then on the 11th, it would crash. If you hooked it up to the internet, it would be zombied in 30 minutes or less. But as long as you deployed it to a small workgroup, like a C-level executive staff, it would be flawless.

    IBM does it the other way around. The product requires twin PhDs in computer science and comparative philology to install. It has no value to a group of 10 people, because the value comes from the sheer volume of indexable content. If you connect it to an internal LAN, you still can't access it, because you haven't properly configured your Tivoli Directory Integration against DB2 LDAP to allow the Websphere SSO login so you can provision the Expeditor components necessary to deploy your J2EE plug-in framework. But if you make the investment to rollout to 50,000 users, you'll double earnings in two years.

    That's how the two companies operate. It's technical-easier for IBM to go scale down, but it's marketing-easier for Microsoft to scale up.

    The whole idea behind the BP program is to have SMB-focused companies deliver into the SMB market, but the result is a mixed-bag, to say the least.

    Part of the issue, too, is that Microsoft has a culture of encouraging loss-leaders and soft-return on investments (the whole "mindshare" argument.) This is most visible in their asinine forays into the non-PC consumer space.

    IBM, in the meantime, cares about nothing but hard ROI. You can't really have a conversation with IBM about product ideas without discussing how you're going to move software licenses or iSeries hardware (or IBMGS services, but really, that's not the business focus.) So "mindshare" arguments don't carry any weight.

    I'm honestly not saying that one perspective is better than the other. I'm simply saying that each company has a heritage that defines their culture. It's INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS Machines -- so it's focused on INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS. The Micro in Microsoft is equally telling.

    And this is all to say nothing of the up-and-coming consumer-based and open source competition. Google can certainly understand the technical implications of scaling, but can they understand the business implications of content isolation? Their whole business is built on essentially defying intellectual property law. Who knows if that will scale into the corporate world?

  3. Nathan, I'm interested in Dogear and Activity Explorer. Since they're two components of Connections I'm trying to find out what Connections is and how it's deployed. The website is little more than a C-level marketing slick. My attempts to get information from IBM and Lotus haven't gone very well.

    I understand IBM's focus. It's painfully obvious. I'm only using Domino because our primary supplier pretty much forced us down that path. Most days I don't regret it, but it would be nice if IBM actually embraced a huge segment of the Domino customer base instead of treating us like an annoyance.

    To me it boils down to IBM having to make a choice. Either they simultaneously invest in both SMB and large enterprise solutions, or they pick one over the other. The reality is IBM's solutions are trending toward more complex industrial strength infrastructure, which I think is at least partly influenced by them using their own products.

    Someone needs to realize that doing so is going to eliminate about half their current customers from using the new functionality. Perhaps they already do and they're willing to lose that market segment in exchange for picking up larger deployments. I think the Fortune 1000 is a very small pond to fish in, but I'm not in a decision making position of any type so what do I know?

  4. Charles,

    A very interesting post, and curiosuly I was thinking along similar lines recently.

    I've put up my own opinion here:

    I sort of agree with you, but not quite on all the points.

    We're both agreed on IBM's lack of SMB focus, just not on why this is...

  5. It just so happens that I work for a SMB Telco. I don't see that "carrier grade" with Sametime and VoIP. Perhaps they mean that it had to scale to the level of Skype? (since we're talking about IM and voice integration)

    A lot of these new products aren't for us. I guess some SMBs could really benefit, but we have tons of offices in over half a dozen cities. But wherever a group needs to collaborate on a project, that group is usually in the same physical location. Anything more than a teamroom for us is sometimes overkill! Much less the added cost. We do develop a good deal in-house, but that's mostly workflow and not really collaboration.

    And speaking of dogfooding, haven't we seen a couple of posts lately referencing IBM's use of Sametime 3.0 for their meeting servers.

    I do agree with Nathan, too. Big Blue makes hardware and software for global companies. I discussed this a little on my blog over a year ago. IBM has to make truly scalable software to handle not only the SMB market, but the uber-large global companies (like itself...).

  6. Charles,
    The only thing I don't like about your comments is that I was in the midst of drafting something similar [G].

    Looks like we all agree on what IBM's doing, but not necessarily why. Your logic seems good, but Microsoft has a similar tradition of dogfooding, yet they seem to cater to and understand the SMB market very well (Have you looked at Small Business Server?). You can saw a lot of bad things about their software, but they really do seem to have a grasp of how 'normal' folks will want to use it.

    Infoworld has a really interesting review ( ) of Java IDEs where they compare RAD 7, JBuilder, and NetBeans. Overall, they noted that RAD 7 is very powerful and works well in an IBM environment, but:
    "...This flaw, small as it is, reflects a frequent experience I had with RAD 7 — many features are not implemented well. For example, installing the software was very difficult. After considerable support from IBM, I got the product installed correctly, although the original problems were never identified.

    "There’s more. An option to spell-check comments and literals (a useful capability) does not work because IBM ships no dictionary; if the feature is enabled, it marks all words as misspelled. The code-checking tools occasionally prescribe invalid corrections. Dynamic help in dialogs frequently takes you to the wrong level of help, so you’re forced to navigate back to your specific context.

    "Over time, the accumulation of these problems makes this otherwise good product frustrating to use.

    The only that seems clear to me is that IBM assumes it's users will be willing to hire the annoited priesthood that Nathan mentioned. It really doesn't need to be that way, though. Seems like if you take the code 97% of the way to awesome, you could just finish it up.

    I don't think it's dogfooding per se that's the issue - I think that it's the big customers that the sales folks fly out and wine & dine and hear from. The SMB folks are really too small to get this kind of treatment and as such sometimes get overlooked.

    I sense the same issue with the comment that IBM will not dabble in consumer software. That general point's understandable, but it shows the approach - big your software for the big folks. It's much cooler to be able to say you worked with a big client to build a site that handle a Bagillion hits a day than 1 that handles 10,000.

  7. Charles - I am going to respond here twice (with some time in between so I can noodle on the second part), but the first response comes in terms of Lotus Connections and Lotus Quickr and 'the new product line.' I think it is safe to say the reason you are not getting a lot of answers is because no one is. The product has not shipped yet. Both are in some form of Beta with a small set of testers. As far as I know, there has been no announcement of public betas of either product ... very few companies do public betas of enterprise software remember. I know that as a business partner who wants to start selling both, I have probably just a bit more info than you do ... which amounts to hard-copy materials that were used at Lotusphere. I get that it is frustrating, but the software is not out yet. IBM does not want it being sold yet it seems. Lotus Quickr has a 2Q07 release target and I believe Lotus Connections is 1H07 or Summer 07 ... so both are close. Give it a bit of time and you will get more info. And its not you ... its not a SMB issue. Unless you are a tester or waving a blank check, my guess is no one has the right info today.

    My other comment will about about IBM and SMB but I want to noodle on it a bit. For a preview, I have a 15 person company using Websphere Portal and LOVING it. It paid itself back in 6 months. I will detail how and why in a bit (but I warn you, it might be a post on my blog with a trackback vs comment if it gets too big).

  8. Philip/Chris/Chris - I think it's obvious IBM is missing the SMB boat in a number of ways and there are a lot of contributing factors. Dogfooding might not be a primary cause, it was just one way that I could reconcile why they do things they way they do. Regardless of the reason, the future outlook is a little murky.

    John - I can understand that the information may not be available yet. However if that's the case why am I being told that someone will find out and get back to me? And when I touch base I'm either ignored or passed on to someone else, who also doesn't know? I know you can't answer that but I've been led to believe the information is available. If someone had said, as you just did, that the details aren't set, I wouldn't have been looking for them.

    If this is the same 15 user company in the IBM case studies, it isn't the typical SMB. That one is College Bowl Company (not to be confused with College Bowl, Inc.). They receive payments from just about every school district in the US, a large percentage of colleges and universities, and they have corporate sponsorship for many events. They don't have to provide staff to conduct the events, that's done by the host of the event.

    So shile I appreciate that you have a very small business in terms of users, it is not typical. It is a rare company with a truly unique niche to fill and enjoys a cost structure that most companies don't. That's assuming, of course, that you're talking about the same customer. I'm interested in seeing what you have to share. :-)

  9. Right On Man!

    Nathan, what was that comment I saw somewhere...
    "I've read the "how to install eclipse in 7 days" manual, but, never completed it." - lol!

    Wow Notes 8 sounds great. So there is this "Basic" thing, but that's only for lame hardware, apparently let's not talk about that. "Standard" is the way to go. Standard does all this other cool stuff - if you have DB2, Websphere Portal Server, Webspehere Application Server, Activities Server, Tivoli Directory Integrator, Sametime Server... did I miss any? So if I don't have any of that other stuff, Standard gives me - OpenOffice built in? Plus it's prettier ;-) I can see the reasoning behind the names because I know what they are, but if I didn't know what they are I would be very confused, well I would be if Basic was anything more than a footnote. I think realistically what we have is Basic = NotesClient, Standard = IBMClientThatHappensToDoNotes.

    So I've tried out "Basic", and here are my first impressions:
    -Database is now Application, pretty much everywhere.
    -Tools gets its own top level menu, instead of being under File.
    -the server dropdown on the database chicklet is white and round now instead of grey and skinny.
    -icons have been updated.
    Hmmm. Sure there is a bunch of other stuff buried in the details, like nice updates to the mail template, HTMLOptions, some view column stuff, etc but after all the hype I'm underwhelmed. The real Notes Client seems to have been banished to live in the attic, IBM doesn't mention it now.

    I'm sure I'll try out Standard soon, and I'm sure it will be nice, but without using all that other stuff what really is the draw to use twice as many system resources? I already have OpenOffice. If the productivity tools worked right inside a Notes Rich Text field, then wow that would be cool if I could just embed them in a Notes form. But really, what is the difference between them and OpenOffice? Can they even Save-As an attachment to a Notes document? What is the integration there? I can see the huge draw to the huge corporation thinking about ditching MSOffice licences, but for me it's not that big of a sell.

    And don't even get me started on Sametime:
    Well, apparently it integrates with MSOffice, and works on Linux, but who would expect them to mention Notes eh? And try finding info on the entitlement is like pulling teeth, what was that other comment I saw somwehere...
    "IBM Certified Price Sheet Reader" - lol!

    Anyway, for the SMB: you've got the Basic Notes Client. Hook it up to your SMTP email server and away you go. Use some of the built in templates to store your stuff. Then add a Domino server, collaborate using the built in templates, and you don't have to be an expert to build useful applications. Then throw in the Sametime server and you have instant messaging. Those are the flagship products, IMHO. You shouldn't be able to go to and find anything else without tripping over the details on this simple setup and exactly how much it would cost for one simple server plus some per seat desktop licenses. But the way it goes is it's all buried in amongst Websphere and mainframes and 30 different flavours of everything for 30 different OSes in 30 different languages. And if you do manage to get through all that and end up with it all set up at your SMB, all you hear from IBM is "wow look at all this other stuff you can do with all these other products!" The message has to be you can do pretty much everything you want with Domino. I know it's true, I've been doing it for years. IBM does not seem to want to admit it, and it makes me sad.

    I love Notes, and I'll try to keep working with it till the bitter end. It continues to improve and that makes me happy, great job to everyone involved at IBM. I don't see it fading away any time soon, and that's great, but it seems to be in spite of the message from IBM , which seems to me to be in tatters :-(

  10. Mike, Quickr is the integration point you're looking for between Notes & the prod editors. It's going to rock, it's just going to take another six months to get to your desktop.

    But honestly, it's the best thing to happen to Notes in a while. Implemented correctly, you will never need another network file share or My Documents folder again!

  11. Charles -

    "If this is the same 15 user company in the IBM case studies, it isn't the typical SMB. That one is College Bowl Company (not to be confused with College Bowl, Inc.). They receive payments from just about every school district in the US, a large percentage of colleges and universities, and they have corporate sponsorship for many events. They don't have to provide staff to conduct the events, that's done by the host of the event."

    Wow, there are so many pieces of information that are wrong in this paragraph ... I count 4. Please do not make statements when you are not sure of the facts. College Bowl Company, Inc. has been a client of mine since 1993. I have architected most of their applications, run the team that builds them, and recommend technology on every level. They are the typical SMB company ... a small number of users, a very limited amount of money, and a business that requires them to perform miracles.

    As for what IBM is saying to you, not sure what to tell you. Maybe it is how you are asking or what you are saying you want. Maybe its a crappy IBM rep. Who knows.

  12. John, I truly don't mean to pick a fight with you. This isn't about your customer, it's about IBM's lack of attention to the SMB market and the reasons for it. I'm very interested to hear what you did to make Websphere Portal not only economically feasible up front, but generate a real ROI. I've gone through that very exercise a number of times with IBM an the numbers never work.

  13. Charles,

    Hopefully someone at IBM is monitoring all of this, and some kind of skunk-works thing can be organised.

    Not meetings. This doesn't need meetings. This needs five to ten cunning experts, a stack of CDs, and a Wiki for them to record their thoughts and experiences.

    (They make Redbooks. That should make this easy for them to do.)

    They should get as close to an SMB solution as they can with any IBM technology they can get their hands on, and then document how they did it and the shortcomings that must be handled.

    THEN we're somewhere. Then they can go back and tell people what's needed, and IBM can decide if it wants to compete in the SMB market or not.

  14. Sounds interesting, thanks Nathan. Some sort of Doc Library kind of thing, where you can hook directly to it directly from other applications? I'll be happy to see more details on it when they're available. I imagine it will work through Websphere Application Server with a DB2 data store? ;-)

    I also want to step back a bit from my "tatters" statement there - the message has vastly improved from a few years ago with the lanes of the highway and the future is java stuff, and the "Notes\Domino Will Die Soon" people have migrated back to wherever they periodically come out from, and I'm sure that large sites are very interested in the kinds of things that have been developed lately. The only problem is with the message that I want to hear - Notes stands alone as The Best platform for application development - rapidly built, web enabled, standards based applications. The kind of applications that help users with needs in the *near* term and will still perform their duty years from now without big rip and replace update sessions. It's nice to see Notes open up and include other stuff, but Notes itself is still amazing and is nothing for IBM to be embarrassed about. Not "Notes is OK, really, seriously, because look at all the stuff we've bolted on to it!" It should be "THIS IS NOTES. Look at what it can do! Yes, little guy, even for you!"

  15. Mike, Quickr is being released in two variants: Personal and another version without a special name. From what I recall of the demo during the Lotusphere OGS, Quickr Personal Edition can use either an NSF datastore or a DB2 backend. The non-Personal edition will be the next version of Quickplace.

    In the OGS they demoed dragging an attachment out of Quickr Personal to an e-mail, and it asked you whether you wanted to copy the attachment into the message or just send a link to the Quickr repository. That's going to be truly amazing when it arrives.

    The different editions are a little fuzzy, to be sure, and hopefully the message will get more clear as the product gets closer to launch.

  16. Close, Charles...

    There are two versions: Quick Personal and Quick Enterprise. The primary difference is the data store. Both work in pure Domino environments with no WAS/DB2 requirement whatsoever. Quickr Enterprise can also apparently work in pure J2EE environments where there's no Domino.

    On the client end, the Personal edition apparently provides an Expeditor interface, which means it plugs instantly into Notes 8 Standard and Sametime. The Enterprise edition apparently also provides a browser-based interface, much like Quickplace does now except nicer.

    There's also integration directly from Office/OpenOffice, and from Windows Explorer. I'm not sure if this is available in both, or only in Enterprise.

    You are entitled to Personal for free if you're under Notes maintenance. You're entitled to Enterprise free if you're under QuickPlace maintenance.

  17. Charles and John,

    John is correct is that more information on Lotus Connections and Lotus Quickr will be posted as IBM gets closer to the formal announcement of both products. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at flexibly pricing that can work for “real SMB” organizations as well as larger enterprises. (I’d also like to point out also that WebSphere Portal Express V6 is also available at $2300 for a 20 user pack.) As far as the value of Lotus Connections to SMB customers, IBM also has that highlighted in “
    The business case for IBM Lotus Connections”, The article features the use of Lotus Connections by The Film Foundation, a small non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of film. Look for more information like this in the near future.

  18. Chris,

    If Connections isn't complete, how is the Film Foundation using it? Why can't I get a complete case study on it? If it's suitable for SMBs, why are the reference stories large NFPs (10,000+ schools and a .GOV?) and SPRINT? What's the deployment infrastructure for these apparent early adopters? And why is every customer quote in the linked story in the future tense?

    This is the blogosphere, man. Spin, well, doesn't.

  19. Nathan, thanks for the clarification on Quickr Personal and Enterprise. It makes a little more sense now. :) I agree with you, it sounds like all the positive talk about Connections is speculative. It's filled with "will" not "has".

    I think The Film Foundation probably qualifies as a SMB because they have a handful of users. Using only that very narrow definition they fit the SMB profile.

    Chris, you are of course correct. It's interesting that the Websphere Portal Express pricing page doesn't list the unlimited user option any longer. I know I saw it back in January. Anyway, for my 200 users WPE would cost us $23,000 in addition to the $10,000 we already spend on Notes and Domino every year. $23K -- and a wholesale rewrite of applications -- isn't a very compelling proposition unless it can be justified. So far, it hasn't. That's why I'm really looking forward to John sharing some information about how he made it worthwhile for his client. :)

  20. Charles, instead of me doing pure guessing, Nathan suggested that we use some real numbers. You say your company has some 200 works. Does your company disclose yearly gross revenue? Number of office vs line workers? I am trying to figure out what ROI a typical portal project would need for you not to care about what the software or project costs.

  21. Could it be the problem is Lotus/IBM as in the past is ahead of itself again? Perhaps we are 2-3 years away from Eclipse/Websphere et al being part of the mainstream. Similar to how the J2EE argument went 2-3 years ago or more?
    IBM, as much as we would like it to care about each and every one of us, doesn't. Never will.Lotus didn't either.
    That's just business. If you want them to listen to you, then play their game: publish cases, get quoted in the trade press, do PR for them, will they listen to you as a "voice" maybe or maybe not, but they at least will respect your opinion more.
    As an independent consultant for most of my life, if I don't teach myself, no one else will. So I have a choice, as always, to keep moving ahead or get off the bus.

  22. Keith, I'm also largely self taught, as both a Domino admin and a Notes developer. On the average day I do more right than wrong so I consider myself somewhat successful at wearing both hats. I'm not opposed to learning new stuff, but the learning curve just went vertical for no good reason. If the increased complexity were justified I'd be more agreeable, but I don't see that it is.

  23. You summed it up with your last sentence Charles! At Lotusphere 2006 when they announced the RTC Gateway I thought that was going to be great. It was just going to be part of Sametime, right?

    Wrong... I would like to see the percentage of Sametime customers who have set this up.