Let’s start with an old joke:

Q. How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: One, but the lightbulb has to want to change.

This, in essence, is the problem with collaboration software adoption. The technology keeps improving, with more choices and better design. Unfortunately, adoption is held back due to resistance to change, even beneficial change. 

This challenge was front and center at IBM Connect 2016.

Moving Forward and ...

At IBM Connect 2016 in Orlando, Fla. this year, IBM announced and demonstrated what could be one of the most innovative collaboration and communication suites. The next generation collaboration suite will combine all of a knowledge worker’s and team’s collaboration tools and conversations, in one place.

For the individual knowledge worker, IBM demonstrated a new, unified home page for IBM Verse, IBM’s forward looking email and calendaring software, and IBM Connections, its enterprise social network. The new landing page places related tasks, content, meetings and messages in stacks of cards so that an end-user can access all the information they need on a subject from one interface.

IBM does the same for teams with Project Toscana. It promises to collect the conversations, files and other communications that are now spread across several applications into one place. Project Toscana also adds persistent conversations, very similar to the type of functionality found in enterprise chat applications.

The integration with IBM Watson, the cognitive computing platforms, will offer big gains in productivity by automating the retrieval of information. For example, Watson can suggest answers to questions that are asked in a conversation that would typically require research. This is especially helpful when traveling, when spending time pouring through online and internal resources is not practical. Watson is also proactive, placing suggested unsolicited answers to questions right in the activity stream for a knowledge worker to see up front, saving even more time.

Even better, Watson is the foundation of a smart personal assistant. Unlike conventional personal assistants such as Cortana, Siri or Google Now, Watson analyzes content within communications to automate common processes. It can look at an email, for example, and extract an implicit task request.

Another strong feature is Watson’s ability to scan an email for words and phrases that are likely to get you into trouble. This helps keep the angry email from ruining a career or general harshness in communications from inhibiting healthy relationships. Many managers would pay good money to enable this feature for their team.

Without a doubt, IBM has created a better lightbulb and it is time to change the old one. However …

Looking Backward

A quick walk on the IBM Connect 2016 expo floor reveals a big challenge. The IBM ecosystem — channel partners especially — have built their businesses on the existing IBM Notes and Domino platforms. Few of the displays or demonstrations at the expo showed anything to do with IBM Verse. Most were still touting their IBM Notes add-ons, integrations and services. Some would talk about a commitment to the IBM Verse product, but few were willing to show that commitment a full year after IBM Verse was announced.

Customers were saying the same thing. Many admit that IBM Verse, built using the new IBM design thinking methodology, is superior. They just aren’t ready to move forward with migrating to the new software when the old software works fine. Few customers even spoke about thinking of moving to IBM Verse in the future.

This is, unfortunately, a problem of IBM’s making, though it comes from a good place. IBM consistently speaks of its commitment to its customers. Its content talks extensively about choice. That means choosing the old ways instead of the new and better one. It encourages the conservative impulse in IT professionals to not “fix something that ain’t broke.” 

The problem with this attitude is that email is broken and IBM is offering a fix, while at the same time giving them cover to do nothing. And doing nothing is doing an active disservice to end-users.

Others have this problem as well. This is why Oracle has multiple versions of many enterprise applications available. None of these large software vendors wants to give a customer an excuse to look at a competitor’s offerings so they hesitate to push them toward new, modern and better products. The lightbulb doesn’t want to change and no one wants to make it do so, even if it would be helpful.

IBM has built a great new social email communication product in IBM Verse. The new home page and Project Toscana take it up a few notches. 

Unfortunately, it is creating innovative software for an ultraconservative ecosystem and customer base. Ultimately, the ecosystem hurt IBM’s customers. Their customers are, by insisting on keeping their communication platform the same, hurting themselves as well. 

Maybe it’s time for IBM to stage an intervention.

Title image "S O S" (CC BY 2.0) by  Leimenide