Concluding my eleventh visit to Orlando in January, sitting at the airport, and time to temporarily blow the cobwebs off this old blog once more and share my thoughts.
It won’t have escaped your attention that 2016 represented a significant change from all previous years. So let’s have a little look at the changes, before stepping back and talking about the conference in general.
- The venue. For the first time, we were not in the Dolphin/Swan hotels, but in the Hilton Orlando a few miles away. It’s a smaller venue, and more suitable for the size of conference that Lotusphere has become. It took a day or two to settle in – Friday evening was quite muted by comparison with previous years – but it feels like “home” now.
- The name. Yes, I know it’s not called Lotusphere any more. But it Just Is, okay.
- The product showcase. In 2013/14 the exhibitors were rattling around in the vast aircraft-hangar sized space in the Dolphin, and it felt empty and quite dispiriting. In 2015, when the conference was squeezed into the Swan only, it was quite the opposite: the showcase was crammed into an inadequate room, and some of the vendors were very difficult to get to (and had little footfall as a result). This year, the space for the showcase was exactly the right size. Big enough to feel big, but small enough to feel full and busy. Every vendor I spoke to said they’d had a really good week – so it won’t be hard to get that space filled again next year (more on that later).
- Registration. Very much more efficient than previous years. The badge holders, while lacking the handy pockets of yesteryear, were professional and high quality. Again, an improvement on cost-cutting nasty things last year. The softer neck straps were an improvement too.
- The conference bags. There weren’t any. Not actually a problem – the quality had been suffering in previous years of cost-cutting, anyway, such that a high proportion of them wastefully ended up in hotel and other bins soon after the conference. But it would have been helpful to have been warned – I happened to have a suitable bag (Lotusphere 2007 – one of the best, if somewhat large) with me, but not everybody did.
- Cost-cutting. Notwithstanding the bag, the worst piece of cost-cutting was the lack of a printed conference agenda. The phone app was fairly good, but in practice nowhere near as useful as a comprehensive printed agenda. There was a “newspaper” format thing, which frankly was a waste of paper (other than being the only place I could find that listed meal and break times).
- The OGS. I’ll talk more about that, but here confine my comments to the new format with an hour’s break in the middle. The cynical (far be it from me!) might suggest that the need for a break came from the aging bladders of the average Lotusphere attendee. But actually it worked pretty well, gave us a chance to grab a coffee and network a little in the product showcase, and also gave the event time to catch up if the first half overran (which it did, although not by too much).
- The catering. It seemed like a step up from previous years. Not massively different, but all the food just seemed to be a notch better. To me, anyway.
- Kimonos. The new venue meant finding new places to hang out. And I think we sorted that out between us fairly quickly. It worked.
Personally, my conference went like this.
- Friday. A few drinks, and early(ish) to bed.
- Saturday. Penumbra meeting in the morning. We (LDC Via) hosted “Mai Tai hour” cocktails in our suite in the afternoon. Then the Penumbra dinner in the evening. Always a long day with jet-lag. The dinner also had a new home this year: Seasons52 instead of Fultons. They did a good job, and it was a successful evening.
- Sunday. A few meetings.
- Monday. The Opening General Session (OGS). Then a few more meetings.
- Tuesday. Some more meetings. Seeing a theme here?
- Wednesday. This was the only day that felt like how I might have spent the equivalent day in previous years. Although starting it with an IHOP breakfast at 5:30am was a new one on me, and very entertaining. Gurupalooza was fun, Ask The Product Managers And Developers was, despite the lack of concrete project announcements, more upbeat than it has been for a few years. And the Closing General Session had some great content (more of that later). Wednesday ended with the “round the world” bar crawl at Epcot – enormous fun, and we ended in ‘England’ in plenty of time for the fireworks.
So, opinions. Let’s start with the OGS. The special guest speaker was fairly terrible, unfortunately. Spewing out clusters of impressive-sounding words at high volume and high speed, but really with nothing to say beyond “look at me, aren’t I clever”. Not my cup of tea at all. But over quickly enough. Then the demo of future software was slick – as it should be as it was all fake – but I found it very confusing. IBM seems to have 45 (I counted them, twice) products in the digital collaboration/content space, but there was no clarity as to where one stops and another takes over, nor what we were seeing in the demos. Clearly IBM has a vision, and an impressive new-found focus on beautiful design. But product naming and positioning still seems to be a challenge.
In years of yore, I would sit in the OGS writing down notes on product releases and features that were coming in the next year, and on products that I should go and see at the IBM labs/stands. Over the last few years it’s become harder and harder to do that, as detail and facts have been pushed out of the OGS agenda in favour of impressionistic demos. Perhaps that’s what IBM’s audience wants. Certainly it seems to be what IBM believes its audience wants. Possibly I’m not the target market for the OGS any more. But I do miss seeing real demos of real released or imminent software, and hearing about proper roadmap with dates and features. Old-fashioned, me, see.
Domino. Well, it was mentioned a handful of times in the OGS. Mostly three “announcements” that were actually re-announcements of things that had been promised in 2014 and 2015. It was then followed by a Lufthansa commercial which lasted 3 times as long. So although the “Domino” word is no longer banned from the mouths of IBMers, it still seems to be a product that’s getting very little attention in terms of features and futures. I don’t recall hearing “Notes” at all in the OGS, but I could be wrong (if it was said it was in passing). Notes – the big fat client everybody loves to hate – does seem to be, if not dead, then heading that way.
From a business perspective, this was the best Lotusphere I’ve ever had. Numerous meetings, almost of all of which were very positive in terms of LDC Via – either new customers, new product features, new market opportunities, or new/strengthened business partnerships. All that busy-ness did prevent me getting to too many sessions, unfortunately, beyond supporting my colleagues Mark Myers and Matt White at theirs.
So let’s wind quickly forward to the Closing General Session. As usual, there was a special guest speaker, Erik Wahl, mainly there to motivate and entertain. He seemed to be very well received, although less so by non-USians who found his presentation style rather hard work. There was definitely good content in there, though. Before that, we had two absolute corkers of treats. The first of these was when Gabriella Davis and Theo Heselmans were presented with Lifetime awards as IBM Champions. And very well deserved. Both are good friends to this community, and always generous with their own time and energy. The second treat was the announcement and introduction of the new General Manager of “IBM Collaboration Solutions”, Inhi Cho Suh. Her short “hello this is me” speech was the most confident, natural, and confidence-inspiring I’ve ever seen a GM do on the Lotusphere stage, and I believe she will Make Shit Happen for this part of the IBM world and the products we all care about. Definitely one to watch. She could just turn out to be the best thing to happen to ‘Lotus’ since Bob Picciano.
You will notice that the above is very positive (well, almost entirely). If you’d asked me about my expectations in the run-up to the event, frankly they were pretty low. But in the end they were exceeded massively. It was a very good conference, by anybody’s standards.
What does the future hold? Well, IBM hasn’t decided. But talking to them on Wednesday evening, I was expressing the same opinion as most people. After a few difficult years, IBM Connect has risen phoenix-like from the ashes of Lotusphere, and become a really good event. To then throw that good work away by merging Connect into a massive conference like InterConnect, where the Lotusphere-relevant content would get drowned and diluted, would be a mistake. But it seems it’s still a risk. Please, IBM, let’s return to the Hilton Orlando in mid/late January in 2017, and give this reinvigorated community the environment it needs in order to thrive. (It needs some actual product releases too, by the way: HOW LONG since Notes/Domino 9.0.1?!)
If you’ve made it this far, I sincerely hope to see you in Orlando in January 2017. And before that at Engage, MWLUG, ICON UK, SNoUG or SUTOL (I’ll get to most of those).
In the meantime, I’ll spend my last few minutes at the airport here reminiscing and being delighted at the number of people I *did* manage to see again this year. A very incomplete list of non-Brits would have to include Mat, Julian, Susan, Mary Beth, Amanda, Carl, Andrew, Libby, John, Graham, Kathy, Joe, and Bill. To name but a few. You know who you are. Love and hugs to all. Cheerio.