Monday, May 10, 2010

UC Summit 2010 -- Part III -- IBM

This is my final post on the UC Summit 2010 Conference.  To see my other conference observations largely focused on the Cisco keynote and the key UC2 value proposition for providers and customers, see my two earlier posts.

Part I -- Everything Old is New Again
Part II -- CEBP

In this post, I'll wrap up my coverage of the conference with a look at IBM's presence there.  Like the other major conference sponsors, IBM was allotted a keynote presenter slot.  Bruce Morse did a great job presenting.  Most of the content appeared to be a rehash of his presentation to business partners at Lotusphere, which for me was repeat, but since most of this audience came from traditional telecom, it was good material.

What stood out to me though was the introduction provided by Jim Burton.  Before introducing Bruce Morse for his keynote, Jim Burton asked the audience a few questions.  First he asked, "how many of you are familiar with the Sametime product offerings."  I'm fairly certain that the only hands raised in the audience were by the two other IBM business partners there and other IBMers in the audience.  Second, he asked, "How many of you know that Sametime will integrate with a Microsoft Exchange environment, and that 1/3 of the customers for Sametime the last two years have been Microsoft shops?"  The same hands raised.  Not explicitly stated in Jim's question, but sure felt in the undertone, was "I know you think Lotus Notes sucks, but don't worry, Sametime doesn't require Lotus Notes.

I said in my last post, I would follow-up on the "IBM marketing sucks" meme in a future post--well, here goes.  Actually, I don't think IBM marketing sucks.  I've been pretty psyched about the Lotus Knows marketing concept.  I've been concerned that the marketing campaign does not show the products, and so it does nothing to combat what I see as the #1 problem for the Lotus brand in the market--that the average consumer's image of Lotus is based on outdated versions of their products--products that IT administrators loved for their security, scalability and reliability, but that end-users hated for their lack of attention to usability.  But, I'm not a marketer, and I'm willing to accept the data Lotus has provided back that those exposed to the marketing campaign have an extremely positive turn around in their opinion regarding Lotus.

That said, I have not encountered a great turnaround in market perception of the brand.  I still frequently encounter a lot of the "Lotus sucks" attitude that was directed at Howard Stern recently and blogged about by Ed Brill.

So what is the issue?  This marketing campaign, however cleverly conceived and effective in small sample markets, will not succeed if it is not widely deployed.  Besides the general criticism of all the vendors in the UC2 space, IBM clearly has marketing issues specific to it as demonstrated at this conference.  During his presentation, Bruce Morse asked how many people had seen the "Lotus Knows" ads.  Fewer people raised their hands than to Jim Burton's question about Sametime.  Someone at IBM should truly be ashamed that after having such a great family of products in market for over 10 years, this is the response at a major industry event.  After what, three years in market, there wasn't a person in that audience that wasn't aware of Microsoft OCS, and Microsoft didn't even send a keynote speaker to the conference.  Someone at IBM needs to open up the purse string and spend the money until the average person we run into on the street has heard "Lotus Knows" as frequently as they've heard a duck quacking "AFLAC".

OK, enough on my rant. I want to congratulate the IBM team that was there.  I did have several conversations with attendees who, after attending IBM sessions, were truly impressed with what Sametime has to offer.  Like the Howard Stern taunters who changed their tune when they saw what Lotus now has to offer, so did many at this conference.  But touching a handful of people here and there is not enough for Lotus to reach a tipping point and change the widely held public perception of the brand.

Other clear wins for IBM were the exhibits by ShoreTel and NEC of their integrations with Foundations Reach.  These offerings clearly turned heads at the conference, and these telephony partners advertising their offerings can only have a mutiplier effect on the number of potential customers who can see how cool Lotus technology can be.  (On a side note, I hope we don't find Foundations out of the Lotus brand in the future--I truly believe it could be the spear tip back into the SMB mainstream.  For that to happen, we need things like trade-up and trade-in licensing options for customers to move to Foundations.)

One last theme from the conference was the importance that social software will have in the unified communications field in the future.  Obviously this gives IBM another advantage in this space given the great success of Lotus Connections.  This year's IBM presentation at the conference was focused on Sametime.  Next year it may be a good idea to have Alistair Rennie at the conferencing presenting the full Lotus portfolio. 

I can't complete my postings on this conference though without my favorite thing learned--if you want to win brownie points with Bruce Morse at dinner, be sure to bring him to a place that serves the still-beating heart of a lobster.

With that, I'm going to call it a wrap.

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