Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dear IBM: Email is Not a Commodity

I've been in many IBM presentations by many IBMers where I've heard the mantra, "Email is a commodity."  Often times this is stated with a picture of the Notes 8.x client along side of the Outlook 2007 client, and a mention of, "why would an organization spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to move from one to the other?"

This has the effect on me like fingers scraping down a blackboard.

Look, if email were a commodity, LotusLive iNotes (the software formerly known as Outblaze) would own the email market.  Anyone find a customer interested in that yet?  Me neither.

Email is not a commodity.  Cisco learned this lesson the hard way after they pulled the plug on Cisco Mail early this year--after they had spent $215 million dollars acquiring PostPath.  You'd think IBM would have learned this after Workplace Mail.  Apparently not.

I know, I know.  Email is dead.  The future is social software.

I'm sorry, I don't buy it.  Social software has tremendous value, but it is not a replacement to email.  I cannot communicate with others outside of my organization with an internal social software solution.  I cannot provide detailed project information to teammates in an enterprise status update stream, nor would the rest of the organization care to sort through that info if I tried.  I cannot file and organize information shared with me in status updates.

When I hear someone from IBM say email is a commodity, its as if they are saying, "I know Microsoft has a better email client, but who cares about that.  Hey, we have apps."  Of course, I hear the same thing echoed from other Notes proponents in the community.  Please, stop.

As someone who has had to use Outlook far more than I care, Notes has nothing to blush about.  In fact, with its Live Text capability, something I think is highly under-utilized, Notes has the power to make people FAR more productive than mail in Exchange.  The key is actually taking advantage of that power and creating widgets that tie into backend systems so that end-users can see that value.  I have heard other say this is nothing more than SmartTags in Microsoft.  Please show me how to do anything as easily with SmartTags as I can with creating a custom recognizer and widget in Notes.  Heck, please show me how I can do anything useful at all with a SmartTag.

Notes is the ONLY client in the market that seamlessly integrates a full UC client into its interface, as well as extending that now to social tools as well.  The full ICS story is the embodiment of the unified communications vision that all of the other vendors dream of.

But let's face it, the vendor that owns email in an organization owns the full unified communications and collaboration strategy for the long term.  Why?  Because email is the center around which all other collaboration tools orbit.  And when you own the center, you can change the rules of the game.

It is a losing battle to cede Microsoft email and think that you'll win long term by surrounding it with UC, Social and Portal software.  If Microsoft owns email, they can always make their products more tightly integrated than yours.

Sure, you will jump light years ahead with innovations in your other collaboration software, as you did with Sametime, Quickr and Connections.  But they will take their time knowing that since they own email, they can eventually catch up with their products and then unseat you.  And why can they catch up?  Because they are developing their products to integrate with their stack alone, while you are forced to develop for multiple clients. Openness is great in theory, but the market doesn't appear to care about openness.  The iPhone and the iPad are pretty good examples of this.

The potential up side for future innovation in Notes is very significant.  Given IBM's billions of dollars of investment in analytics and language processing in things like Watson, the Notes client of the future could be the smarter entry into our day to day communications. 

But it is going to take vision.  It is going to take commitment.  It is going to take a belief that email is NOT a commodity.  If you don't believe one email client is different from another, how are you going to convince customers that they should move from your competitors product to yours?  We're not in the business of promoting migrations to our product, you say.  Then why are you in the business at all?

A recent article in CRN talked about the looming war over cloud email between Google and Microsoft.  Google at all of 1% of the enterprise market is seen as the only real threat to Microsoft in the future, while Notes only gets mention as being one of the vendors that has lost share in this space.

I was searching for this article today because I knew Gartner's Matthew Cain was quoted in it as saying "Email is not a commodity" as a lead in to why customers should stick with email on-premises for the near term.  So I Googled "Email is not a commodity," and came across something unexpected.  A blog post from Microsoft following the demise of Cisco Mail.  In it, Julia White, the Senior Director of Exchange Product Management says,
Cisco says their customers just weren’t interested in commoditized email. And it’s hard to disagree with that. If your email provider is approaching their application as a commoditized tool without any differentiation, then maybe you need to turn to a provider who understands that email is the core of business communications with the ability to significantly enhance productivity.
OMG, I quoted someone from Microsoft.  Well guess what, they've been eating our lunch.  Something has to change, and I hope it begins with our attitude towards Notes email.