IBM Connect 2014: My take on the OGS

February 3 2014

IBM Connect 2014 is over and many are writing their impressions on the conference. I won't go into rumors or thoughts about the future in my musings, but there are a few things I would like to recap. The first is the Opening General Session, otherwise known as the OGS.

Reading the other thoughts on the OGS out there, I realize I am in the minority on my reaction. I thought the OGS was exactly what IBM has been trying to achieve the past few years. I thought it hit the target market very well and the main audience for the OGS - the press and analysts walked away quite happy. The old school, die hard Notes administrator or developer who comes to Connect, or still calls it Lotusphere, is not the target of the OGS. They haven't been for years. Let me explain why I think that and then give a few thoughts on the OGS itself.

I was quite lucky to participate in three years of the IBM Connect / Lotusphere blogger program. Besides the great seats at the OGS, we were invited to the press conference after the OGS, a blogger Q&A, the press party, and other press events during the week (my favorite was the guided tour of the Research Lab). It always surprised me that so few people went to the press conference right after the OGS - typically it was a handful of the bloggers. But seeing how that works - and the questions asked - it made me realize what the OGS it. The #1 goal of the OGS is to capture the attention of the press and analysts at the event. The first 30 minutes - the band, the overview by the current general manager, and the guest speaker is to get the energy level up and get people out of their email. It's an attention grab. Once they have their attention, it's about 90 minutes to sell the IBM vision for the upcoming year. Yes, there will be individual briefings across the year and other events. But in the ICS / Social Workforce / Collaboration segment of IBM Software, this is it. It's the State of the Union. It can't be too specific or detailed. Or even technical. It needs to paint broad strokes and cover many topics. It has to show vision and highlight enough detail that you can see how the vision will come into place. For instance, IBM Mail Next. I doubt that was real-world code ready to work in any level of production. I am sure it was more than a flash demo (I asked), but it was also very demo made. But it showcased enough specifics that you can buy into IBM's vision to shake up and redefine email - and what 'social email' is all about.

You then had four customer stories. The individuals from each company highlighted how they used IBM technology, but with very little specifics. It was definitely the 50,000 foot view. But all of the stories resonated in specific ways that change was happening within using IBM technology.

I was sitting in the first section with the IBM Champions, and right on the aisle. I could hear the discontent of many in the section. I watched the Lotus faithful get very antsy on Twitter. But I also saw a press and analyst group that were happy and excited about what they saw. You can see their reaction by reading what has been said in the press. Across the major sections - IBM Talent Suite (Kenexa), Digitial Experiences (IBM Websphere Portal et all), and IBM Mail Next - there are very few bad pieces of press. If IBM's goal was to create a State of the Union for the press and analyst attendees, I think they met that challenge and met it well.

The other side of the coin is the folks who attend for technical content. They are administrators for Notes and Domino or Connections or Websphere Portal. They want to see details. They grimaced at the Greenwell Company info - because we knew Nicole and Luis were IBM employees. They wanted the days of old were Maureen would demo Domino Designer on stage. It is obvious those days are gone - in most cases, the demos we saw were totally canned and sometimes seemed automated. This audience had to wait until follow-up sessions to get more specifics. I told a few IBMers that all the questions about IBM Mail Next and what it ran on - which Jeff Schick had to call out in his keynote directly after the OGS was Domino - and was repeated every chance IBM had - including at Ask the Developers and by Ronnie Maffa at the Closing General Session - could have been avoided. All that was needed was a logo in the bottom section of the IBM Mail Next demo that said 'Powered by IBM Notes & Domino technology' and that would have satisfied the technical crowd.

I think the OGS was good, maybe the best OGS in a few years, but it still had plenty of room for improvement. I think the Tuesday morning keynote was out of this world awesome - great stories, great inspiration, a fun musical act to start (Marian Call) and an amazing talk by Dilbert creator Scott Adams. Tuesday could not have been much better. Part of the reason - it was almost 100% focused on the talent suite / Kenexa technologies.

One thing - I believe one of the best decisions IBM made all week was to bring in Jay Baer as host. Jay hosted the Business Partner opening session, the OGS, and the Tuesday Keynote. Jay kept things moving, worked well with a teleprompter but never stiff, and engaged the audience. When he reached out to co-worker Brad Balassaits about the OGS Keynote game many IBM Champions were playing, Jay highlighted that he was listening, reading on Twitter, and engaging. It was the perfect level of social collaboration at an event about social collaboration. Props to whomever at IBM decided to bring in Jay.

I understand why many did not like the OGS. I have a laundry list of things I would have improved myself. But I think the OGS did exactly what IBM was trying to do - reach out to the press and analysts and paint out their vision. In that, it was successful. The question is can IBM figure out how to target both audiences equally in future years.