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.


  1. Hear. Hear. Great post Phil. Email still owns the 'hearts and minds' within an organisation. Get that right, and you can build your entire application infrastructure around it, which is infinitely easier from within Notes than many other platforms.

    Your points on Live Text and widgets are critical here, Smart Tags are no-where near as powerful as live-text and recognisers, especially when considering they can extend the Notes client to any system with a web interface, which almost all now have. Sad that I come across too many organisations that are not aware how powerful this feature is.

  2. Nice Post Phil.
    Damn you Newman, you always beat me!
    I admit email itself is ubiquitous but prefer to think of it like cars. Cars are ubiquitous, yet someone drives a Porsche, BMW, Maybach, Hyundai or Toyota.
    Perhaps we and IBM need to reposition this?
    On the other hand, what if email will be like the Telegraph soon?
    True Internal IM and SM are not helpful to the outside world. But if everyone and everything used, as an example, Twitter, why would you need email?
    So the present is one thing, the future is another. IBM looks at the future always and we as BPs look at the present.

  3. @Keith I can't imagine sending a five year cost analysis on software licensing via a tweet. If by some chance social software does completely replace email in the future, it isn't relevant to today. My company cares about what it is selling now. When IBM discusses our numbers, they don't say "we're not concerned with sales today, we're building a new market". IBM has led Microsoft in the market with Notes, Sametime and Quickr, only to see Microsoft copy and outsell with their products. As I said to a friend recently, you can't always be skating in front of the puck and still expect to score goals. At some point you have to check your competition up against the boards.

  4. Really nice read Phil. Well articulated. Although I agree with you on email still having value and being necessary for all the reasons you outlined, can we not draw a distinction between email on the client side and email in the cloud? I know that my personal gmail email account is very valuable because it allows me to use all the great things that google is doing for the consumer (chrome, igoogle, google docs, google+) and allows me to access 3rd party apps. So, I can understand why IBM doesn't care if it looses a client's email to outlook (legacy to legacy). In a few years, it looks like IBM is predicting that all enterprise email will eventually go to the cloud anyways and that is when the big wins will happen.

  5. Phil, great post. I am just working with a new client that we are moving their email over to Domino. By doing that it also bring Quickr in and a hold brunch of applications that we are creating. Email is still the most important communication methodologies that companies and individuals have. If the CEO cannot get his email "All Hell Breaks Loose". Each time I hear that Email is dead I laugh, because I have heard this all before. If IBM was winning the email war, their entire tune about email would be totally different. Look what Google has done, get you hooked on Gmail, feed you GoogleDocs and then get you on applications. That should have been IBM's strategy with Domino. Google is marketing the product not the brand because it is a portal to the brand. Partners are in the trenches and see it all the time.

  6. Interestingly enough I think you show email is the commodity and I feel it is. The same as Instant Messaging. People expect it to be on like the commodity dial tone. What you just sold me was the cool enhancements and possibilities written email, instant messaging and working with individuals.

    No I do not buy the whole social business mantra either (you know me better than that), but I do feel email is now only valued on the additional layers, not just the ability to send and receive. Or we would still have cc:Mail too

  7. @Arif, I don't agree that the commoditization of mail is less so in the cloud vs on premise. I would actually argue the reverse. Yahoo webmail vs. GMail I would say most users don't really care that much. Notes vs outlook client most users do care. So commoditization actually is worse in the hosted/cloud environments. However, regardless of whether it is in cloud or on-premise I think Phil's point is; Don't commoditize email (in terms of one vendor's product being the same as the others). Instead fight a battle to market that your email package (cloud or on premise doesn't matter) is better than the competitors. Because doing so gives you leverage for other products. I would agree that IBM shouldn't concede or capitulate on the email front and say "we don't care about email, use ours, use theirs, doesn't matter we will make our money somewhere else". Fight the battle, ensure that your email platform is a contender in user's mindshare because it does represent an asset in leveraging other technology/revenue within organizations.

  8. Agreed. In my organization, IBM lost the battle in email, then UC, then the application side, then Websphere... It is a "Domino" effects...

    "Domino" effect...ouch...

    "Email as a commodity", thanks, but no thanks. New Lotus Notes that looks like a unpolished facebook markup, no, again.

  9. What may be frustrating you about IBM's message is that you're applying the message to everyone when IBM's Target market is traditonally the top 1%. I would say MS "get" the whole 100% whilst IBM are still trying to figure it the other %99. Besides the margins are much lower in the "tail". IBM need the high margins to support a bloated organisational structure. So don't expect change any time soon

  10. Well said, Phil. It's nice to hear someone from a large partner step up and speak for the community. Hopefully it will be taken seriously!

  11. It should be taken seriously because i think email is far more better and more professional.

  12. I think the things you covered through the post are quiet impressive, good job and great efforts. I found it very interesting and enjoyed reading all of it...keep it up, lovely job.. Commodity Tips