I am a developer

I like reading Ed Brill’s blog . Why you may ask, do I like reading a senior IBM Lotus executive’s blog?

Well, he is a superb writer, participates in the online community that he is a part off and gives some key insights into the inner workings of a large multi-national software brand. In the past, he has also left comments on my blog. This showed to me that elements inside of IBM can be approached if the discussion is framed properly. However Ed, I find stands out in the IBM hierarchy and leverages social media, where others are still passive observers. Its a pity that they don’t, as until they do they won’t understand the innovation that is in the Lotus brand with products like Lotus Connections and Lotus Sametime. We’ll come back to this point as tacit knowledge in ICT is important. It is one of the main reasons I started this blog.

I can get quite vocal on twitter about IBM, if I feel that I’ve been .. well, I can’t write those words here. If the IBM Australia Software Channel management team are unresponsive and not transparent, I’ll notch it up a tone or two. I’m now finding people inside IBM Australia, not the management team, are responding, as the comments will appear as a red flag on a report. But that is not the reason I’m writing this blog post.

Ed wrote a post "I’ve never been a developer" and it hit a note with a number of people from across the globe in the Lotus community, with some 125+ comments. It also had resonance with me because I’ve experienced, and could associate quite strongly, with a number of the points made.

I did not originally sign up to IBM, for the Lotus brand. My interest was with WebSphere & Java (I was mentoring development teams in its use) and WebSphere Portal. IBM moved the WebSphere Portal product into the Lotus brand a few years back. I had to make a choice did I want to continue to leverage the investments in WebSphere Portal certifications through the Lotus brand or resit other certifications to remain in the WebSphere brand? I was tired of certifications so I moved forward with Lotus.

If we found potential sales opportunities we got some excellent pre-sales support from the IBM Lotus guys which also included WebSphere Portal pre-sales. Unfortunately, we either arrived too late to influence a sale and/or when Lotus was mentioned the customer lost interest. Didn’t matter if it was Government, SMB or larger business. I kept thinking what is happening here? These products hold significant market share according to all the research I could find. If I keep at it, the effort should result in sales. During this period I learnt a lot of course about cash flow and demand
generation. I became very adept at running marketing campaigns and the pre-sales process (this could be a blog post in its own right).

The sales did not come. The effort I was spending on IBM certifications, meetings and pre-sales was increasing dramatically but the income sources (non-IBM) were drying up as I was neglecting them as the commitment to IBM software increased. In short, none of the IBM pre-sales material helped me achieve any significant sales in the local Australian markets that I tried – Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Additionally there was no appreciation or understanding with my potential customers what an IBM Advanced Partner was and what specialisation in an IBM software brand (eg Lotus, WebSphere and Rational) meant for them. There were a few small wins, including being the second company in the world to sell IBM Workplace Services Express (the product was briefly introduced to supplant WebSphere Portal Express with more collaborative components. Was withdrawn from market due to poor sales).

During this whole period, I was working 60+ hours a week (sales, technical, business development) for what seemed like a very, very long period. I wasn’t winning. It also had a bad affect on my health.

Was it me? Was it just the local market? The analysts statistics were saying that WebSphere Portal had continuously for a number of years held the top spot in sales. Why couldn’t I compete and win against Microsoft?

I started researching this and the major two items I found were:

  1. Customers believed that it was a wiser move to leverage their existing investment in Microsoft; and
  2. Microsoft realised it was their responsibility to generate demand – that is the channel was a fulfillment mechanism.

I started deeply questioning (some said that I have a very interrogative and probing style) why I had been directed by IBM to performing the activities I did. I quickly came to the realisation that in the IBM Australia Software channel, that outside the technical persons I was engaging with, that there was very limited current understanding of the market and what the customer needs were. I could say a lot more here, but believe it may not be wise to in a public blog (if you want to know, email me directly). The short of it, is that they are mainly vertical experts, that is they understand their area of expertise that they are employed to do (and incentified to perform well) but have no tacit knowledge (which I mentioned before) regarding the actual procurement process the customers had to follow. As well as, no first hand knowledge of how to implement, upgrade or develop new components using the IBM software being sold. Now if I’m wrong with these statements, I’d welcome constructive and evidence (not emotion) based debate on the subject. If I’m wrong, I want to know why?

I’ve got deep technical skills, and can deploy, administer and develop components. I still cut code and consider this to be an essential skill moving forward and wrote about it in a post here. It gives me that tacit knowledge to understand this technology and how to assist clients with its implementation.

What concerns me is that in IBM, the majority of persons I come across, outside of the technical pre-sales team, have no tacit knowledge regarding implementing IBM software on a customer’s project. This may be a cheeky statement to make but it would surprise me if more then 5% of IBM’s management could write and deploy a Hello World servlet on a linux based WebSphere Application Server deployment by themselves.

So Ed if you read this, I’d encourage you to become a developer and to participate in actual customer projects and to encourage others in the IBM management to do the same.

If people are looking for a scenario, for a hypothetical SMB customer
(with <10 employees with max 2 internal IT persons), try implementing a records management system from a customers perspective, starting with requirements, moving through vendor selection, implementation and the first upgrade. The SMB customer is more then likely to already have an email system (either Exchange or Google Mail) and is not looking to replace it. I’ve had this scenario before, with a strong relationship with the customer and the IBM Lotus software group, were unable to provide me with a viable solution and competitive positioning to ensure that I won the deal!

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