Normally every year I have someone help me get a good photo of the yellow community. Unfortunately, I messed up the settings on my camera this year, so the person helping with the photography wasn’t able to get good shots. That said, Oliver Heinz got a wonderful shot, and it’s posted on flickr with a great ConnectED 2015 photoset. Check it out.
Okay, I know the last post seemed completely down on IBM, and mainly it was because of logistics and cheaping out on basic stuff. It’s just that such a high bar had been set by Lotusphere in the past. I was there when 10,000 attendees took over everything, and comparing this year to even prior down years was pretty bad.
That said there were some excellent things that came out of ConnectED.
The main one is IBM Verse. For the first time in a long time IBM has something sexy to sell, and they are actually marketing it, by name, on TV. It’s been a long long time since that has happened, so that in and of itself is huge news.
By using analytics and Watson, they are really trying to differentiate this offering from other email systems on the market. I think they will succeed, and hopefully this can be used to move those unhappy with Notes to the browser-based Verse.
I’ve been to a lot of briefings leading up to ConnectED, and my biggest concern all along has been the lack of support for on premises installations of Verse. Well in Scott Souder’s session on Verse he asked the audience how many would like it on-prem, and damn near the entire audiences hands went up. The demand is there, and they said it will happen the second half of the year. That said, I’ll believe it when we have the code up and running in Development.
IBM also announced that they will be putting out a “freemium” model of Verse so normal consumers can use it as well. This is going directly against the likes of Gmail, and I think it’s a pretty bold move. Not sure it will get a huge uptake, but you never know.
As excited as we all are, we do have to remember that it’s still just a browser based email client. So I’m tempering my enthusiasm a bit, but still looking forward to getting my hands on it.
Fighting to Win
The next huge thing for me, was a story from Steve McDonagh. Mr. McDonagh’s company was contemplating moving 40,000 users to Google Apps. In order to avoid that, IBM had to combat Google on price, features and functionality. Apparently IBM really stepped up to the plate and fought for it, and in the end, won. Now it was a SmartCloud play, which is where IBM really wants you to go, so I can see why they fought so hard. That said, it’s still heartening to see IBM really fight.
Would they fight just as hard for my 600 on premises users? Not sure, but I’ll give them credit in this case.
The technical sessions… were technical
Even though some of them ended up full and having to turn away attendees, the consensus is that the technical content was much better than years past and had much less fluff. Room size and scheduling were still an issue, but if you wanted good deep technical content, you could find it. It wasn’t ALL marketing and HR speak. I would have like liked to see a little more on the admin side but I’ll still take it.
Thanks as always to the particular track managers who fight for good content. You know who you are.
There ARE IBMers who get it
I spoke to many truly passionate IBMers who feel the same way we do. They hate the lack of focus on the core products, they disliked the cheap direction this years conference took, want to see IBM Verse on premises, and really want to do the right thing. They exist and they are wonderful people, OUR people. Hopefully they survive job cuts and can continue to fight for us.
I’ll even give props to Jeff Schick who has said many of the right things at the conference. I just hope he can do some of them before he’s rotated out to some other division as happens all too often.
A Community Re-Energized
Some folks have talked about the energy at the conference, and it WAS really palpable. I’m not sure if it was just everyone trying to enjoy what might be the last hurrah or what, but it was there and it was real.
That’s the thing. I’ve been to other IBM conferences and have talked to others who attend them all the time, and I always hear and see the same thing. There is NO other IBM community out there quite like ours. We are actually the most social, in both the sense that we are all over social media AND all meet in the bar until it closes down.
If the OGS is bad, you’ll know immediately by the snark on Twitter. What did people take away from the show? Read their posts on Facebook and their blogs. Did people enjoy themselves? Look at all the pictures on flickr and Google+.
I hope IBM sees this somehow, and actually realizes that this group of users who have grown up on Groupware, knowledge management and now social business are really the ones doing the most with the products. Give us this type of conference, and talk about our software (Notes, Domino, Connections, Sametime, Verse etc.) and we will come, and we will spread the word.
We have ALWAYS been social, and we have always meant business.
I’ve seen a lot of folks who have written up their thoughts on ConnectED, and most are fairly positive. Me, not so much.
Don’t get me wrong, there were some good things, and I’ll get to those in another post, but my thoughts can be summed up in something I said all week.
“I came in and set the bar low, and IBM limboed right under it.”
Let’s do this as a list as well shall we?
- Having one hotel at $299 a night, with no official alternatives and no shuttles sucked for those who might not be able to spring for $299 for a hotel.
- Getting drink tickets with my badge was the first huge red flag that this was cost cutting in the highest degree. They relented, only after so many people, including myself, decried the choice all over social media.
- No pen or notepad in the bag.
- The Sunday night reception was pathetic. They packed everyone into a small space to give the illusion of a packed house. All we got was long lines, crappy food, and claustrophobia. And they couldn’t spring for some standup heaters outside… ugh.
- Having excellent technical sessions in the smallest rooms, and then turning away people once those rooms were full with no overflow and few repeats sucked. Especially when there were IBM sessions in big rooms with little to no audience.
- There was no ConnectED signage on the speaker podiums which just seemed weird.
- Going to an IBM presentation on the “future” of Domino only to have the first 50 minutes be rehashing what we already know doesn’t bode well for any actual future of the product. Hell, put a bullet in the head of the Notes client for all I care, but you should really keep Domino.
- While the OGS was better than some, there was still really no mention of the core products at all. Sure Verse runs on an NSF and they briefly showed Connections Next, but once again I want to know more about the core. They’ve been so bullish on Connections in the past, and now that we finally run it in house, it disappears.
- The Tuesday night party. I can see not being able to afford a park, and while that sucks, I thought having it at the beach might have been nice. Winds forced it into the Dolphin N. Hemisphere Ballrooms (where lunch was held) and as a good friend of mine tweeted “It was lunch with bad lighting.” The tables meant that people splintered into groups instead of mingling, the band was so loud when they were playing that it was hard to talk, and the food choices were minimal. I thought the Sunday night party was bad until I went to this.
- Scheduling still wasn’t great. I know that’s hard to do, but there were several slots where I wanted to see multiple things, and others where there was absolutely nothing of interest. In the past, more repeats made this an easier thing to deal with.
- Showing up to an 8AM session where the room was still configured as a lunch room with round tables. It had to be torn down and reconfigured, which meant a crowd standing around outside twiddling our thumbs for 15 minutes. Then once getting in, the AV guy had a hard time getting things on the screen. So another 15 minutes goes by. It was brutal. Did they not know the schedule? I mean, it was printed on my conference guide.
- And by the way, I missed the old conference guide that fit in the old badge holder.
- Oh, and the snacks one afternoon were M&M’s and gummy bears in large bowls. Apparently when they went to Staple’s for the drink tickets, they went next door to Walmart for the large bags of candy.
- There was no IBM store that I could find. No place to buy books, or swag or anything else. Isn’t that something they MAKE money on?
- The product showcase just felt so cramped to me, but it may have been better for vendors. I’ll leave them to say what they think.
- And yes, as petty as it is, the lack of a Pretzel Cookie was like kicking us while we were already down. It was just a final reminder that this conference was an afterthought, a contractual obligation.
So yeah, maybe I sound all doom and gloom, but when I pay that much for a conference, and pay that much for a hotel, I have some expectations. And to me, a lot of those really just fell short. There WERE some good things, and I’ll talk to those in another post.
I guess it comes down to this. As another friend said “If you are going to do this conference, do it right, or make it something else.” I agree. It can be something else, and somewhere else, as long as I can meet once a year with the people I love in this community. Despite the IBM blunders, I did enjoy myself and learned quite a bit. More on that soon.