On Oct 25th, IBM announced that they are transferring the development and support of Notes, Domino, Verse and Sametime (plus a few other products in this family) to HCL Technologies. For a better part of the last decade IBM has not prioritized these products, instead directing their focus on IBM Connections and the new Watson Workspace products. The goal of this partnership is to reinvigorate the Domino-based family by putting it in the hands of a dedicated team that will have the necessary resources (money and people) to properly continue the development. While IBM has not released a new major version of Domino since 2013 (there have been fix packs), HCL currently plans on releasing Domino 10 in 2018. IBM will maintain the core sales and marketing efforts, but HCL will be allowed to do their own additional marketing, and they can even extend the portfolio with new products. For customers, nothing should change. Support calls will still go to IBM, and the HCL employees working on the resolution will access IBM's support systems.
My advice to IBM/HCL would be to not call the next version Domino 10. Instead, separate out the email component of Verse, then rebrand the application development aspect of Domino as something new. (I sarcastically blogged about this almost a decade ago.) The email market is dominated today by Microsoft and Google, but the low code application development market has no dominant player. If HCL can create a platform to complete against Microsoft PowerApps, Google Application Builder, Salesforce Lightning, Zoho Creator, Quickbase, Outsystems and others then it could become a serious contender in this market. I get pitches every week for new products that can't do a fraction of what Notes could do a decade ago. However to be successful, ecosystem is key. Let me say that again, ecosystem is key. One more time, ecosystem is key.
Ecosystem involves a few things:
- Business Partners. The key word being partner. HCL needs to treat partners like equals, make them feel valued, and reward them appropriately.
- 3rd party integration. It's not enough to make a good (or even the best) stand-alone platform, today you have to have deep integration with the most common business applications
- Developer support: Example applications. Code samples. Documentation. Certification.
- Community. Both online and in person. Forums and events. Large official conferences (HCLSphere?) down to smaller geography and industry events. Customer want to feel like they are part of something big, they don't want to feel like the last person on the ship as it goes down.
As someone who started with Lotus Notes and Domino in 1993, I feel quite a personal connection to this announcement. In my current profession as an industry analyst covering the collaboration market, I get very few inquires about Notes/Domino. However, I do know it's more popular in some parts of Europe and Asia than it is in North America. The Notes/Domino journey has gone from Iris to Lotus to IBM to HCL. I look forward to seeing what HCL will now do with the portfolio, but we know it takes a lot more than just a product to be successful.