I was at Connect before Christmas, the annual Software Group meetup for industry analysts that follow IBM. See some coverage here by Coté. IBM’s Software portfolio is insanely big these days, so its hard to know where to start. But some interesting things are afoot.
As Cote says:
“When it comes to pulling in innovation from elsewhere, IBM is one of the quickest and earliest out there: Lotus has sucked in virtually all of the concepts from the Web and Enterprise 2.0 worlds”
“Lotus has still been delivering straight-up applications for awhile. Their portfolio is very Enterprise 2.0 heavy now with things way beyond Notes. While there may be a question about how much it costs vs. other offerings, the functionality seems genuinely helpful.”
When Coté describes IBM as quick and early, he means as a big company – but his point is well made. While RedMonk regularly chides IBM for being a little slow to things, in comparison to other elder software firms it moves reasonably fast. As he says – Lotus is about apps. But that won’t cut it as a platform play. Without a strong developer story Lotus can only be a top down big sale item – that is, IBM business as usual. But IBM needs growth in collaboration, from the bottom up, and that means developers. Its been a long time since Lotus had a decent story for developers- arguably since the embedded app server was deprecated, and Lotus took a turn to the heavyweight with WebSphere.
In the meantime, Rational has sucked all of the air supply of the room when it comes when it comes to talking about developer tooling and methods, which is a problem for SWG as a whole. Got a question for an IBM group about software development and they’re pointing you Rational’s way before they even hear what you have to say. However Rational is really a business application rather than a developer tool. Developers don’t choose Rational – bosses do. Rational talks to heavyweight styles of development, such as embedded computing, where failure is not an option, and large scale global distributed software development (the kind of thing IBM is pretty much the only company in the world to do effectively. fwiw).
So you can imagine I was pleased to see a classic consultant slide from Lotus GM Alistair Rennie with a quadrant labeled Developer. Not a moment to soon. IBM needs to dramatically accelerate its attraction to Web developers – and Rational is the wrong tool for the job.
So what kind of language did Rennie use about Lotus and its developer play?
- Social Business platform design principles
- web UI (see ibm project vulcan)
- strong aggregator toolkit
- mobile first as a design point
- embedded experience
- security model from the ground up
Nothing there to scare off a web developer. And what about the standards IBM plans to support with this new approach, code-named Project Vulcan.
Whoa – that’s a laundry list designed to keep a Silicon Valley hipster happy (well, maybe if you took SAML out, anyway). IBM needs to deliver of course- but if it really goes after this stack, packaging up the technologies that developers actually want to use, it could become aspirational in terms of pulling web developers into enterprise work. The winner in any tech wave is the best packager- so far no enterprise company has nailed and packaged the web development wave. SAP is looking at some of the same technologies, but more to improve the SAP user experience than as a platform.
Of course its best not to get carried away. A couple of weeks later I saw a tweet from Stuart Mcintyre about IBM positioning Lotus as its platform for Rapid Application Development and Deployment (RADD). Now while I believe IBM has its strategy in the right place- the 1990s just called and its wants its terminology back… RAD??? And the technology? IBM Lotus Domino platform features XPages technology. Hmmm….
So it seems Lotus is looking to refresh its developer story in a couple of different dimensions. Frankly admitting its wants to be a developer target is a step forward. I will be pushing for the web stack.
So what about this Social Business stuff?
IBM has some great assets there. The Lotus portfolio is surprisingly functional in terms of chatter based apps. But the real kicker for me discovering that Sandy Carter has a new role for 2011 – She is now Vice President IBM Social Business and Collaboration Solutions Sales and Evangelism. If you don’t follow IBM SWG you may not know that Sandy is Steve Mills’ go to person for the job that needs doing, particularly spanning cross party lines. Last year Sandy ran channel sales and IBM’s performance improved by a significant percentage. So she will be working with an already solid Lotus team to drive Social Business in IBM customers.
One more data point – I understand IBM recently poached one of the top UK salespeople from Headshift, a Dachis Group company. Dachis, an Austin-based rollup of Enterprise 2.0 talent has made a fair bit of the running in the Social Business space. Well IBM’s Sauron-like eye is now looking at the same space. In 2011 IBM will tell the enterprise its time to do Social Business. And the enterprise is receptive to the message – you only need to see the adoption of Salesforce Chatter to get a sense for that.
I am going to Lotusphere in a couple of weeks and everything should be somewhat clearer after that. IBM is running a Social Business Industries conference in tandem with the tech show, which is new and pretty cool- looking at things like Open Government. All in all though I am fairly positive about things. And from a disclosure perspective I should point out that we work with Lotus, and I am pretty fired up about helping IBM better serve web developers. We have been pushing for this for a long time.