Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Do You Bleed Yellow?

I've been thinking about evangelism a lot lately, mostly as it pertains to my livelihood...that is, what I do for a living every day. I've been working with Lotus technologies for over 10 years now and I have to wonder sometimes if I need to be looking at other things. I'm certainly not adverse to learning new technologies. In fact, I think it is a great idea to expand your horizons. However, I'm passionate about Lotus because I've seen the transformative effect it can have when used correctly. Microsoft understands the benefits of evangelism. In fact, they have people with this job title...how cool is that! They embrace their community of outspoken advocates and I have to pause and wonder why IBM doesn't seem to do the same.

Merriam-Webster defines an evangelist as "an enthusiastic advocate". I think it is fair to say that many of us in the blogging community (not just those who blog, but those who read and comment as well) are "enthusiastic advocates". In my case, I consider it a personal mission inside my company to "spread the gospel" that is Lotus Notes. It was this zeal that led me to get involved with blogging, take a chance on presenting at professional conferences (despite my fear of public speaking) and basically spend a lot of my free time trying to give back to the community. At work, I started the "Lotus Notes Power Hour", which was a volunteer effort to help people become more proficient with using the Lotus Notes client.

So the reason I've been giving this a lot of thought is the changing nature of the environment at work and what I see out in the business community at large. As many of you know, my company is in the midst of a large merger with a former competitor and with that brings many challenges. One of those challenges is that our technology landscape is morphing and I'm not sure what part Lotus technology will play in that space. Certainly we are evaluating the messaging platform, but this decision then tends to lead to a more thorough examination of the nature of collaboration within the group. Already we have been told that we want to start focusing our energies on building web-based applications (which is something we already do but usually make them client facing as well) and that leaves prospects for bringing in Notes 8 fairly bleak. It's in this time of uncertainly where it becomes even more important to be a "Lotus Evangelist" (boy I'd love to have that as a real job title!). What would thrill me would be some heavy-duty support to go along with my personal drive.

I'd really love to see Lotus reaching out more to the technical community to empower us to fight the good fight. I hate to use them as an example, but Microsoft has a great program called the Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional). Now just the title itself conveys the idea that "hey...these Microsoft guys think I'm alright". MVPs are "exceptional technical community leaders from around the world who are awarded for voluntarily sharing their high quality, real world expertise in offline and online technical communities. Microsoft MVPs are a highly select group of experts that represents the technical community's best and brightest, and they share a deep commitment to community and a willingness to help others." What an awesome thing to aspire to! I visit several forums and websites that are not IBM/Lotus related (Tablet PCs for one) and it is clear that the MVPs who participate have a wide breadth of knowledge and tools made available to them as a result of the program. They have subscriptions to MSDN, a relationship service that allows them to gain access to other users within and outside of Microsoft and even the MVP Global Summit.

Now I may be completely off base, but I don't know of a similar program from Lotus. I know they provide a lot of support to business partners, but there are still many more of us out here that want to help get the message out. There are wonderful resources like OpenNTF, the Taking Notes podcast and others that are great examples of evangelism in action. Wouldn't it be incredible to see some serious commitment to these efforts from Lotus? How can we help them help us? Even within IBM itself, wouldn't you like to see more people with the title of "Lotus Evangelist"? A quick search on Google reveals 43,000 hits for "microsoft evangelist" (many more if you exclude the quotes) but only 28 for "lotus evangelist" and 237 for "ibm evangelist". Hmmm, that's quite a disconnect. Is it indicative of the industry as a whole? I often tell people that I "bleed yellow", but should I worry about hemorrhaging?

Don't get me wrong. I think many of the things Lotus and IBM have been doing lately are definitely steps in the right direction...giving Mary Beth Raven and her team such prominence in the design of Notes 8, using her blog to reach out to the community during the development process, Bob Balaban wanting to make Notes a "kick-ass appdev platform again". But...these are mostly efforts within IBM/Lotus itself. By enlisting the aid of the loyal masses, I think they could help make Bob's dream a reality in a much more profound and far-reaching way.

What do you think?

23 comments:

Joanne said...

Excellent post!! As a die-hard Notes fan/developer, I appreciate this post and completely agree with you!! Thank you for perfectly capturing what I'm sure many people think/feel!! I'd like to say, "I couldn't have said it better myself", but in all seriousness, I really couldn't have! (My version: "LONG LIVE NOTES!")

Dragon said...

And here was I thinking that Ed was the leading IBM Evangelist.

I'm always promoting the benefits of Lotus Software. Mainly to those who have never used it properly. r who have a nice 7 client installed, but are still running with a 4.6 mail template (Don't ask!)

I have a huge banner on my office wall. You know the graphic. Lotus Notes; Yeah, it can do that too.

Thomas Bahn said...

I must and want agree totally.

IBM seems to have hired some valuable Notes/Domino related persons like Rocky Oliver, Bob Balaban, Steve Castledine etc. lately (last year or so). This is a start. But since many strong supporters (like you) are employed by IBM customers, they could not advance in this track a lot further.

And given the amount of money IBM spends on business partners and sales events, a program for ILEs (IBM Lotus Evangelists) would be really cheap, but effective, I presume. What about 50 ILEs world-wide. Giving them some benefits (free conferences, free calls to IBM internal sources, promoting a network of ILEs), say worth USD 5,000 a year per person, this would result in USD 250,000. Ridiculous for IBM!

Another effect could be a kind of competition between possible ILEs. Certainly, this would'nt too bad for the community, would it? ;-)

The question is: Who has to be convinced at IBM to make this real?

Ed Brill, do you read this? :-)

Thomas
http://www.assono.de/blog.nsf/

Nathan T. Freeman said...

*ahem*

http://www.alanlepofsky.net/alepofsky/alanblog.nsf/dx/About-Me

Keil Wilson said...

Maybe I'm a bit dim, but I don't get that link Nathan.

Ed said...

Nathan's point is that Alan's job is, in part, to be a Lotus evangelist. He has had that title in the past.

It's my job to run the Notes business from a sales perspective, but clearly part of that job is evangelism, too.

I'll comment more on this in a day or so...still digging out a pile of topics for this week

--Ed

Chris Whisonant said...

Hey, now with Notes 8 when people respond with "Lotus, isn't that a spreadsheet program? We used to use that." then you can respond with "Yes, it's a spreadsheet application and much more!" :)

Good post. Hope to see you at The View.

Keil Wilson said...

By the way Chris, you and I are in similar situations right now. I've also been thinking a lot about this topic. I really feel like I'm lacking the resources I need to combat the FUD and make the case for Notes. One of the problems I recognized is that the facts of the case are constantly changing. So there are no definitive answers or analysis. For example, Ed's "So the boss loves Microsoft" presentation is very useful at the time it's given, but becomes dated very quickly as product features continue to evolve. I've thought that a blog might be a good tool for collecting new information about product benefits and comparisons as new releases arrive and product features change. In the last three months I have gathered together a large amount of information comparing features, maintenance, licensing, and usability, but heck, some of that is out of date already. So I think that one component of this evangelistic effort needs to be some collective effort to stay up to date with product information and comparative analysis of Notes and competing products.

Chris Blatnick said...

@Nathan...very true. Alan is an evangelist, as is Ed. Still that only makes two truly visible guys and they both work for the company. I'm talking more about those of us that don't work for IBM or a business partner. Clearly there is a possibility for us to help the mission. It would be great if Lotus helped arm us for battle! :-)

@Thomas...exactly...basically a Lotus version of the MVP program. Could be very cool!

@Chris...I'll be there. Make sure you track me down.

Chris Blatnick said...

@Keil...well said. This is definitely an issue that is hard to follow.

KB said...

I can safely say that not only has this group existing for many years, it still exists, in a few different formats.
I know because I was one for Lotus EMEA.
They might be called or still are any of the following: Technology Advocates, IT Specialists, SWAT team members, Lotus Product Evangelist.
The problem is, at least when I was inside, was the US group sometimes was more marketing than technical. While the reverse could be said of the EMEA team, at times.
Being an American and working both sides of the pond was hard enough but if you can balance the marketing/sales with technical astuteness you can win over customers no matter where you are based.
And to Thomas, we usually spoke at conferences so it's not a fee issue. However travel was excessive, 20 hour days were common, 6 days a week if not 7 and we usually were higher levels within IBM/Lotus thus moe benefits/pay/etc.Well that's what they told me :-)
Still I would gladly do it again if I got called back for another tour.
Knowing what to say is easy, knowing when to say it is another. Improvisation is the key.
Just my 2 cents.
I am available for corporate parties and high level entaglements of the MS kind.

Thomas Bahn said...

That is exactly not, what I have proposed. I think, we need highly visible super heros outside of IBM.

I have written more about my opinion in my blog:
http://www.assono.de/blog.nsf/d6plinks/TBAN-72MFNP

Thomas Bahn
tbahn@assono.de
http://www.assono.de/blog.nsf/

Russ said...

We are going through a similar technical upheaval, though not due to a merger. I'd love to be able to "fight the good fight" better than I am currently able (though my situation is further hampered in that I work remotely and so don't have regular access to decision makers). The Quickr demo that was released recently was a nice evangelism tool and easy for me to send around. I'd love to see more of this type of thing from IBM as well as the types of extra-IBM evangelism that has already been mentioned.

Gregg Eldred said...

In addition to the MVP program, the other thing that MS has going for it is colleges and universities that specifically teach to their software (SQL, VB, MCSE, etc.) and there is nothing like it in the Lotus world. MS is creating their own demand.

Nice post, Chris.

Keil Wilson said...

Russ, that's a good suggestion. The Notes 8 demo was similarly cool. It was a good way to show people how the new technology and features could benefit them w/out making them install a beta client and play. The Notes 8 one was well done and had a very professional feel to it (I haven't seen the Quickr one yet).

Gregg, the suggestion that we need to get Notes "into the classroom" has been floated on Ed's blog for quite some time. I'm not saying I disagree with it, but I'd bet it's not as simple as just making the software available. Doing this would be a huge program in itself and something that IBM would want, and need to have, control over (as opposed to having non-employee evangelists lead out).

dogu said...

Chris,

This is a bit of a ramble and moves away from your core point, but it may be of interest anyway (and it's a blog, I'll rant all I want bwaa haa haaaa, oh wait, sorry, that was Gozar, he's gone).

I've found myself in a couple of these kinds of fights. What won the day for me was a few things.
A) Application mass - there was just enough mission critical stuff in place that the cost of doing a rip and replace (with the potential disruption of business) eventually scared off the dark side.
B) Happy users - my apps have always been pretty ugly (form,view,buttons) but dammit, they work and, because I make an effort to actually understand the business we're in) they fit the business need. I also provide excellent response to change requests and IT usually doesn't (I am not IT). My users pushed back when word started to filter around that Notes was going away.
C) Serendipity - I think the IT guys just had too much on their plate to push the issue. Part of their reluctance to fight harder had, I think, to do with the fact we're regulated by the FDA and they didn't want to get into all of the V&V&documentationCrap required.

Would IMB have helped? Probably not much. We are a Smb (emphasis on the S), we buy and hold seats rather than rent, and are a really limited sales opportunity for IBM. They're not going to send out any heavy hitters for a no $$ account. I've worked sales, I get it and accept it.

What if I was an NSF (Notes Super Freak)? If the change makers don't buy into Notes, no credentials I bring will add anything to the discussion.

What to do?
Can you identify anyone at the decision making level who IS a Notes fan who can push back on your behalf?
Is there anybody in the new owner world who has used and liked Notes in another life?
Have you met anyone in the new group who has a problem you can solve with Notes? Man, go after that problem like a bad tooth - build a solution in a day and show how fast you can fix problems with Notes. Sell Notes to the new folks like your life depended on it (it doesn't but I know it feels like it does).

Use IBM. You guys are NOT SMBs so get those folks in blue into your IT office pronto. They should be seeing the potential lost business and be killing themselves on your behalf.

I can't figure out how to make the point with our IT group. They see Notes and think 'one app'. Big deal, one guy, one app, yawn. What they are not understanding is that that one guy is managing 3 servers, 400 users, 50 templates, and about 300 applications, change control, documentation, roll-out, degugging, new designs, design updates, AND he goes home on time every night, doesn't work nights, doesn't work weekends, and gets to take a real vacation without the need to dial in every 10 minutes to fix the problem-of-the-second. Maybe Notes just makes it look too easy so how much of a tool can it be?

More to your point, I think some kind of Notes guru designation coming from IBM is an awesome idea.

Hang in dude - change sucks but isn't always bad (and NH is still here...floods are over, black flies haven't hatched, sweet!)

Doug

William said...

Yeah, Chris, so I don't know anything about your work, but there's no doubt your blog is popular and does justice to your superior intellect and intelligence =). I'm not your target audience but I listened to the podcast-didn't understand a word-but it sounds pretty sweet. I can see it now, a Rush Limbaugh of interface design radio. Kudos Chris!

Gregg Eldred said...

Sorry, but I have given this a little more thought.

I am beginning to think that we (those of us in the blogosphere) know what is going on with Lotus, and are extremely well informed. But those that aren't, well, I have no idea where they get their information. Yes, internally, we have to 'evangelize.' But (and I am not knowledgeable in this) I don't think that Lotus/IBM (or the BPs), when they get in front of customers, tout the breadth and depth of the on-line evangelists. I maintain that while we are a loosely organized group, there are some amazing people blogging, podcasting, etc., out there. Look at the whole 'Show-n-Tell Thursday' effort. Simply awesome.

I guess that what I am getting at, and I am probably wrong, is that IBM seems to rely a lot on their BPs, ISVs, and customers to evangelize. While they may have their own, internal evangelists, those people are so overworked, or only get introduced into the larger accounts, that most companies never see them.

Further, why are we always on the defensive? Why are we continually justifying our existance as compared to Microsoft? Why does this occur? Can it be fixed? What will it take? (These are pretty big questions, and I am not looking for the answers, if there are any. I'm just asking) :-)

If you answer "wait for Notes 8," then people, like Chris Blatnick, may not be around. They've moved on or were forced out. "Notes 8 is great, and it was what we really needed, but my company moved to MS. Where were you in 2000? 2003? 2006?" Again, if the answer was "we were waiting for a new/better platform (read:Eclipse) or we didn't think that the UI needed changing earlier than 2007" well, guess what? I couldn't wait. It's not like Lotus/IBM didn't know that the UI lacked . . . charm (?). After every release there are those that want the next iteration to have a better user experience. It finally looks like 2007 will be that year.

But how many companies will never get the benefit because they have chosen a different path? Where were the evangelists then?

I think I'm done now. :-D

Keil Wilson said...

I agree with Gregg, an important part of evangelism is reminding customers that they've made the right decision. It's building loyalty. People have a natural tendency to wonder if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. I've worked with several companies in my area who were just not getting the kind of customer relationship management that would keep them from wondering about that tasty looking grass in the next pasture over.

It occurs to me that any shop using Windows as their server platform is likely to have an built-in MS evangelist as their network admin, especially in SMBs. This is a person who's telling their boss that, on top of their current duties, they can handle installing and managing Exchange and Outlook. "Heck, we're already paying for all the licenses we'd need anyway," they'd say. "We can try it out for free, basically." Then they can get rid of Notes, all of its licensing costs and the expensive personnel that's required to work with it. (Maybe this scenario is hitting too close to home for me ;)) That's what we're up against on a constant basis. Too bad I'm just recognizing this now.

Jack said...

Chris, I think something along an MVP would be a good idea. The Lotus Ed channel use to recognize significant contributors--which was pretty nice and allowed certified professionals and training centers to flag their bragging rights. The upside is that anyone who has been recognized tends to do more to promote IBM/Lotus. The downside has been that the employer isn't always excited about someone on their staff being singled out for excellence.

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