Why Verse Matters

Much of the buzz at ConnectEd has been centered around IBM Verse. I doubt this product will ever live up to the hype IBM is generating but it does have the potential to be very transformative for IBM.

I didn’t fully understand this until attending the Leadership Alliance held as part of ConnectED earlier this week. Until now I thought that my disappointments working with the Notes platform in recent years had been because the Notes product was no longer considered modern. That IBM’s failure to invest in the platform had resulted in a growing number of companies seeking alternatives. That Verse was one last grab by IBM to retain some of the Mail market before its long presence came to an abrupt end.

During 2014 the message seemed to be changing from needing to get rid of Notes to one of getting rid of IBM. The rebranding from Lotus Notes to IBM Notes would do little if the IBM brand was also in decline. And then it hit me… It not just Notes, but IBM that is no longer modern. As an aging baby-boomer population retires from organizations and the next generation of IT executives began to rise in influence the leverage IBM once had is starting to wane. IBM needs to modernize. Not just in terms of the products it sells, but the entire process by which these products are developed and brought to market. In Verse we are seeing some of the transformation that is happening within IBM that has the potential to make IBM modern once more.

Modern Look

The most obvious thing about Verse when compared with the Notes mail client and iNotes is the cleaner, simpler UI. IBM is now adopting many of the same UX found in other great web-based products. Exceptional Web Experience has gone from being an oxymoronic IBM brand to a reality.

Modern Capabilities

Verse is more than just a modern UI for email. It encompasses a new breed of application capability, that of assisted discovery that comes from adding analytics to the mail interface making it much easier for relevant information to be found. We see this same capability in Google Search, Siri, and IBM Watson.

Modern Clients

Verse works equally well as a responsive web or mobile client. While I am sure many of these features could be implemented in Notes I doubt any of them ever will. Thick clients remain popular for mobile devices but not desktop computers (I suspect because of the difficulties associated with installing and updating them). IBM is now replacing Notes mail with Verse and so the fate of Notes seems almost assured just as it turned 25.

Modern Pricing

Yes, IBM now offers Freemium! Modern licensing??? Well that seems to still be under development.

Modern Branding

Verse. Now that is a name I can live with. It is simple, easy to remember and comes with none of the emotional baggage or false expectations of a more traditional IBM-ish name like the IBM Connections Exceptional Mail Experience for a Smarter Planet

Modern Deployment

IBM‘s Cloud-First approach was announced at Connect last year. Verse will be available in the cloud at the end of the quarter and (maybe) later in the year on-premise.

Modern Advertising

After many years of the Notes community complaining about the lack of TV advertising that dared to mention product names IBM have actually gone to air with a series of TV ads that feature Verse. It’s not new but it is still modern.

Modern Culture

Here in the US we have a political system that few seem to be happy with. Every two years we have candidates promising to change the way Washington works. When they get to Washington they are suddenly confronted with two choices. Become a maverick and get absolutely nothing done, or agree to conform to the system in exchange for getting a small part of their agenda implemented. The culture of Washington has become so entrenched there is little that can be done to change it.

I can’t help but think that IBM is a lot like Washington. Every year we see many brilliant people get jobs at IBM and they are almost immediately confronted with choices between conforming to the system or being squeezed out. IBM is a company with a 1980s culture. It allowed itself to become a company where attaining a specific Earnings per Share becomes more important than goals like keeping their customers, suppliers, business partners, and employees happy.

A culture like this is not going to change overnight. But at the OGS we heard from Phil Gilbert, the head of the new IBM Design Center. This is without doubt the most inspiring speech I have heard from an IBM executive ever! My colleague Nathan Freeman was moved enough to offer a one-man standing ovation. Not only does Phil lead a team that is making design an important priority for products such as Verse, but he is also going about it in a way that does not follow the traditional IBM culture. They are targeting a new breed of young designers from the best design schools and placing them in a work environment that is more typical of companies like Google, Facebook, or YouTube. They are designing products on the basis of customer empathy. And I love the messages posted on the bulletin boards — “Don’t Ship Sh*t”. I have never aspired to be an IBM employee, but if I was only now graduating from college this sounds like a pretty cool place to work.

Design is still a small part of the IBM machine but I am sure Ginni Rometty is fully aware of what Phil is accomplishing and the way he is going about it. I also suspect she is quite happy to know that Phil is out and about talking to people like us about this change.

So, for the first time in a long while, I see a glimmer of hope. It is already too late for Notes. We have to get over that and move on. But if the products that follow, like Verse and Connections Next, are more design-centric and built to be more empathetic with its users then IBM may find a way to reinvent itself and appear modern to a new generation. I have my fingers crossed.

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.

8 Comments

  1. Christian Tillmanns says:

    You can live with “Verse”, but in other languages it does not work very good.
    In french I have to write it down for people understanding it. In german it sounds just strange and much like “worse” to the listener. Notes worked nicely. “Verse” doesn’t.

    • Peter Presnell says:

      Good point Christian. I guess IBM get a C- for Modern International Marketing. There is always a challenge in branding to find a brand that works well in all the major languages. For IBM this is made worse because of the large geographic market they cover. I guess my blog article will not come over well in German if I am sounding like “Why worse matters”

  2. Henning Heinz says:

    If IBM does not revitalize Notes and Domino they will loose everything that’s left in in Collaboration and that includes products like IBM Connections. IBM Verse in my opinion is a nice product that the world does not need.
    It might attract some still existing Notes and Domino customers but I expect its range beyond that to be near zero. The freemium model sounds interesting but I don’t expect the analytic power of the product to work well in a private environment (not complex enough for many people).
    It still seems IBM listens to a lot to customers that moved off the platform but little to those who still use it. The problem is that whatever IBM does to fix the past won’t bring those customers back (at least not in the scale IBM is currently doing R&D).
    And now that IBM dropped the Lotus brand for many products they sell like hot cake, correct? No, you named it. Dropping the Lotus brand hasn’t helped at all imho although some for sure hoped it would.
    Maybe some things are going to change when Steve Mills finally retires.

    My boss loves Notes and Domino (but only the old parts + Traveler). Ironically it seems I am chosen to be the one that is going to switch off the last Domino server in the world some time in 2030.

    And even after working with Notes and Domino for 20 years there are those moments I still think that some brilliant people once had some phantastic ideas with many of those still valid today.

    I wish you and the whole redpill company all the best and may I be wrong and IBM shine again in software business. It would not be to my disadvantage either.

    • Peter Presnell says:

      As I said in my article Henning the Notes client is D.E.A.D dead. Get over it an move on. It is not going to disappear off the scene for many many years but you need to decide if you wish to continue to service that market or move on to something else. If you aspire to deliver modern applications you simply can’t do that with the Notes client any more. So don’t ship sh*t… Domino is a different story. I will cover this in a later blog but it just may be that IBM have discovered they have a noSQL database engine.

      • Henning Heinz says:

        I am not in a position to decide. If I am asked for classic Notes development I do classic Notes development.
        It is not a question of my skill-set. I am capable of some other things. Besides mainly being an Admin I can handle e.g. (Java) Play Framework, Grails or if not avoidable even PHP with various SQL or NoSQL databases. Of course this includes front-end technologies like Javascript, CSS and HTML.
        Just Classic client with Lotuscript is not the box I am comfortable to be put in.
        My world is simple. If it’s for the browser, it’s never on an IBM platform but I still have a solid demand for classic, or call it legacy, Notes development. Maybe I ship shit in this case but this does not matter to me.
        Personally I don’t care much about language or platform. If someone asks me to develop something in Google Go or Apple Swift I would probably learn it and try my best.

        From talks with other people I know that I am not alone (at least here in Germany). If it still is Notes it often is the classic platform and not IBM XPages. If IBM kills classic Notes (which they already do anyway) the future often is not going to happen on an IBM platform anymore.
        People don’t seem to trust IBM anymore (or at least they trust much less). I can’t fix this for IBM (and in recent years I did not even try to).

        But there are a lot of people, even at IBM, that are much smarter than me. They can come up with a plan I just don’t understand and be tremendously successful.

      • Christian Tillmanns says:

        I don’t know if anyone else has heard it, but in a german IBM collaboration blog, they said, there will be a new version of the Notes client this year.
        Yes, nsf is a NonSQL database but it isn’t really a modern one. CouchDB would have been the logical solution, since Damien knew nsf pretty well. But IBM did not want to do it.
        I don’t think that you can bring nsf up to par with other noSQL DBs. Therefore I am locking forward to your blog post.

        • Richard moy says:

          Christian

          I took a hard look at Mongodb and couchdb compared to NSF. There are advantags in each of these platforms. If you use the standard approach with NSF then you are correct to say that NSF is obsolete. However, if you rethink how one would use NSF in a more modern paradigm then NSF is comparable. Neither of the above technologies matches the security that NSF has. Couchdb is extremely fast and can handle very large data sets very fast but you are limited to the number of buckets (databases) that you can have per node. Mongodb allows many more databases but can’t handle the big data sets. The most important thing for us is security and that is something I refuse to compromise on. Therefore we plan to continue our development with NSF. Couchdb and mongodb are nice database but when it comes down to it, data and keeping that data safe is what it is really all about. XPages developers will be mad at me to say that I feel the part that I would get rid of is XPages not NSF.

  3. I don’t see why companies would choose solely for NSF (read Domino) when it is not the best of breed database in the world? Especially when it does not come out of the box for free.

    Perhaps there is a life possible when they offer it on Bluemix for the same pricing/free as competitive database format.

    If NSF does not come for free so the next/new generation of developers will probably tend to ignore it.

    Sad to hear there is no market for RAD client-server platforms with solid security aka Notes.

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