It’s a couple of days late (been a busy week !), but Tuesday the 28th was my 4 year anniversary of joining “Big Blue” (aka IBM).
Given it was during the Dot.com era I joined, I honestly didn’t expect to stay with IBM past about 2 years – that was the longest I’d ever been with one company before that.
So far I’ve managed just over 3 years with the WebSphere brand of IBM, and of course, this year I’m working for the Lotus brand. I think that change has given me a new energy for the job. I really like the Lotus attitude towards business, and the technical team in Lotus here in Australia are a bunch of really great people who are very passionate about what they do, and make it fun to work here.
From what I understand of what Lotus used to be like, I can still see elements of that same stubborn independence and unique attitude, so many years after the acquisition by IBM. In fact, I’ve even seen changes within IBM itself that fit more closely with who Lotus were – the jokes turned out to be more true than many would realise … little ol’ Lotus pulled a “reverse takeover” of big blue IBM … to a certain extent.
Lotus has benefitted enormously from the takeover by IBM, as they have been bankrolled by an innovative company with very deep pockets, allowing them to capitalise on their own expertise (with a lot of help from the talented people at IBM) and create winning products and technologies.
The biggest challenge faced by Lotus right now is not from external competition (competition is still there as strong as ever, but it’s really nothing new), but rather from a change in direction and new frontiers.
I’m referring to the Lotus Workplace platform – the next generation enterprise collaboration solution that’s about to take the world by storm. Most of the Lotus people “at the coal face” still don’t fully realise what’s about to hit them.
I’m referring to the pace of change that is shockingly fast, and for a company that has a very mature and stable product family, they simply aren’t used to dealing with such massive advances in technology over such a short time frame.
I’m fortunate in having started at IBM in the WebSphere brand – I saw the rapid growth of WebSphere Application Server, the momentum really didn’t start to kick in until around v4.0, and it’s been a heck-of-a-ride since then. WebSphere Application Server v6 is about to be released and it will emerge to find itself the number one Application Server of choice in enterprises worldwide with very high expectations, especially as the foundation layer for a lot of other products from elsewhere in IBM.
One such product is, of course, WebSphere Portal Server, which is now a Lotus managed product (hence my move into Lotus at the beginning of this year). I think it’s something like 7 (or 8 ) major product releases in the space of around 3 years. We are currently on 6 month product cycles for WebSphere Portal. That’s major new functionality every 6 months.
Product cycles used to be more like 3 years. The dot.com era brought that down to less than 18 months for the more mature products. Notes and Domino are now on 12 month product cycles (which in itself is a bit of a shock for some people). And of course, the new Lotus Workplace platform, which is built on top of WebSphere Portal, inherits the same 6 month product cycles and incredibly hectic development plan.
In the last 3 years IBM have taken the Portal world by storm, coming from nowhere (we had “Portal” products, around 7 of them actually, but none of them were really getting any momentum), to the clear market leader in this space. In order to maintain our position in the face of some quite innovative (and stubborn) opposition, we have had to lead the charge into new technologies and invent for ourselves, what most of the industry now takes for granted thanks to our investments in R&D.
I’ve heard that IBM’s R&D budget for the Portal / Workplace family of products is higher than the gross revenues than most of our competitors. Let me rephrase that… we spend more money every year developing these products, than the majority of our competitors actually make in gross income. That’s a pretty phenomenal exercise, and I hope will help people understand just how much impact these products are having.
It should also help you understand exactly why we’ve been so incredibly busy over the last couple of months, and why we’re going to continue to be busy until the end of the year and beyond.
It’s an exciting time, but you can see how shell-shocked many people from the “old” Lotus are … they’ve never had products quite like this before. There’s a lot of new technology to learn about, and by the time they start to master it, it’s all changed with the next version of the product.
At least we seem to be giving the marketplace what they are asking for (that’s usually a good thing, and is one of the positive outcomes of actually listening to your customers !!), and there is a huge amount of interest in these new technologies, which makes the efforts worthwhile.
So, while I didn’t expect to still be here at IBM after 4 years, the wild-ride is really just getting started, so I think I’ll hang-on for a while longer and enjoy the rush.