What We Learned at Engage

Being one of the major events in the ICS community, Engage provides a chance for IBM, Customers and Business Partners  to get important updates on the platform and exchange thoughts and views about what the future holds. This year’s event was no exception.

Business Partners

During the OGS we heard IBM outline how important business partners were to its success. And then a few minutes later under the pressure of time they decided the best way to catch up was to cut the Business Partner presentations from their session. Like many in the crowd I was dismayed. Actions speak louder than words, and here was a clear example of just how much IBM valued its business partners. Every year I have attended events such as the Leadership Alliance and Connect and been told how Business Partners were more important now than ever before. Only to never hear from IBM again until the next year and the next speech. Soon after the OGS, IBM hosted a BP round table. We should acknowledge IBM for engaging it’s business partners in these types of sessions. But it’s getting harder not be become cynical about their true value beyond having a place for business partners to vent their frustrations. I spoke to a number of the attendees afterwards, none had any confidence that anything would change as a result of the session. The key themes were that it is hard to make money from an invisible product (Connections) and that it remains difficult (as partners) to work with IBM. These were the same points raised last year in similar sessions with GM Inhi Cho Suh and more than likely will be the same points raised again next year. That’s all I want to say about that.


For me the big take-away form this year’s event was Pink. The fact that it was more of a new development philosophy than a product (as in Connections Pink).  And its embodiment was a man in a pink suit. A gentleman by the name of Jason Gary who is every bit a live wire as my good friend Matt Newman (the man in the yellow suit). The last time I was this captivated hearing an IBMer speak was when I heard Phil Gilbert address the Leadership Alliance three years ago about the importance of Design Thinking (aka We don’t ship sh*t). After that session Nathan and I set about making some fundamental changes to the way Red Pill Now designs solutions and hired our Creative and UX Director Bob Kadrie to help us do that. Now I need to find a way to clone Jason and incorporate some his ideas into what we are doing.
Some of the things that struck me about what Gary’s team is doing includes:-
  1. A new build of Connections is now being generated every seven minutes
  2. Customers are invited to participate in Sprint reviews
  3. The source code is made available to all 400,000 employees at IBM and they can even check in changes to the code stream.
  4. If allowed (yes IBM still has a large legal department) Gary would like business partners and customers to have the same access to the source code!
  5. The product will have an API focus and there will be no hidden (undocumented) APIs in the product.
  6. The attention to detail to ensure a consistent experience across all modules.
  7. A commitment to using the best technology even if that means not using an IBM product (e.g. Java is not the programming language because it is seen as being too slow and expensive to develop with)
  8. There should only be one code stream regardless of it being Cloud, on-Premise, or anything else.
  9. Puffer Fish (a long story that Jason has adopted to embrace risk as an asset)

Connections Pink

The Pink philosophy is being used to rebuild Connections from the ground up. Some of this has already found its way into Connections 6. Over the course of the next two years (or so) the existing legacy Connections modules will be replaced by new “Pink” modules. Backwards compatibility with the existing APIs will be available, but a new set of APIs will also allow business partners to extend the product in new ways.

New capabilities are also going to be added as part of the “pinkification” of Connections. Included among these is LiveGrid which is starting to sound more like a new application development platform that will be built into Connections. This feels very similar to SharePoint/O365 and its concepts of Lists, but with @Formulae. It now seems (IMO) most likely that IBM’s application strategy for Collaboration will increasingly focus in this area.


At Engage it felt like the emotions have started to cool and there is an acceptance that Notes/Domino is no longer something that IBM has any plans for significant invest moving forward. Almost all the business partners present in the vendor showcase had offerings tied in some way to Connections. Notes applications are likely to be around for 10-20 years which means IBM are most likely to provide minor enhancements to the product for quite some time to keep the lights on. This includes a steady stream of feature packs that contain enhancements being demanded by its larger customers. During the OGS Ed Brill announced that a free Developer Edition of the Domino server would be made available. Its a little late for this to have an impact on the Domino development market but it is a helpful option for business partners like us that continue to develop solutions for the Domino platform.

Domino Pink

I am disappointed that Domino was not chosen as the database engine for Connections Pink, and hence LiveGrids. It would seem to me that with its event engine it might be better match to support integration to IoT via IFTTT. Domino possibly didn’t even make it onto the short-list that saw MongoDB win out over CouchDB. It kind of drives the final nail in the Notes/Domino coffin. There was a time not too long ago when Kramer Reeves and others at IBM were looking to make some “Big Bets” in which a Domino Pink project that involved a re-architecture of Notes/Domino along the lines of Connections Pink might have been the way to go. Its difficult to see a project like this getting off the ground now. Any justification to make such an investment would almost certainly interfere with IBM’s plans to develop LiveGrid.

Engage The Event

Its not clear how just many more Engage events are in Theo Hesselmen’s plans, but it did seem like he had at least one more year at a city he has apparently long had a desire to bring Engage. Anyone who has attended Engage over the years will know what an awesome event Theo puts together. His attention to detail is truly amazing. This year’s event was located in a great city (Antwerp) at a brand new venue that was truly awesome inside and outside. It was located next to the main railway station with a number of hotels (needed as much for the bars as the beds) and a large number of restaurants within easy walking distance. We had a a great array of sessions from IBM, business partners, and customers and some pretty awesome social events that included a visit to the neighboring Antwerp Zoo. It truly was a great environment for old (and new) friends to get together. Perhaps the most amazing statistic was that around 40% of attendees were attending Engage for the first time!

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. Don says:

    Thanks for the summary! I couldn’t make it, but still interested in that old Domino stuf… 😉

  2. Great summary Pete, as ever! I could not have said better the sentiment of people during the OGS. Hope that the IBM execs will read it and try to learn this time.

  3. Richard Moy says:


    Curious what the architecture of what Domino Pink would have been from any discussions that you had with Kramer that you can share. We use the current Domino architecture and refactored it into using a CouchDB/MongoDB like structure that stores everything as json based documents. I don’t think it is necessary to re-architecture Domino. It is important to take what Domino has and what advantage Domino brings and refactor it with a modern REST/JSON approach.

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