What's in a name? That which we call Notes
by any other company name would smell as sweet;
So Notes would, were it not IBM call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which it owes
Without that title. 

Ok, perfection may be a stretch, but there is no denying the significance Notes has had in the collaboration market over the last 30 years, both in terms of email, applications, offline support, security, and more. It’s no secret that Lotus Notes (Plato Notes? VAX Notes?), I mean IBM Notes has played a vital role in my professional life, so I greet this week’s announcement from IBM and HCL with both nostalgia and hope.

Before we begin, let's look back at some key timeline events:
1982 - Lotus Development Corporation was founded
1984 - Iris Associates was founded
1989 - Iris released Notes v1
1994 - Lotus acquired Iris
1995 - IBM acquired Lotus for $3.5B
1996 - The server was renamed Domino (v4.5)
1998 - IBM acquired Databeam and Ubique which together would form the foundation of Sametime
2007 - IBM Lotus Connections v1 (built on WebSphere, not Domino)
2017 - IBM partnered with HCL for the development of Notes and Domino, with IBM retaining Sales and Marketing
2018 - IBM and HCL release Notes/Domino v10 (after quite a gap since v9)
2018 - IBM sells the collaboration portfolio of Notes/Domino, Connections and WebSphere Portal to HCL for $1.8B, essentially exiting the collaboration software market
2019 - sometime in 2019 the IBM era of Notes/Domino will end and HCL Notes/Domino (unless they rename it) will begin

BONUS: Take a look at this wonderful Highlights of LotuSphere video produced by Bruce Bordett

The News
Dec. 6, 2018 IBM and HCL announced a definitive agreement under which HCL will acquire select IBM software products for $1.8 billion. 
  • Appscatn for secure application development,
  • BigFix for secure device management,
  • Unica (on-premise) for marketing automation,
  • Commerce (on-premise) for omni-channel eCommerce,
  • Portal (on-premise) for digital experience,
  • Notes & Domino for email and low-code rapid application development, and
  • Connections for workstream collaboration.
I’ll focus on the last three items: Notes/Domino, Connections and Portal, and how this announcement differs from the initial 2017 partnership between IBM and HCL.
  • 2017 announcement: The deal was limited to Notes/Domino, Sametime, and Verse
  • 2018 announcement: Notes/Domino and Verse, Sametime, Connections, WebSphere Portal

MyPOVThe original deal focused only on the Domino-based platform, leaving the WebSphere based products with IBM. Now HCL will take over Connections and Portal as well. HCL executive Jason Roy Gary was one of the architects behind rebuilding Connections using a more modern modular architecture (a project codenamed Pink). When he left for HCL, the future of Connections was uncertain. With Connections now falling under his management again, it will be interesting to see where HCL places their focus and prioritization.

I believe customers benefit from unified/seamless experiences between products. When Notes/Domino and Connections were “separated” I was concerned about the future of integration between the two platforms. With HCL now owning both, it will be easier for them to develop a platform that can compete against the likes of Microsoft SharePoint.

However, the flip side is that when the two were separated, it appeared HCL would be able to direct all their focus on rejuvenating the rapid application development features of Notes/Domino, leaving IBM to focus on the social/collaboration features of Connections.

Many customers and partners struggled with the complexity of Connections based on its WebSphere architecture and preferred the simplicity of Domino. Will HCL continue both product lines given their architectural differences? Will they have the resources to develop, market and sell both?

It’s important to note that IBM Watson Workspace is not mentioned in this deal, most likely signalling the end of this product.

  • 2017 announcement: IBM retained responsibility for sales, marketing and product management while HCL took over the development of Notes/Domino.
  • 2018 announcement: HCL will completely own all aspects of the product line.
MyPOVUnder the original terms, HCL had a responsibility to deliver specific things to IBM, but was additionally free to innovate Notes/Domino on their own. An example is the work they are doing on HCL Places, which many speculate could replace the Notes client. While the pace of delivery of V10 was excellent under HCL, there were still limitations based on the alliance with IBM. As the standalone owner, it should be much simpler for HCL to focus unencumbered by IBM.
  • 2017 announcement: Organizations were customers of IBM
  • 2018 announcement: Organizations will eventually become customers of HCL, purchasing licenses, maintenance renewals and support from HCL
MyPOV: Previously HCL was mainly a services company. How will they evolve to include sales and marketing functions? How much staff from IBM will be coming over to handle those roles?


Other Questions:

  • What does this mean for the business partner community? Will those who previously worked with IBM be seamlessly transitioned to a similar HCL Partner Program? What will this program offer in terms of training, go to market assistance, pipeline generation and more?
  • Will HCL acquire any of the leading business partner products that provide additional functionality to Notes/Domino, Sametime, Connections and WebSphere Portal?
  • Previously customers engaged with IBM via events like IBM Think. Will HCL partner with IBM and hold “sub-events” tied to IBM, or will HCL start their own stand-alone events?
  • Will HCL seize this milestone as an opportunity to rebrand any of the existing products? While the old names provide heritage, they also carry with them some negative baggage. Is it better to leverage the past, or try something new?
  • What is the fate of IBM's Talent Management / Learning portfolio?
  • IBM no longer saw these products as strategic to their current focus in areas like AI (Watson), security (blockchain) and IoT.  
  • I was never comfortable with the 2017 “half-way" deal around Notes/Domino, as it seemed like an awkward arrangement that was not exactly what either side wanted. Now that HCL will be in complete control of these product lines, I think they will be able to evolve and innovate unencumbered by IBM.
  • Customers knew and understood IBM. They had relationships will account teams, often spanning much more than just collaboration software. HCL will be completely new to many of them. Will customers and partners stay, or will this be an opportunity to migrate to a competitor? 
  • My biggest concern is that the HCL portfolio is now back to containing the Notes/Domino family, Connections and WebSphere Portal. When it was just ND I was optimistic about their focus, but now will that be diluted across the three areas, or will they be able to capitalize on email + rapid application development + social/collaboration/communities + digital experiences (internal intranets and external websites) better than IBM did?
For additional information, it’s worth looking back at my thoughts on the original HCL partnership and the highlights of the Notes/Domino 10 launch.