Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ed Brill: Perception is reality

(the post title is a trackback link)

Karen Demerly (comment #16) makes an extremely compelling argument:
So what is IBM/Lotus doing to change the perception of IBM/Lotus? I think that's been asked here before. It's obviously not always about price points, or ship dates, or whether the refresh button is F5 or F9.

I think IBM ought to be throwing Lotus products off the parade float - giving it away, putting it in the hands of every youngster in the world. Our kids should grow up on IBM software. Then their perception will be changed, won't it?

This is exactly where IBM has always failed: IBM has never really marketed to consumers. Lotus never targeted Notes at consumers, either, but the world was different then. Most homes didn't have a computer, they were strictly the purview of business. IBM bought Lotus just as the consumer appeal of the Internet was building, but Notes and Domino continued as business-focused products while the widespread consumer adoption of the Internet passed it by. IBM/Lotus added Internet-oriented features to Notes and Domino and supported a wide array of protocols, but it was always in the context of business use. They never made any attempt to make Notes or Domino sexy or have mass appeal.

While they were ignoring the consumer side altogether IBM didn't count on a company like Microsoft entering the picture. Microsoft wanted a piece of the business pie but couldn't compete solely on technical merit, and had no chance of getting a foothold in large enterprise IT shops. So they started mudslinging and spreading FUD while they flailed about trying to create (or buy) products to compete with IBM's Lotus offerings. They used smaller companies who were less risk averse as their starting point, eventually ending up with some products that are mostly good enough for fairly sizable companies.

The number of these smaller companies that were started in the 80's and 90's and grew to be megacorps dwarfs the number from the previous 40 years. And virtually all of them grew up with Microsoft products. New companies in the new economy were looking for small and agile solutions that were easily integrated and extremely flexible. They didn't care if they had to rip it all out and start over every year, they only had 40 employees. By the time they grew to 400 employees Microsoft was so firmly entrenched that they couldn't back out.

IBM was still lumbering along in the old mindset while the world was changing around it. They had Domino, which with some TLC and attention could meet the growing SMB needs. Instead of responding to this by focusing on Domino they went the Workplace route because it was big, monolithic, and fit traditional business models IBM was comfortable with.

I agree completely that IBM needs to get Lotus products into consumer hands, because those are the products most relevant to consumers. They don't care about autonomic computing but they do care about having a one stop shop for all their needs. I don't think I've ever heard any end user type say "damn I wish I had more applications to open!" No, they want to open one application and have it do everything they need. Notes can do that. Domino could be scaled down and reworked so it could be used as a personal web server and file server.

Until IBM groks in fullness that consumers ultimately drive business IT they're going to be losing market share -- or at least the perception of market share.


  1. I think that this was really driven home for me after getting the Palm Treo 755p. I have, out of the box, several methods to connect to Outlook/Exchange, but need "middleware" to connect to my Notes/Domino to get the same functionality. Changes have to be made if the long term viability/perception of the product is to be believed.

    And yes, I really do believe that the future holds great things for Notes/Domino. But it could be much, much better.

  2. Great post Charles - I completely agree that there needs to be a mindset shift.

    Unfortunately I am not sure that Lotus (a brand of the Software Group of IBM) is in a position to make that shift...

    An example of this could be the recently announced Atlas visualisation add-on for Connections. This could have been thrown out to the community to be taken on, improved and extended - instead we have an ISSL "Asset" - i.e. a piece of high-cost services engagement.

    You can but hope...

  3. Charles, you're SO right (and so is Karen)!

    Where is the "Notes Express" product? The "lite" Notes-client that is free, open, extendable etc. etc.

    Now is the time. Symphony is out as "free" and Open Source, including the eclipse-based application framework.

    Get a mail-client and a simple apps designer out there as free download with the Notes brand name.

    Build on the high level of security that Notes provides. Offer the hungry masses a professional alternative to Outlook Express.

    Firefox has shown that it IS possible to claim SERIOUS market share by offering alternatives to Microsoft products.

    And Microsoft has never been under more stress in the market.

    Go for it - go for the jugular!