It’s not the software, it’s how you use it

What drives collaboration?  It is not the latest collaboration software, offering eye-popping features and kick-ass integration.  It is the desire of teams to collaborate.  Like the proverbial horse, you can lead a team to collaboration, but you can’t make them collaborate.

On of my projects now I’m working with an amazing team of great software developers.  The team is small, there are 6 of us.  The velocity of the project is great with 2-week sprints delivering minimally viable product at each iteration.  The team simply must collaborate in order to survive and to keep on top of the project.

Before I joined the project, the team chose Basecamp from 37signals.  Basecamp wouldn’t have been my first choice.  Having used Quickr, Connections, SharePoint, I find Basecamp somewhat primitive, lacking features that I’m used to with other packages.  But it is not the strengths or weaknesses of Basecamp that determine my teams’ ability to collaborate.  It is the team’s desire to collaborate that drives collaboration.

All team members religiously engage in discussions, posting updates and tracking their progress on Basecamp.  Basecamp has also become a vehicle for outbound communication from the team to other stakeholders in the organization.  When the project will be done, all of the project’s history and all of its intellectual capital will be in Basecamp.

It is a dream come true for many organizations trying to foster internal collaboration, trying to harvest the wealth of knowledge locked in employees’ heads and often lost with them.  It is a problem that organizations try to solve with this or that latest software.  But if there’s no desire to share, if collaboration is not being fostered, then no amount of bells and whistles can fix it.



Lotus Knows how to listen – finally

There’s one nagging thought in the back of my head.  How would the Lotus brand and the overall marketplace be different right now if Bob Picciano or someone like him took over as the GM 4 years ago instead of Mike Rhodin?  Or even 6 years ago instead of Ambuj?  What would the Lotus brand be today?  Would it still be fighting to preserve its user base or would it be rolling through the land migrating companies to its solutions?

Over the years I’ve watched and followed Lotus — the brand, the product, the community — through the good times and through the bad; I’ve watched things changing and not always for the best.  I’ve watched the leadership change and with it came the change in the direction for the brand.  The one thing that seemed to remain constant, was the leadership’s lack of ability or want or both to pay attention to what their faithful followers were saying.

In the past year or so, once again, the wind of change has been blowing on the Lotus brand.  And this time the change seems to be good.

The Lotus brand, rocked to sleep by the comforting warmth of the IBM’s behemoth body, is waking up under the leadership of Bob Picciano.  Lotus cannot survive under the IBM’s philosophy “We’re The IBM. Why would you use anything else?!”.  It needs to be more aggressive and Bob’s team recognizes that.  And the signs of Bob’s team doing things differently are everywhere.

Lotus is very energetically working at preserving its install base.  Customers who use older versions of Lotus (and they are still companies using R5, I just met with one 2 weeks ago) are the most likely candidates to migrate to a different platform.  And can you blame them?  When you compare a 9 – 10 year old technology to a competitor’s client of today, how can you not want to move?  Often, these customers are not even aware that Lotus is now in version 8.5 and is heralded by Gartner as the client of the future.

Lotus is working with Business Partners to reach out to existing customers to educate, to upgrade, to help – to do whatever it takes to prevent them from going elsewhere.

Lotus is also recognizing the fact that lack of integration support from 3rd party vendors is driving its customers to migrate to other products (Exchange) with its Outlook client being widely integrated by vendors into their products.  With the Notes 8.5 Eclipse platform and its side-bar plugins, we’re seeing plugins being developed for commonly used applications like Twitter and LinkedIn.

And now the latest step in the change process is a brand new “Lotus Knows” marketing campaign dedicated to the Lotus brand.  Based on some communications coming out of the Lotus offices, I’ve been suspecting that something like that is in the works but didn’t dare to dream — just didn’t want to be dissapointed.

But amongst all these things, what stands out the most, at least for me, is Lotus’ leadership willingness to listen.  We, at PSC, have preached the mantra of “It’s all in the way we listen” for years.  So when a company is actively listening, I notice.

I loved it when Sean Poulley, VP in charge of LotusLive, commented on my blog in response to a post on LotusLive and got engaged in a conversation. I didn’t love it because I got the attention.  I loved it because it was great to see a VP at IBM engage in a discussion on a simple blog — something not commonly seen in the past.

The Lotus Knows IdeaJam is another step towards Lotus opening itself up and actively engaging with its users, customers, partners — the overall community.  Having several Lotus executives actively participate in the 72-hour event, responding to ideas and comments, was a great idea.  I, of course, don’t know what will happen to all the ideas that were posted.  But the fact remains — Lotus is willing to LISTEN, to have a discussion, to talk and even at times to admit its shortcomings.

Great job, Lotus! Let’s not stop there.  Let’s put some of the ideas in place, make them a reality.  And please don’t be too hasty to reshuffle things again and move Bob to his next position at IBM.

What do you think?  Is there hope or is it too late?

MWLUG is coming next week

There’s a bit more than 1 week left before MWLUG kicks off in Chicago on August 27th.  If you haven’t registered yet, do so and do so soon.  If you live in Midwest and particularly around Chicago and are a Lotus user and fan, you almost have no reason not to attend.  For myself, I’m looking forward to attending a conference where I don’t have to travel out of town.

PSC, while sponsoring the event, will be presenting 3 separate sessions.

Integration and Coexistence: Leveraging Lotus and Microsoft products to build better solutions” by John Head.  While John and I usually co-present this session at Lotusphere, the 1-hour format of LUG conferences makes it kind of silly to have 2 presenters up there.  So this will be John all himself.

Enabling your Applications with Complete Rich Text Editing on the Web” by yours truly.

Implementing DAOS and ID Vault” by Luis Guirigay.  Luis will spend the 2 days prior to MWLUG teaching a Domino 8.5 upgrade workshop.  So all topics of new and exciting features of 8.5 will be fresh on his mind.  Come by and ask questions.

Hope to see you all there.

LotusLive – SaaS without the service

I know I had promised to refrain from pointless criticism and open bashing on my blog: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”. But my experience with LotusLive has been so abysmal that I simply cannot keep quiet.

I still want to begin by saying something nice. I think LotusLive is a great offering. The idea behind it is superb. It offers the ability to share and collaborate that is better than other similar offerings from IBM’s competitors. I remember the applause when in January of 2009 Bob Picciano stood on stage at Lotusphere and announced LotusLive. Unfortunately, when IBM was building its Lotus branded Software as a Service, it spent so much time focusing on the software part, that it completely forgot to build the service component.

A client of PSC needed a place to collaborate and share with a new client of their own. They asked our advice on best way to do this quickly and cost efficiently. In 2 weeks they were going out to a kick off meeting with their client and they wanted to have the collaboration platform in place by then. We thought about it and decided to tell them about this new SaaS platform from IBM that did everything they needed to do and would cost them about $1, 000 USD per year. Our client bought into the idea. Little did I know what kind of a mess I got myself into.

Silly me! I never bought a LotusLive license before, but thinking the SaaS model, I thought that a couple of clicks through the LotusLive site and a credit card number would do the trick. Wrong! Out of all the purchases I’ve ever made in my life, buying a LotusLive subscription or a license is the most complicated one. I rank it somewhere between buying a house and getting a GreenCard.

It turns out that in order to buy a single license of LotusLive, there are forms to be filled out and faxed/emailed back to IBM. You don’t get these forms all at once. They come one at a time, from different channels. And these forms have to make their way through the IBM bureaucracy and approval process, which takes several weeks, before they reach the LotusLive sales team, which only then can grant you a full license. Since we couldn’t wait that long and had to be up and running pretty quick, the LotusLive team ended up giving us a full-access temporary license, which later, when all the paperwork is processed, got converted to a full license. All this took a lot of emails and phone calls on our part to push the process through — several weeks of effort all for a $1000-purchase. We made no money on this transaction. In fact, if I count the hours and the energy we spent on making this happen, we lost money on the transaction.

So, IBM, if you’re planning to continue to push LotusLive, you really need to re-evaluate your entire approach to this offering. SaaS should be simple. It’s all web based, it’s all browser based. I should be able to sign up for a free account using my browser. And, when ready to switch to a full paid account, I should be able to do this using the same browser and a credit card. The process should be SIMPLE. If it is not, I’m going to your competition. And some of your competition,while perhaps not offering all the same features, offers a lot of them for free. Frankly, if I was trying to set this up for myself, after a couple of days I would have just switched to Google Groups — not quite the same but free and I can be up and running in 5 minutes.

And lastly, if you want your Business Partners to help you sell LotusLive, figure out a way for them to make money on this offering. Otherwise, like a lot of other great things that have come out of IBM over the years, LotusLive will get killed by the competition. And in this case, you’re making it way too easy for them.

If this were Twitter, I would say “LotusLive as a service platform #fail”.

What is your experience with LotusLive?

Domino 8.5 in Omaha – Part deux

All is well that ends well. Well, it hasn’t quite ended just yet. But, damn!, I’m good. Alex, even though you’ve been a manager for the past 3 years, you still got it! After several days of going back and forth with IBM tech support, where they just never seemed to be able to gather enough information to diagnose the problem, I found an SPR that described the very same problem, with exact same symptoms and the very same resulting error message. The SPR was supposed to have been fixed i the Domino 8.0.1 code stream. But here it was again, an apparent regression bug of sorts, causing the poor server to hang every morning. Basically, the router was getting into a lock situation trying to access one of the files and running an LZ1 compression algorithm.

Unfortunately, this thing doesn’t appear to be easy to solve. We were hoping that the development team would be able to put together a hot fix in a matter of hours, after all, they did solve it once before. However, they confirmed that the fix for that SPR is in the 8.5 code stream. So now we’re waiting, with baited breath, to hear what the development team comes back with. Come on, Westford folks, make me proud!

And while we’re waiting, a few interesting observations while working with the IT team of this particular client, if I may.

For reasons unknown to me, this organization is on its 3rd mail system. Once upon the time, they were an Exchange shop. Then later they moved to GroupWise. And now they are a Lotus shop. While I am not completely clear on their decision to move to Domino, some part of that decision was based on their ability to run mail server on top of AIX. Some years ago, AIX was my favorite platform to run Domino on: it was rock solid, required minimal maintenance and ran well. These folks did their homework. They had talked to a number of companies that ran Domino on AIX and everyone confirmed that AIX and Domino is a winning combination.

They told me of one company they spoke to, which used to run Domino on the iSeries (i5 OS, I believe). It ran so poorly that the company decided to move off Domino to Exchange. Then, somewhere along the process, they tried moving Domino on to AIX and it ran so well, that they canceled their Exchange migration and stayed with Lotus, although now on top of AIX.

Having said that, some of the younger members of the IT team did tell me that they didn’t like the Notes client. They thought it wasn’t as user friendly as even the latest version of GroupWise that they ran. They readily acknowledged that Domino ran better and did things better than GroupWise; that a lot of email problems that they had with GroupWise simply went away when they moved to Domino. But they still complained of usability of the Notes client.

This is nothing new.  I’ve been saying this for quite some time now. IBM makes great servers. Lotus makes a great server, there’s probably none better. Their client though is not so much. How I wish that IBM would support other email clients with full fidelity. This client in Omaha is a great case study of that. The admins love AIX, the admins love Domino, let the users run whatever they want to run: Notes, Outlook, Mac Mail, Thunderbird, whatever else. And may system administrators and end users exist in perfect peace and harmony. Like the famous bumper sticker says: “COEXIST”.


MWLUG conference 2009 registration opens today

The registration for 2009 Midwest Lotus User Group Conference opens today.  For more information on the conference and to register visit the MWLUG site.  

And don’t forget to register for the Notes & Domino 8.5 upgrade workshop to be held in the 2 days prior to the start of the conference.

Notes 8.5 upgrade workshop

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week we [PSC] and IBM hosted a Notes 8.5 upgrade workshop. The workshop was held at IBM Innovation Center downtown Chicago and it was a great event. Thank you everyone who found 2 days in their busy schedules to join us for the workshop. The event was “sold out”. We had no empty seats in the room and unfortunately we had to turn away a few people who tried to register at the last moment. Not to worry, we are planning to hold more workshops during the summer. Please come to the PSC site for event information and registration.

The workshop focused on showcasing the new and exciting features of Notes and Domino 8.5: things like DAOS, ID Vault, Shared Logon, XPages. The agenda is a good mix of presentations and hands-on labs, so not only did the attendees get to listen about the new features, they got to feel and touch them, practice setting them up and using them.

All in all, a great event. I’m looking forward to hosting a few more of these during the summer.

Currently, we’re looking at hosting 1 workshop in Schaumburg at the PSC office on June 24 – 25.

In addition, we’re planning to host another workshop downtown Chicago at the IBM center just before MWLUG on August 25 – 26.  Seating will be limited again, so please stay tuned for registration announcements.

My presentation on Social Networking and Social Media

Back in December I spoke in front of the Chicago Lotus Notes user group, GRANITE, on the topic of Social Networking, Social Media and how it all applies to the business world.  Here is the slide deck from the presentation.

And just in case the embedded viewer doesn’t load for you, here’s a link to the slides on

JumpStart 205 – Integration of IBM Lotus Notes and Lotus Domino with Microsoft Office, .NET, and IBM Lotus Symphony

Welcome to the real world, where Lotus Notes and Lotus Domino are just part of your corporate toolset. This session will introduce you to integration of Lotus Notes and Domino 8 and 8.5 with Microsoft Office, .NET technologies,, and Lotus Symphony. We’ll start with the basics and gradually build up to advanced integration. Mail Merge, exporting to a spreadsheet, charting, presentation building, and integration on the Web will all be covered. Advanced topics such as Visual Studio Tools for Office and integration with Lotus Domino Web Services will round out the session. All new samples including integration with XPages will provide samples you can use as soon as you get home.

John Head & Alex Kassabov

Dolphin Americas Seminar : Sunday, 1/18/2009 : 8 AM to 9:30 AM
Swan : Sunday, 1/18/2009 : 1:30 PM to 3:30 PM

Note: The first run of this session is only 90 minutes. The second run is 120 minutes. We will have more content in the afternoon session.

And the complete demo database can be downloaded here.  

Oh yeah, and thank you everyone for getting up to see us speak at 8 am on Sunday.

How to Pick Up Followers on Twitter

Whether you’re a seasoned Twitter user or just starting off (like myself), here’s a great collection of tips on how to build up your following.

Thank you, Guy Kawasaki for How to Change the World: Looking for Mr. Goodtweet: How to Pick Up Followers on Twitter