IBM Listens

It is not often that one reads the words “IBM” and “listens” in the same sentence but I have to say that I have the evidence.

Tuesday is the second main day of the Lotusphere conference and is traditionally packed tight with detailed sessions on a vast range of topics related to Lotus Software.  After the first day’s overview of the product range with strong testimonials from top executives of Coca-Cola, NetJets and HSBC, and the President of RIM (Blackberry) who chose to spend the 10th anniversary of Blackberry speaking at Lotusphere, and the report card on how things went in 2008, and where they are planned to go in 2009, today was about detail, detail and more detail.

It was also an opportunity for me to attend more sessions with IBM execs together with other ISVs and business partners to discuss what IBM are doing right and where there is room for improvement.  The Lotus community has never been well known for keeping quiet about what needs fixing.  The unbelievable passion of the community comes out in the offence taken by the community when IBM treats the products at levels less than expected.  However they do also recognise what’s going right.

Impassioned discussions were the order of the meetings I attended.  IBM fielded top execs to listen, learn and discuss.

Now I know what you are thinking:  they are going through the motions to be seen to be “listening” following which things will remain as they were.  But I have to share a story with you. 

At Lotusphere 2008 I sat in a meeting with very senior IBM execs to explain how our Integra for Notes product which, up to that point allowed users of Lotus Notes to extract data to Microsoft Word and Excel mainly for reporting purposes, could be extended to integrate with Lotus Symphony, the free Office replacement product.  We needed things to be built into Symphony to allow us to hook Integra in.

As you can imagine, when I walked out of the meeting with promises that they would further develop the product to enable us to work with Symphony and with requests for our involvement in the process I thought right: promises from IBM.  But I have to tell you, after a couple of months to get the gears in synch, IBM’s Symphony team worked with us to understand the specific functionality we needed, the method in which we needed the functionality surfaced and our priorities.  They then delivered phased functionality to us and are continuing to do so with incredible frequency.

Not only was I surprised by the speed in which they turned around updates to us but most importantly I was surprised (perhaps shocked) how they actually listened to what we needed and then delivered rather than deciding for themselves what they thought we need and delivering that.

It is not often that one comes across that type of story with a big firm, possibly least of all with IBM, but I have to say IBM listened and they listened well then acted.