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Updated on September 22, 2014 – Title changed and minor adjustments to content

It’s been a while since my last public post. While our team handles our Twitter, Facebook and Blog accounts, I’ve spent a (not so) good amount of time trying to get to Inbox zero and creating, editing, storing and finding struggling with countless Office documents.  Along with our growth, my travel habits have changed from frequent flyer to infrequent flyer and frequent driver. And I’m also struggling with Notes.

To all devoted Microsoft lovers who once again think that “Notes is dead” – if that were true, Outlook and SharePoint are equally as dead, as they were ever alive. Compared to the lifespan of Notes, SharePoint is in puberty at best, with Outlook merely getting a new UI every once in a while.
At this point, I’ve most probably managed to enrage both members of the IBM and Microsoft camps. Reading on should help.

Although panagenda still primarily sails in IBM waters, this is not a plea for IBM, nor for Microsoft, IBM Mail Next, Microsoft Delve or any other company or product; this post is merely a plea for companies to actively invest in improving and simplifying communication and collaboration, allowing people to come out ahead in the constant battle of markets, factions and software giants. I would be surprised if the future held a one-sided outcome in favor of either IBM or Microsoft as both fail equally in innovation across all of email, files, applications etc.

My daily work revolves around communication with people and machines. Machines and the accompanying software determine how exactly I can communicate with people – predominantly with voice, forms (email, applications, web pages) and files. And that right there is the crux of the matter: Despite new versions and flavors, for me as a person, communication and collaboration software has failed to evolve for the better in recent years.

Current trends for improving collaboration software are “reducing costs” and “prettier, more modern” but in my opinion, both of those stand in the way of actual improvement, let alone optimization. While reducing cost is almost always a good thing, less costs tend to turn into “cheap”, also meaning to have less value. Cheap is almost always executed at the expense of people. Even if software doesn’t become cheap but merely less costly, the associated willingness to invest decreases, not only financially, but by means of deserving improvement.

Communication and collaboration seems to be less and less made for people, but instead for satisfying financial targets and budgets in conjunction with meeting ever increasing data storage demands. The poor results are then presented under the heading of “modern and forward-thinking”.

But be honest, what good does “cost reduced and a more modern user interface” do for you and me as a person? The ever growing amount of data hits impacts me the same, no matter how low priced and colorful.

While companies continuously invest in optimizing core and attached processes, decreasing investment can be observed in areas that do not (seem to) belong to core processes. When exactly did email and applications stop being core processes or of strategic importance? On average, employees spend 30% of their time in the inbox (McKinsey, 09/2013). How much time do people spend with creating and managing Office documents? How much time do they spend in social business solutions and company portals?

Instead of targeted investment in existing (Microsoft, IBM or otherwise) infrastructure, many companies have chosen the “rip-and-replace” method or constant adding of new software building blocks as the solution towards keeping their environments up-to-date. “New” is perceived as “better” and hence must be superior to the existing infrastructure. The reason for this is simple: When faced with steadily growing quantity and complexity, gaining clarity in the existing infrastructure becomes increasingly difficult and hence is eventually given up on.

Ultimately, companies who used to constantly nurture their communication and collaboration infrastructure suddenly do little more than provide functionalities such as email, file stores, search capabilities and similar. The goal no longer seems to be to empower people and support their productivity, but rather to acquire the least expensive infrastructure, in which as many emails and files as possible can be processed.

More emails and files in less time at a lower price – considering that an improvement is the equivalent of thinking that talking twice as fast in half the time increases the quality of conversations.

The different approaches of giants like IBM and Microsoft make things even worse: The IBM universe is merely complex, automated and big-data centric, while everything in Microsoft’s universe is good as long as every student and household has it and it involves Office documents. Where IBM specializes in companies as end customers (B2B), consumers are the primary target audience of Microsoft (B2C). IBM simultaneously deals with all employees, while failing to understand their individual needs, whereas Microsoft does the exact opposite and fails to provide what the enterprise needs.

When companies put their infrastructure into the hands of these software giants, hoping that they’ll know best how to optimize communication and collaboration, it’s the people, employees and customers that fall by the wayside and suffer. Notes, SharePoint, Outlook, Connections and similar are operated but not promoted leaving the end user experience no longer actively advanced.

Almost like „if we can’t see the forest for the trees, let’s paint the trees in a different color”, companies understand less and less of their actual data and the overall value contained inside their collaborative infrastructures – in which employees happen to spend (or lose) most of their time.

And those who try their luck in the cloud (or multiple clouds) to further decrease cost definitely won’t have an easier time understanding the various data and infrastructure components of their environment in order to utilize them better.

While panagenda does offer a variety of solutions to all these challenges, I don’t want to go into product details here, but rather illustrate how exactly companies can get the most out of their existing infrastructure:

A vast array of data is left unused in many companies; data that would save employees work if they knew that it existed; data that could help to bring people together automatically (because for example, they all communicate with the same customer unknowingly); data that would greatly ease onboarding of new employees, if they knew which applications and files are used by their colleagues.

The following list shows a couple of examples that would make my life a lot easier:
(applications does not just refer to IBM Notes / Domino, but could also be web pages, files based on certain templates, emails, instant messaging content and much more)

  • Which business-relevant documents (emails, files, instant messages) already exist for a given topic?
  • Which colleagues currently have or have had which core expertise?
    (not just based on the assessment of oneself and others, but emerging from existing data)
  • Who (within a department or with a similar job role) communicated with a customer in the last days/weeks/months by email or even telephone?
    (not meant in terms of using a CRM as the source, which may well be great to even further enrich existing data – I’d like to receive information that matches the context of my current task without first having to enter, search or query data from a particular data source)
  • Who besides me also uses a particular application?
  • Which applications are being used by colleagues or employees with the same job role?
  • Who all have I communicated with from a certain customer in the past?
    (again, not just by using full text search or views, but automatically)
  • With whom are colleagues talking to at a certain customer site?
  • Who still has an older version of a file that I’m working on?
  • How many copies of a document have been saved onto other computers?

The above and more is what we’re currently busy answering with panagenda solutions and expertise for a revolutionary „Mail & Apps 3.0“-experience by the enterprise. By applying business intelligence, the basic data is being collected, aggregated and processed for final provisioning to various consumers depending on the questions, use cases and audiences.

Social business evangelists may want to throw in that social software can help with some of the above questions, which in my opinion it does not as in social media, the user is left alone to decide who she or he wants to share something with for every single piece of information (web page, document, file etc.). Since I can only think of people I know, most employees that might benefit from the information at hand are hence automatically excluded.

Amazon, YouTube and others have long been answering questions like the above in a commercial sense, such as “customers who bought this have also looked at that” and making suggestions (similar videos, for example), all of which liberates current content from its own isolation.

Email, files, instant messages, applications, web pages are all treated separately within most companies. This becomes especially obvious at customers who are migrating select building blocks such as email from e.g. IBM to Microsoft (happens and works just as well in the other direction, btw), while keeping their applications in IBM Notes and Domino. With that, data that was previously available from within one system (email and applications) is then spread across two worlds. Once in the new Microsoft environment, even more files and SharePoint sites are created to keep pace. That is nothing more than a repeat of the 90’s, when countless Notes applications were created to house forms and files.

In 10 years’ time at the latest, today’s SharePoint and Connections applications will look just as outdated as old Notes applications do today. Office documents all have their own design. Excel spreadsheets often have the characteristics of applications instead of just a couple of number-crunching cells. Somehow, almost no one seems to find this disturbing. The only logical consequence must be:

Notes, SharePoint and the lot are dead.

It is long overdue that software producers as well as companies improve communication and collaboration for people.

In a recent email from September 12, 2014, a software producer writes: “[…] Nowadays, employees have enough to do with routine tasks and have little time to invest in new services to win new customers. How can IT […} prevent that business units implement their own IT solutions beyond their control?” I personally would be less concerned with rogue departmental IT, but rather with reducing the time people spend on routine tasks and winning additional customers.

Long live Notes, SharePoint and the lot in companies that understand the value of constantly adapting their environments in such a way that employees are truly relieved in their daily tasks and empowered to do even more productive work. All that’s required for that to happen is for companies to invest just a little more into the one thing they already have – their existing data and systems.

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Showing 4 comments
  • Darren Duke

    “When exactly did email and applications stop being core processes or of strategic importance?” – it didn’t. But that gets in they way of revenue, hence profit and eventually “share holder value”, so we’ve been led to believe it did stop.

  • Doubting Thomas

    It will be a long time before company employees completely use other tools beside mail to get their job done. The adoption of rate of social tools is increasing but people are used to using email. The millennials in the workforce will use social more than the baby boomers only because they are used to sharing everything out in the open. Even this generation uses email because a pecentage of the population still predominantly uses email to communicate.

    Email is a closed communication mechanism and it is time consuming to share information this way with others. Your inbox is private and few people have access to it. Email is a poor way to organize and share information and can be a nightmare to manage. But most people don’t get it yet. Notes is not dead. It is evolving into the new social world. The evolution is coming and your inbox will be just one data point for employees to get their work done. Files, people profiles, communities, activities, blogs,etc. will be other data points. Inboxes are shrinking as people share more on social networks but it will be a long time before it goes away.

  • David Leedy

    With all due respect…
    First I hate your title. It’s designed to get clicks more then enhance your article.
    I don’t like that it first showed up in my email. There’s a word for that – it’s called SPAM.

    You’re article might be saying something interesting. But it’s very long and difficult to read. I’ve tried a couple times. I’ve heard similar from others. I can’t find the point. Someone said it was to just “write better software”.

    Please take this is constructive criticism with no snark or personal agenda behind it.

    • Florian Vogler

      Hi David,

      thank you for your post. I am working on a public apology.
      I had not intended to upset anyone.

      Long live Notes!
      Best, Florian

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