Warning, long and rambling post ahead.

Its been almost a week now since IBM made me an IBM Champion for IBM Collaborative Solutions and it is just beginning to sink in. It is a fantastic honour and I am very humbled by it. I am a huge fan of Notes and XPages and am very impressed with what IBM has given us in terms of both the platform and their very significant contributions to OpenNTF.

I started with Notes in 1995 and have been blogging since 2008. I find blogging and commenting on Notes a difficult balance. When you are so passionate about something it can be very frustrating when you feel that it could be even better. It is my nature, and my professional background, that I always push for things to be better than they are, sometimes that is seen as a negative but at other times people appreciate the feedback. Sometimes I still get it wrong and am too flippant with my comments.

To be honest receiving the award did make me stop and think if I should be more “positive”. It coincided with a great experience of Notes with a customer which reminded me how powerful Notes is and also the experience of installing and using Notes on a brand new MAC.  The Notes on MAC experience was not so good.

Having thought about it a bit more I have decided that I should just be “me” but I should make more of an effort to take the time to tell my story about how I see Notes ( and IBMs wider collaboration solutions ) helping businesses manage costs, processes and knowledge but at the same time not to shirk away from saying what needs to be better too.

It has been a frustration of mine for some time that not enough is said about the huge value that the IBM collaboration solutions add to businesses around the world every day. Most of us who work with Notes are proud to be Geeks and we want to see the demos at the OGS ( remotely in my case unfortunately ) but the reality is that if Business Leaders do not understand what the IBM platform ( that they often already have ) can deliver then there will be no install base for us to deliver to. I guess it is for that reason that LotuSphere has become LotuSphere + Connect.

It will also be interesting to see how IBM positions XPages. I am an applications person at the end of the day. I can see that Connections and other Social collaborations tools will become increasingly important but a lot of business is about structured collaborative processes. Many of these processes are “sub enterprise” and at the departmental or site level – this is where, in my view, Notes and XPages are at their strongest. There is still no other application platform that can plug these sub enterprise collaborative requirements as well as Notes. I think that IBM lost sight of this and Microsoft won the email battle even though the war was about much more than email.

Which brings us to XPages. XPages has been revolutionary in terms of improving the solutions that we have been able to deliver. At work we are flat out building our XPage skills and delivering some fantastic applications. We only have a relatively small set of loyal customers and as a business owner I feared that we had reached saturation by having done all of the obvious things with Notes. XPages has totally changed that with customers who are on 853 and those who see value in bringing their own customers into their collaborative processes via the browser. About 30% of our work over the last year has also been with net new customers who don’t have “Notes”.

Being totally honest I have never quite understood why IBM gave us XPages. Don’t get me wrong I will be eternally grateful that they did but it did seem to come out of the blue. I’m guessing here but I suspect that its success took some at IBM by surprise. Long before XPages an IBMer said to me – “Nothing in IBM is allowed to be a failure – it gets recycled into a success” – XPages is certainly a success. The next question is how does IBM position it ?

I understand that “Social” is important and that it is a wave worth riding but I can’t be the only one who is uncomfortable with the “Social” label – actually I know that I am not because my mainly industrial customers are uncomfortable with that label too. They are all for collaboration but their main need is for structured workflow and knowledge management processes  that deliver and demonstrate control of processes and knowledge. Having said that Activity Streams have huge potential and IBM is delivering tools to integrate XPages with Connections for just that reason.

How would I like to see IBM position XPages ?

I have heard IBM describe XPages as the “framework for building collaborative social business applications” – that is much to narrow.

XPages will certainly be a great platform to build the structured business process that will follow and compliment the more free form Social processes but it is not just about social.

I have no idea if it is technically feasible but I hope to see XPages in WebSphere and on every other IBM platform. I would love to see IBM throw their weight behind it as “the” IBM collaborative development platform. By all means leverage the “Social” buzz but also recognise that there is a demand for collaborative applications from people who do not see their need as “social” or who, and perhaps I am one of them, misunderstand what IBM means by social.

Actually I do think I understand what IBM means by Social – its essentially people working together – which is what collaboration is – but I still find the label uncomfortable and my customers even more so.

Anyway, I have rambled on even more than ever, and probably caused a few IBM people to wonder why I was made a champion. I am very pleased that they did make me a champion and I am looking forward to telling all who will listen ( I’m impressed if anyone still listening now ! ) as many good business success stories around IBM collaboration as I can find.