IBMLotusConnectOSphereED 2015/2016 thoughts

As I said in my previous post, I think ConnectED was a Surprisingly Good Conference. Here’s why….

THE GOOD

  • The smaller scope of the conference worked well. The bulk of attendees have always been primarily interested in the “Lotus” stable of products, but in recent years IBM has tried to force peripheral products (SUT, Kenexa for god’s sake, Portal, Customer Experience Thingummy) down our throats, and forced out, in particular out of the OGS, most of the content that the bulk of attendees, who have PAID TO BE THERE, are interested in. The pendulum swung back this year. Whether it landed in quite the right place is open to debate, but it was definitely a better place.
  • The OGS was full of content. This relates to the above, of course, but there was far less sniping and bitching about the OGS because it was genuinely good. Moving the speaker to the end worked well, and also he was one of the best and most genuine speakers I’ve seen in that context: a great choice.
  • Condensing everything into the Swan worked well. The rooms were busy, the corridors were packed, everything felt buzzy and alive. Much better this than rattling around in a too-large venue, or having the event padded out with 1000s of IBMers and irrelevant HR people as has happened in recent years.
  • Taking into account that this was a “new” conference in some ways, there weren’t too many scheduling SNAFUs.
  • Despite cost-cutting on the badge holders, having a proper neck strap on them, instead of the cheese-wire we’ve had a couple of times recently, was a good choice. Thank you.
  • The organisation of this conference was clearly a somewhat seat-of-the-pants affair, and many feared it would be a shadow of its former self, but actually it came into its own and in my opinion was the best “non-Lotusphere Lotusphere” yet. The King is dead, long live the King.
  • Great closing session. Okay, we know IBM couldn’t commit to 2016 plans, but even the vague statement of intent we got was a welcome and positive sign for the future.
  • Verse. This, with its detailed design work, and Watson-fuelled trickery, and seemingly (from what I’ve seen) well-done integration between email and parts of Connections, is probably the most exciting and innovative thing IBM has produced in the “Collaboration” space since it first released QuickPlace and SameTime. Those two were, as was Notes, years ahead of their time upon release, but IBM then didn’t push them forward fast enough and paid the price. With Verse I believe from a technology standpoint they have an opportunity to reset, to learn from their mistakes, and to move ahead confidently. It’s a pretty compelling product. Will they be able to unseat “out of my cold dead hands” Outlook? I’m not sure. But Google are managing, here and there, and Verse stacks up pretty well against gmail, and blows it away UI-wise. Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so I’ve signed up for a beta account and will put it through its paces. I am unclear as to how the business partner ecosystem can feed off Verse, but there is definitely talk of extensibility, and there’s BlueMix xPages+Domino happening… so can IBM pull this all together, with the right ambition and delivery, to create something that will sustain both itself and the after-market for the next 5 or 10 years? Are we seeing “the next Lotus Notes” here? Perhaps. I hope so. I have an open mind.

THE BAD

  • Charging full price for a conference that was a day shorter was rude. I understand the reasons why, but it’s still rude.
  • Stripping out the park party: well, actually I don’t care, as I’ve not bothered with that for years, but from what I hear the replacement wasn’t up to much.
  • Drinks tokens? Really?! Are we students FFS? I’m glad it was dropped, but it was pretty damned insulting to have come up with that in the first place, and then to use cheap Staples ticket rolls … just plain stupid.
  • It feels that at some point the “Experience” people waded in and start throwing their weight around. Otherwise why would their stuff have been put into larger rooms than, for example, Marky Roden and Mark Leusink’s superb Angular.JS session which then had to repeated and was still at capacity second time around? Conference organisers need to get this: play to the audience you have, not the one you wanted.
  • Print on both sides of the conference badge. Please.
  • Don’t schedule anything against Gurupalooza. Ever. Not even a repeat. Not even a brilliant repeat by Louis Richardson. Just don’t.

THE FUTURE

This is an interesting one, is it not. What will IBM do? There was a commitment at the (excellent) closing session to do something.

There are voices saying that the Swolphin has had its day. It’s certainly old, and quite shabby, and very expensive to stay in. But we love it. It’s like an old pair of slippers, or a favourite armchair: sure, one can and possibly should replace it, but comfort and nostalgia and familiarity shouldn’t be discarded lightly. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence.

So I sincerely hope that when IBM weighs up its options it keeps an open mind on having an event at the Swan again. Ditch the Dolphin completely. Hold everything in the Swan, with a dining tent outside as in ye olden days. Cap the numbers if necessary. Who knows, it might even sell out.

That said, if the future is to merge with a larger IBM conference, InterConnect being widely believed to be the most likely candidate, IBM has some challenges.

  • Firstly, getting this existing die-hard loyal audience to attend (we did this year despite the shambolic up-front messaging about the event, but mainly because it was the “same event” in a sense).
  • Secondly, most of the sponsors and exhibitors at Lotusphere/ConnectED are already straining to justify the cost: if it’s made more expensive, many will simply bow out. Please don’t make that mistake.
  • Thirdly, having it on the East coast makes it easily do-able for Europeans: a Vegas event is that much harder in terms of time difference, which may put some people off (value for money is the key here – if it’s a must-attend because of the content, that objection is easily overcome).
  • Fourthly, it needs to be a self-contained conference-within-a-conference, rather than just a track. The latter was tried with Connect, and we end up with a bad compromise and a crappy irrelevant OGS that set a bad tone for the rest of the event. Give it its own name, and its own OGS.
  • Finally, the name: we’ve had Connect and then ConnectED, neither of which make logical linguistic sense as a sub-event within InterConnect. How about “Lotusphere”? If that’s too backward-looking and not down with the IBM cool kids, perhaps drop the Lotus bit but keep the “sphere” bit: it’s different, and distinct, and pays due homage to our joint heritage. It’s been pointed out to me that “Versesphere” doesn’t play too well in German, but use some imagination. Crowd source it, even.

The main point about all this is, of course, the community. Many in IBM don’t “get” this, because they’ve never been a part of it. I did speak to one new IBMer last week who was stunned by the warmth and depth of our little world. Truly ‘social’. This community is strong, but not strong enough to survive unending wilful neglect.

Please, IBM, just when you’re producing something that could – if directed and delivered right – be “the next Lotus Notes” we’ve all been after, don’t pull the rug out from under your own feet by stamping on the very community that made Notes a success in the first: you need them (us) as much as they (we) need you. Give us what we need in 2016, not just what you want.

6 comments

  1. Very. well. said.

    Agree 100% on your thoughts re: next year’s event, and how IBM needs this community for Verse to be the success they want it to be.

  2. Just to add to your comments about cost; sponsors also paid the same amount as last year. As IBM’s costs were clearly massively lower this time round, I felt somewhat ripped off.
    That said, the showcase, er, TechnOasis, experience was better overall than the previous couple of years for the reasons you outline above.
    Hope that relevant IBMers take note of this post.

  3. I wasn’t able to attend this year but your summary is right on based on the Tweets and other comments I’ve seen.

  4. Interesting post Julian from someone who wasn’t there. It certainly was more upbeat than I’d have expected of late. How does Verse stack up UI wise against Google’s Inbox as I guess GMail will soon be replaced by Inbox?

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