Open letter to IBM Lotus

thumb_white.gifWhat is it all about Bob? IBM Software Group and Lotus brand in particular needs to demonstrate some sense of real prduct strategy. It does exist in part but the ‘whole’ seems to be absent. IBM, I suspect your customers and prospects want to see this from you as well as great product, not just ‘us’ partners.

Mike Rhodin, GM of Lotus, is moving on. Its not news now, it was announced last week. As an IBM’er he has served his tour of duty and is taking on a senior role here in Europe. Bob Picciano (Sales Lead for DB2) is taking over. It is a great time to join the brand but there are a some important issues that need addressing. In January I was at Lotusphere and l have attended two Lotusphere Come to You events recently and with the amount of time between the these events the issues surrounding the big picture seems to have fallen into sharp focus.

During his tenure at Lotus. Mike has (through his drive) re-established the credibility of the brand inside IBM. It is clear from even the most casual observation to see that the funds now being invested in product development are at a rate not seen for a decade. As much as I applaud this turnaround it seems that although the factory is running at 100% capacity the marketing strategy as to which product customers should be buying and more importantly why they should be buying which piece of the output seems to have gone walkabout. Looking on from a distance, seeing how all the pieces fit together within an ‘over arching’ structure frankly seems completely absent. The strategy could be likened to the classic ‘throw it all against the wall and we will go with whatever sticks’

Often Lotus seems to define itself in terms of what it isn’t, not what it is. Mostly this has been ‘it isn’t Microsoft’. I can assure all at IBM that Microsoft does not spend much of the day defining itself as ‘we’re not Lotus’. As much as the classic multi platform, standards compliance, security and innovation messages are great themes that Lotus has espoused for a very long time, frankly we need to move to a state where the Lotus brand can clearly be understood not just for its products (old and new), but also for how these fit into some sort of big jigsaw. Once in place effective communictaion of this broader message not just to the washed (those of us who attend Lotus events of whatever standing) but to the unwashed (most of whom think that ‘Lotus’ is simply a brand of toilet paper) is vital.

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It's only a brand of toilet paper in Europe. :-) Good points, Ian, and this is why I am optimistic that Picciano's background in sales is the right move, right now. More comments in a few back on my site.
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Bravo, Ian. This topic has been a sore spot with Lotus loyalists for years. "We're not MS" has been an awful marketing strategy and yet IBM continues to send this message out via their spokepieces who will get very defensive if you challenge them about it (yes, Ed, I'm talking about you). The surprising thing is they haven't turned on you yet. In the past, if you brought this up, you'd first be told (politely) that client dissatisfaction was a figment of your imagination; that Lotus sells itself. If you then dared continue to blog or comment about these real world problems, the marketers would then send out their enforcers to trash you in the forums and accuse you of being a traitorous troll. Hopefully, these tactics will end with the changing of the guard and Lotus will start treating its business partners like friends and not enemies.
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The only trouble is it means spending money in places that IBM clearly does not want to (traditionally) - it will be interesting to see how this discussion develops
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What an interesting mischaracterization of my role and the success Lotus has had over the last several years. But I guess I'm being defensive again. I think you'll find that I've acknowledged more problems on my blog in those same last few years than anyone anywhere else in Lotus has done.
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Although Michael your point is well made, I know that Ed gets 'it' more times than most, I suspect that his blogs and the reactions to them are monitored at senior levels inside of IBM - it is a super tanker with a very slow turning circle
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I don't know if I agree with you, Ian. In this instance, I don't think IBM called Ed up and said "tell this Mannske character you're hurt and offended by his comments and don't forget to explain how great you are." What I want to believe is that his superiors desire their customer's frustrations to be validated and their feedback to be mined in such a way as to make Notes even better. Instead, the response was typical: self-focused not product-focused. I'm not saying the job Ed does is awful, I'm just saying it's common, it's mainstream, it's every day. And it's holding us back. How many times have we been served crappy food only to be given a laundry list of excuses by some gum-smacking waiter? Or how about being told by an impatient English-challenged help desk tech that hundreds of other customers have been working around a bug and so should you? I would venture to say you soon won't be going back to that restaurant or using that software again. But what are you do when you love the product? When you think it's the best thing since the front-opening bra? I've been developing in Note since R2 and what I and all the other old dinosaurs have been doing is sitting in the weeds, waiting. Sure, we raise our heads once in a while when an R8 beta comes along but when our critiques are taken as those of Microsoft spies rather than those of doting parents after their beloved child, we lick our wounds and lie down to take a nap again. As superior as Notes is, its marketing has been just as inferior. What I--and you seem to be--advocating here is for something as exceptional as our product: a new management style that will deliver outside-the-envelope customer service and a Seth Godin-like marketing model. So please, Ed, I'm hoping against hope that in your next response, you don't tell me how hard everyone has been working. You don't pelt me with a swarm of "I've done this" and "I've done that." You don't unfurl a list of excuses, feelings or apologies. All I am interested in is that IBM is hearing my concerns and that they are being evaluated on their contents. And if I use an indelicate word or two, handle it. After all, I'm the customer and sometimes just a simple “OK” is enough. P.S. Please don't take this personally but if any of my words are misspelled, it is because my R8 browser only seems t be able to pick up about 80% of my keystrokes for some reason.
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Open letter to IBM Lotus - postscript - challenging all who really care Do blogs matter, well maybe in the IBM universe they do
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You are so right, they don’t really give you the instructions on how to leverage. Sometimes IBM products seem developed in separate management vacuums. Often I wonder if the map is intentionally vague so you'll hire an army of expensive IBM consultants to guide you and build expensive bridges. At Microsoft everything is built to leverage other MS products with the ultimate goal of assimilating your IT infrastructure. Perhaps because they don’t directly sell consultants there is more focus on the products. Management at Microsoft has been till recently lead by technologists and for better or worse is slowly giving way to its fierce marketing department. Despite employing top tech gurus IBM’s top management has long been dominated by those promoted from sales. They also have so many services to sell the products are sometimes a second thought. I often fear IBM will sell themselves out of existence. A shoemaker who spends more time selling shoes than making them is soon selling thin air. Honestly what I think IBM needs is a re-org that puts a visionary technologist at the helm for a while. They need a builder as opposed to a trader; someone who can align IBMs many capabilities and grow the company.
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Below is another example of how IBM marketers are hamfisting their opportunities (taken from the R8 forum). Notice the date. That refutes Ed's implication that Lotus' success is monolithic and therefore, unassailable. FORUM ENTRY FOLLOWS (Jan08): ==================== In 2006, the entire State of New Jersey decided to go to Exchange. Previously, many of the agencies within the state were using Notes, and my project at the time was a large Domino Document Manager project. When the State OIT office started making noises about mandating Exchange for all agencies, regardless of budget, costs, etc. I tried to run that information up the ladder at IBM. I spoke with the regional sales reps, who said that they would pass the info along. Unfortunately, the calls went nowhere, IBM dropped the ball, and they will be fully migrated by 2009, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of seats, not to mention the associated data systems and integration efforts. It only makes it worse when you look at the number of applications that now get converted to .NET, and the loss of Notes opportunities. IBM has taken the Denial approach, and while they are all saying that Notes is great, their lack of marketing expertise and sales efforts is starting to erode their government installed base. The downstream effect of this is that the Notes Business Partner community is disappearing as well, as the Notes shops disappear, and a snowball effect starts to take place. The net result is that I have witnessed at least 50,000 seats disappear in the last two years, and I am not seeing any increased IBM marketing efforts. IBM\Lotus what the hell are you doing....
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