Time to reTHINK

Last Week’s IBM Think conference was very different to recent Lotusphere and Connect conferences for a wide range of reasons. In fact for me, having attended my first Lotusphere back in 2010 (Project Vulcan), this was my first major IBM event in which the star (within the ICS portfolio) was a product named Domino! The message would have been more impactful if the ICS presence had not been such a small part of the Think event itself. For me the major take-away from the event was that Domino was back and we need to start rethinking what that means!

Rethinking Domino

A lot of the product news about Domino had been made available several weeks before Think when Richard Jefts (HCL) and Andrew Manby (IBM) had reported back on their findings from the Domino 2025 Jam sessions. Included in this was announcements of an intention to focus on JavaScript (including Node.js) as well as plans for the development of NSF2. What has also become apparent is that Domino is being viewed as an application platform that does mail and not a mail platform that happens to do applications — a very important distinction.

During the course of the event and the weeks leading up to it I have had the chance to talk directly with a number of members of the HCL team and IBM offering management. It is not for me to make the subject of those discussions public, but as a long-time advocate (and occasional critic) for the platform I am impressed with both the magnitude of the vision and the pure excitement of some of the plans HCL and IBM have in mind. So much so that I am sure we are going to see a very different product emerge from the current decade. So stay tuned. There are BIG plans afoot.

The biggest Domino news announced at Think was an iPad client for Domino applications. This means Notes client applications will for the first time run on iOS devices out of the box. The initial release (likely to be part of Domino 10) will target iPads with later versions to support iPhones and Android devices. I must admit after seeing the demos that I was left hoping HCL will engage a few designers to improve the UI of the iPad applications. If we are to change people’s perspectives of the Domino platform we stand to benefit from delivering applications on a tablet that don’t look like they were designed in the 1990s. I heard a few people mention that people only care that the application works. I couldn’t disagree more!

Rethinking Priorities

After the HCL partnership with IBM was announced I took the time to read more about HCL and its Mode 1-2-3 Strategy It was clear that this was not a case of IBM finding somebody to offload a product in decline. This was a potential win-win scenario in which IBM and HCL could both stand to win. Even after the initial transfer of staff from IBM to HCL took place on December 1 we have seen some significant hires by HCL including Barry Rosen and Jason Gary.  It was already clear going into IBM Think that Domino was important to HCL.

At Think I was surprised to learn just how important Domino now was to IBM. It appears that new ICS GM Bob Schultz has made it clear to his sales team that it was important they focus their attention on retaining and selling Domino. I spoke with a number of the the sales team and they all indicated to me their number one priority for this year was Domino. I can’t recall the last time I had heard that. In addition we have seen the appointment of Domino Defenders with global responsibilities. These include Mat Newman and Uffe Sorenson, two people with one thing in common — they take passion for the product to a whole new level.

Rethinking Events

I am not convinced that IBM Think was the right style of event for Domino and ICS. For a company that prides itself on Design Thinking I am not convinced they were empathizing with executives from important customers who attended the event and had to line up for hours to register to then eat a box-lunch on the floor and then have to gather outside a phone-booth to try and hear the news about Domino on an iPad. The two things that made the event a success for Red Pill Now was the availability of restaurants and bars under the same roof to meet with other members of the community as well as having a suite upstairs that allowed for great discussions a convenient distance away from hustle and bustle of the event. Neither of these things are likely to be available at San Francisco’s Mascone Center. There is perhaps a need for ICS to rethink how this will work for its customers and partners.

Outside of Think it appears IBM are looking to restart a number of the regional events to re-engage the community. It appears Engage in Rotterdam will sell out with 400 attendees. I was told that Icon UK would be back later this year. Red Pill Now is also exploring the idea of a global virtual conference towards the end of the year. Now is the right time to start to think about ways to engage our community — not just by by bringing back the past but also by fnding new and different formats.

Rethinking Marketing

I was told that IBM have now assigned multiple resources to market the Domino product. If they want inspiration, they should look no further than the viral marketing program started by members of the community at IBM Think based on the R5 “I AM” commercials. This was a truly awesome effort thanks to David (Notes Guy in Seattle) Hablewitz, Graham Acres, and no doubt many others.

I was already feeling good about Domino going in to the event, but the five days I spent in Las Vegas gave me even more reason to rethink what I can and should be doing to be part of the regrowth of the platform. There was more energy, more ideas, and more support for the Domino platform than I have experienced for a long time. There is a long road ahead but there were strong signs that something is starting to happen. Something that may cause a great many to rethink what it means to be using Domino as a platform for innovative application development and collaboration. So what are you rethinking?

Peter Presnell
Peter Presnell
CEO at Red Pill NOW. Strategist, technologist, blogger, presenter, and IBM Champion 2011/12. For years many companies have invested heavily in the Notes/Domino platform and I see my role as helping to find paths forward for that investment.


  1. Theo Heselmans says:

    Great summary as ever, Peter.
    I do believe that, with the right attitude, creativity and perseverance, developers CAN (and should) create nice Notes applications, which look good an a desktop and on an iPad.
    Indeed, time too, to embellish those old apps, to give them a new (mobile) life.

  2. I am probably one of those you heard saying (about Notes on the iPad) that if the application works, that’s all that matters. I’m afraid I left that impression in my blog post. What I really mean to say is that people will give some leeway to the application if it doesn’t look perfectly like a native iOS/iPad app. Appearances still matter a great deal, and anything HCL can do to enhance the appearance will pay off. That probably means a combination of improvements to the “default” look when an application designed elsewhere is run on the iPad, as well as hooks/features that can be harnessed optionally either for mobile devices generally or iOS/iPad specifically.

    I am very excited by this development, but like so many things, the idea is not enough. The execution of the idea is critical.

  3. Bruce LILL says:

    For new customers the look will be important, for current customers having as little change as possible would be better, I have a customer will all Notes apps and no web as it was too hard to train users. The cost of changing to the web against buying laptops for sales was the driving force. If they could use an iPad to run those Notes apps it would save them money. Going to XPages was a major hindrance for many companies, as the development cost was the same as going to a new platform. Now if they can come up with a simple way to administer the server from an iPad, that would be great.

    • I agree Bruce. Part of the issue was that they did a demo of a Notes application that didn’t look good to start with and then faithfully reproduced it. There are some pretty good looking Notes client applications out there would would look equally awesome on an iPad.

  4. John Stack says:

    I took the announcement on several levels:

    First, IBM’s investment in software: It is truly sad that IBM has only now ported a client to iPad. I’m glad they did but more than a bit late. Why so late? Sales. Overall, the platform is losing money and has for years.

    Second, HCL is a sharp company who is on the rise on many fronts but I disagree. It is a product in decline and HCL sees the base as an onramp into more accounts. Pretty simple logic to me.

    Third, any change is good for the platform but this might signal the end. Re-thinking how Domino gets deployed helps; however, I believe it signals capitulation. Give it 2 – 3 years to see. I hope that is not the case but the tipping point was way back in 2002 – 3 when someone formally made the decision not to go Websphere for the repository. Infighting and an over-cautious attitude was the root cause.

  5. This is mostly just a response to John Stack’s last point. I can think of very few things that IBM could have done to more effectively kill Notes/Domino and its customer base, but one of those very few things would be to have moved the backend to Websphere.

  6. Barry Rosen says:

    Great feedback from the comments. We understand the mistrust and negativity. For a long time not a whole lot was delivered. We still have a long way to go, but look at how far we have come in such a short time. The announcement was made late last year, we toured the world to get feedback, we have working code for the next release, and we are still working on more. At Engage we will have even more demos and details on V10.

    @John. HCL and IBM want to stop the decline and turn it around. V10 is the first step in that journey. We want to wow current customers, bring back those that have lapsed, and get new customers. We will be having regular webcasts and a presence at all up coming User Groups to spread the word and vision for V10 and beyond. You can start by going to https://www.ibm.com/collaboration/ibm-domino

  7. […] was announced at IBM Think and is one of the first BIG things for Domino 10, providing the ability to run Notes client […]

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