Ben Langhinrichs

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July, 2019
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Civility in critiquing the ideas of others is no vice. Rudeness in defending your own ideas is no virtue.


Mon 22 Jul 2019, 10:41 AM
Cloud with the word Concepts in it
 
At the recent HCL Factory Tour in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, USA, there were a number of large roadmap presentations followed by smaller, more focused presentations covering specific topics and products. Slides from all these should be forthcoming soon. But woven through these presentations were some key concepts that both reveal how HCL perceives the software landscape and suggest how the various products will develop under HCL's ownership. Some are explicit, while others are a little more subtle. Obviously, these are my interpretations, some backed up by fairly explicit statements by HCL, others more of an intuitive leap.
 
One key concept which is more aspirational and long term is the concept of Unification. While the near term goals are to get each product updated, polished, and competitive, the goal of unified interfaces or interoperability is not fully mapped out yet, but it is a goal. The importance for this is to foresee where overlap between products is likely to be either standardized or eliminated. Having multiple ways to do the same thing may be necessary in the near term, but once HCL gets over the hurdles of the next year or so, there is going to be a sharp focus on how to get the most out of the products with the least conflict and overlap. so, watch for that. There was a commitment to the idea that it should be more seamless and coherent working between the different products. One way that unification is impacting current decisions is an effort to unify the code base for cloud/on prem offerings, and similarly to unify as much as possible the client/mobile/web code while customizing the specific experiences. As an early prediction, there were definite rumbles about a rebranding of all the products, not the piecemeal HCL blue-washing seen so far. HCL was openly asking whether it would bother customers to lose the Notes/Domino names entirely.
 
A more solid near term concept to watch is Containerization, mostly obviously with the use of Docker containers to run Notes/Domino and other software products. When seen this way, containerization is mostly a way of virtualizing installs and spinning up instances, but the deeper concept is that products and components of products will be contained and handled as separate services. HCL is fairly explicit about moving toward a concept of micro-services (more about that a bit further down), but their direction also seems to imply a direction where different products could almost be defined as macro-services. While micro-services are an increasingly popular way to break down tasks efficiently. macro-services could also be thought of as various products playing nicely with each other. 
 
Another concept that is somewhat aspirational but also important in the near term is Standards-based. There is a recognition that IBM often talked the talk, but didn't always walk the walk. Standards allow for micro-services and macro-services to play well with others, a key concept itself. This allows third party micro-services that aren't HCL-owned to work within that environment, but also to allow HCL micro and macro-services to work within other systems by other major vendors. Focusing on standards is risky and means giving up some control and some product lock-in. But it also allows HCL and its customers to pivot as conditions change. A clear case of where you will see this is in the cloud. IBM had a huge stake in owning the cloud, but HCL is winding down its current cloud offerings, and focusing on cloud offerings that can be hosted by a number of different private and public clouds. This offers customers an opportunity to meet specific regional needs or shop around for better prices. HCL is left with less control, but they are confident enough to accept that, and know the opportunities presented are worth that loss of control.
 
The focus on standards also means further embracing development by those who may not know Domino, but will be empowered to use a NERD/DERN stack as easily as a MEAN stack, and generally to use development methodologies and technologies that have emerged as standards. This perforce means a move away from reliance on XPages, but it doesn't mean a move away from traditional LotusScript and formula language for mid-code developers.
 
Which brings us to another key development concept HCL has talked about a lot, which is the embrace of low-code development. One purpose is to reintroduce citizen developers scared away by the complexity of Domino designer or steered away by the licensing that only installed Designer on some desktops. A critical, secondary purpose is to give companies a way to bring unregulated Excel applications into a more regulated and empowered development environment. This is particularly key in Europe, because GDPR and other regulations require far tighter control over personal data than can be exerted over Excel spreadsheets. There was a very overt appeal to this with a LEAP demonstration showing how easily an Excel spreadsheet could be converted to a Notes application by a business user. A great business opportunity for business partners might be figuring out the next steps possible after that import. While the first wave will be simple one-to-one imports, there are some obvious benefits to being in a Notes environment that those business users aren't likely to recognize for themselves.
 
One final concept that is less concrete but worth noting is that HCL seems to be recognizing the power of Experiences. In the consumer world, the idea of experiences is often told in terms of why Starbucks can sell coffee at far higher prices than the local mini-mart, and the idea of selling the experience rather than just the product has flourished. But in the corporate business software world, that idea is growing more slowly. Salesforce seems to moving in the same direction, which is why you get things like the Lightning Experience. HCL talks a lot about experiences, both in terms of the Digital Experience product but also in terms of how the micro-services work together and how LEAP brings people into the development experience. For ISVs and partners, I'd start thinking about how your products and services can be crafted, or at least framed, as part of the experience. My prediction is that this concept will become extremely important in timeframe right after V11 releases, and will encompass Sametime in a strong way. Look for unification and experiences to drive a far more user-friendly UI powered by Domino underneath, even if none of those names are still used.
 
I'll admit it, I'm starting to get excited.
 

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Thu 18 Jul 2019, 10:51 PM
For the past three days, HCL has been hosting a number of business partners and customers at the third HCL Factory Tour. It was an excellent event, and I'm extremely glad I found the time and went. As I drive home (9.5 hours of driving, so I have plenty of time), I've been trying to put together in my head the most important messages and moments for me.  One exercise I know executives like is the one word summary, but since I write stories and stories tend to favor threes, I decided to think of the a summary word for each stage of this factory tour: before the event, during the event, and after the event,
 
The obvious word from before the event was Hope. The partner community, while obviously wary, is more hopeful than they have been in a decade. The customers are catching on to that hope, and some are renewing maintenance who have been off it for a long time. HCL is brimming with hope that they can be a different company, enhance and build products that people will want to use, and recoup the investment in time, energy, and money. A number of people at the Factory Tour commented on how HCL feels like a startup in terms of its optimism and energy, and maybe also in its necessary naiveté. It is telling that on the walls inside the HCL offices it says "Those who say it can not be done should not interrupt those doing it". You need that attitude, and HCL has it. (IBM hasn't recently.)
 
There are a lot of words one could land on for the tour itself, but I think the one that struck me most was Transparency. HCL was very open about its challenges, its ambitions, its need for feedback. Many things were said openly that IBM would have had to run past its legal team for months before waffling about the answer. HCL just says it. They are insistent that they are a very different company than IBM, and that is one of the ways it shows. The engineers, product managers, everybody was out and talking with all of us and answering the questions they could and documenting the ones they couldn't. It felt much more like Lotus or early Iris days.
 
I loved a lot of what I heard, didn't like a few things I heard, but mostly was very impressed. But as I walked into a restaurant tonight, I saw a sign on the wall I had to take a picture of, as it perfectly captures the third summary word I'd use: Execution. The developers and sales people and marketing people are all working hard, but working hard isn't enough, and they all know it. They must execute on the promises and visions and plans, and it all needs to exceed our expectations, lofty as they may be. So, with all of us partners and customers out of the way, I'll leave this for HCL. This is your mission. The other words matter, but this matters most of all.
 
Execution: Stop talking and put in the work
 
   

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Wed 3 Jul 2019, 11:01 AM
Overall, HCL has been doing a terrific job. They have revitalized Notes/Domino and fixed some longstanding bugs. They have worked with business partners better than IBM has in a long time. They have injected hope and enthusiasm, and have mostly met all the deadlines they've set for themselves. They have shown vision and commitment to future versions, and I see customers responding.
 
But still I worry. If there is one lesson that large companies who create "platform" products should have learned by now, it is that an ecosystem of third party products, addons, and integrations is key to survival. No one company, no matter how big or dedicated or enthusiastic, can do it alone. There need to be ISVs to meet the niche needs, to innovate in areas HCL can't afford to focus on, to take risks that HCL can't.
 
 
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Lotus understood this, and for the most part IBM did as well. One of the great reasons why Lotus Notes became a huge success early on was a surprisingly robust API that was maintained and enhanced with each version. At times, there were even multiple APIs including the venerable C API and the easier-to-learn but less complete C++ API.
 
The most recent Notes C API was released in 2013, coinciding with the Notes 9.0.1 release. Five and a half years ago.
 
Notes/Domino 10 was released in November 2018, seven months ago. There is still no updated Notes C API, nor any promise of when one will appear.
 
This was all less of an issue for the years following 9.0.1 because frankly, the old toolkit worked fine and nothing was changing. But things are changing now, including new features such as DQL as an example. ISVs watching from the sidelines see features they could build on... but can't. Integrators who might be newly enthusiastic about integrating with Salesforce, Microsoft Flow, whatever are going to hesitate when the most recent deep integration is so far out of date. Along with the C API itself, the related toolkits were built for compilers now considered ancient. To make matters worse, not only is there not a new API or new toolkits, but the commitment to the always-up-to-date API has come into question. If there is no comprehensive API available for Notes/Domino 10, which is at least mostly like Notes/Domino 9.0.1 under the covers, will there be one for Notes/Domino 11, which is likely to have some more substantive changes?
 
Of course, there are many products which require only LotusScript or features available in the product itself. HCL has made some promising noises about app stores and product delivery for those sorts of products, and that is great. But those tend to be products which live entirely within the Notes/Domino platform, and the world is far too integrated and complex to be limited to those. Tight integrations at various levels with non-HCL products tend to require lower level APIs.
 
So, while I know resources are stretched and everybody at HCL is working incredibly hard to deliver on the promises made, I also know that HCL risks a lot by not following through on the longstanding promise of the Notes C API. While I know that very, very few developers use the Notes C API directly, it is a key to the ecosystem of extensions and products which business customers need to actually embrace Notes/Domino again.

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