Interview with IBM’s Doug Heintzman and Konrad Lagarde : IBM Project Vulcan, IBM Social Business Toolkit, Mobile, and ODF/ Interview

February 22 2011

Due to scheduling issues at Lotusphere 2011, I was not able to do some of my press interviews. I was offered the chance of a make-up interview with Doug Heintzman, Director, Lotus Strategy. During the interview, he brought in Konrad lagarde, who is working on the IBM Project Vulcan team and has direct experience with the IBM Social Business Toolkit. Here is my transcription of the interview with some commentary at the end.

Project Vulcan and the IBM Social Business Toolkit

JH: IBM Project Vulcan as a project vs. a deliverable. Can you help map the progression of Project Vulcan from what was seen at Lotusphere 2010 vs Lotusphere 2011:

DH: IBM is making a lot of progress and the vision is quite bold. IBM is devolving a bunch of packages and applications into a group of discrete services. Added to this will be an aggregation service, sharebox service(s), analytic services, etc. There will also be a set of toolkits, which the IBM Social Business Toolkit is one of them. The goal is to have rapid updates to the toolkit as it expands and evolves. Other toolkits include an Event toolkit, allowing developers to wrap / access the events in their own business applications and expose them to the Vulcan environment. This includes having them properly processed by the aggregator. Will provide testing tools to make sure they would be properly aggregated.

For delivery, there are two end points. The first is the Knowledge Worker access where they have access to applications that use the toolkits and the aggregator. This starts with the next generation in-box experience which is much closer to an attention management environment that aggregates information from multiple sources and adapts over time.

The other half of the story is the toolkit story. IBM believes that analytics and social business technology intersect, there is a major disruption in many traditional business process areas. CRM, HCM, PLM, Supply Chain, etc. People orientated business process is where the disruption will happen. The vendors working in these areas need a new kind of middleware. Social Services middleware will add sharing, expertise, discovery, and engagement services that will allow these applications to be embedded into the fabric of their customer's business processes. This is very back to the future: there is a new class of applications that packages up these services, adds business logic, forms, etc. This is much like the same play that was made originally with Domino applications.

JH: So let's approach this from an existing customer viewpoint. I have Notes & Domino, Sametime and have looked at Connection but not installed it. What is the delivery release cycle time? What will I have to add to my environment to get the experience I saw on stage at Lotusphere 2011?

DH: Many of the social services are running on a web 2.0 run time platform. If a customer wants the complete experience, they would need a Connections server. The aggregator is the main piece that will require a Connections server.

JH: Can an existing Domino on-premises customer leverage LotusLive to get the 'Social Business' aspects I do not want to install?

DH: That is the plan. In theory, if you are a pure Domino shop, you will be able to use the cloud based services mashed up with your existing Domino infrastructure.  Let me bring in Konrad Lagarde to add some detail.

KL: For Domino, we are looking to implement much of the OpenSocial stack on the Domino server. It would become a service on Domino. This way Domino can render the embedded experiences. To consume other social 'things' IBM Connections is a big piece of the puzzle. Connections provides the Activity Streams (aggregator). To get the out of the box experience, you will need Domino, Sametime, and Connections. And IBM definitely has a goal of allowing a on-premises Domino infrastructure to connect with the social services on LotusLive.

JH: Will the next major release of Notes & Domino have the IBM Social Business Toolkit integrated?

KL: You will see the the IBM Social Business Toolkit framework as part of the Domino install in Domino 'Next' - you will see both the user interface elements and the ability to connect to the social and cloud services.

The other key piece is single sign-on. It has always been a problem. IBM is moving to OAuth to tie everything together. OAuth has to be added to the Domino engine to do this.

JH: You mention OAuth. There has been some discussion inside the community about the ability to use OAuth to log-in to Domino applications - more like a request. For example, being able to use Facebook Connect to log in to an XPages application. Any thoughts on if the work you mentioned above will allow this?

KL: It is being discussed. There are two issues: one is a technical and another is licensing.


JH: Mobile, especially tablets, are dominating the news. Mobile Web Congress (MWC) was full of Android and tablets. By the end of 2011, there could be almost 40 tablets shipping. Amazing since this time last year, the iPad was just announced. So first question: what is the strategy of getting the daily tools people use from IBM Lotus software on to the devices? How does IBM deal with different sizes? Different Platforms?

DH: At the high level, IBM is moving to a mobile first design criteria. The smart phone and tablet design form factor is now the first environment we design for. Our goal is to make as much native exploitation of the user experience as possible. This includes gestures or interaction to data constructs. The big challenge is web applications vs. native applications. This decision is influenced by quickly changing hardware platforms, carrier restrictions, and the app store model. The right approach is to find a hybrid mix of both native and web. One of the methods is to build a native application that is basically a shell to a web application. Just like everyone else, things change quickly. We have Traveler using the native implementation and Connections using a web application today.

KL: The architecture of the mobile applications we saw at Lotusphere 2011 was mixed. Much of what was shown on stage was native applications on the Android platform using native Android User Interface controls. The Activity Stream was using the Android Navigator control and bringing down the Activity Stream to render OpenSocial gadgets.

JH: Most customers who use Notes & Domino today are used to offline when working with business applications today. Offline in the mobile world today is a major unknown. Has IBM decided on an offline strategy for mobile? HTML5? Something else?

KL: IBM is looking at HTML5. Nothing has been finalized at this time.

JH: I hear from customers that they are looking for leadership. IBM should take a leadership role here and communicate their strategy. This will make customers more confident to follow along that path.

DH: I agree with you. We did this with Domino with templates and strategy and we should take the advantage of this opportunity with mobile.

JH: IBM releases for mobile today are not consistent. We have Traveler Companion on iOS but no where else. We saw an advanced Sametime client for Android at Lotusphere 2011 but not on other platforms. How does a customer know that they will get the entire experience on their mobile platform?

KL: For Sametime, we need more than a web experience. We are actively looking at something better for the iOS platform.

DH: One of the issues with communications technology, there are lots of polling and battery issues that impact the feasibility of the applications. IBM is not prioritizing one platform over another, but dealing with the architectural constraints of the platforms. Some platforms have better alert mechanisms than others. There are lots of security issues that come with communication applications for enterprise customers. Lots of considerations to take. Some platforms are building out that infrastructure faster than others. IBM is supporting each platform as it evolves and will release when it makes sense. Blackberry being a more mature platform in terms of security means they may get a release faster.

JH: Customers are expecting rapid updates with applications in the mobile space. Cloud stand-alone solutions like Evernote and Basecamp update on a rapid schedule. There is a fear that large vendors can not maintain the same pace as the fremium solutions. This encourages users to bypass corporate solutions for something they can use for little cost with no control. This also means no security and no backup. How does IBM approach this mindset?

DH: LotusLive Symphony is an example of this space. There is a native iPad version that brings an iPad experience. It is a distinct experience from the web user experience. IBM is looking to cloud and LotusLive as being the back end to maintaining a rapid pace in the mobile space.

JH: My belief is that IBM is far better off doing four releases a year of a mobile application that adds a couple features each time than doing a single release a year with a ton of features.

DH & KL: We agree. We know that.

JH: My perspective: This was not the message I got at Lotusphere 2011. I didn't hear the rapid methodology from IBM.

DH: Shame on us. We know that very well. We need to communicate that better.

JH: The community is finally seeing the fallout of the Oracle purchase of Sun and the fracturing of into LibreOffice. Will IBM take a position?

DH: One of the outcomes of the community activity in the past year has brought lots of interest to Lotus Symphony. Much of that interest is companies looking for stability and see IBM as someone who can provide that. I believe Oracle views ODF as strategic. The question is what will happen with and it's community. There needs to be some reconciliation and the industry needs to come together. I believe there will be movement here in the first half of 2011.

IBM has reasons for a custom user interface and other services. But with Lotus Symphony 3, we can layer our assets on top of a common code base. That provides us with flexibility if required. Hopefully, we won't have to change anything. I am optimistic for a positive outcome.

The ODF Technical Committee's priority in 2011 is around mobile and web profile. IBM believes this play has never been about productivity editors. This has always been about the potential of documents are and what they can become.

My Thoughts

One of the favorite interviews thru the Lotusphere Blogger Program in past years has been Doug. He gets the need for strategy and having IBM set a road map and a blueprint. I also find that Doug is straight with me about answering the hard questions. When I asked him if I needed an IBM Connections server for the social services pieces of IBM Project Vulcan inside the Notes & Domino environment, there was no hesitation in his answer of "Yes." Doug shoots straight - even if it an answer you might not like. I felt lucky that he asked Konrad to joining the call in progress. I got some really good detailed answers to questions I heard being asked at Lotusphere 2011. "Yes, OpenSocial is being implemented on the Domino server as a service." "Yes, we are looking to OAuth but have to deal with the licensing issues before partners and customers can take advantage of it." "Mobile is fast moving, we know it." "We need to move faster and lead and communicate." As I read thru this after taking off the blogger/reporter hat, I see answers I have been looking for since leaving Orlando. That adds some comfort as well as some angst to the path ahead.

It is obvious that IBM has a plan for the social software coming from the Lotus brand. They have bought into the path and are full steam ahead. What I can not judge yet is if customers are ready to embrace this - especially the middle market and SMB customers. There will be far more moving pieces for end users to deal with. Are we solving attention management with all of these tools, or just making them worse? Customers are going to have to mix on premises solutions with those from the cloud. Will they want that? Some will, some won't. As someone who will be out selling these solutions to customers, I appreciate that the strategy is being delivered from the top down thru the ranks of its team. IBM just needs to get that message out to every customer, partner, competitor, and prospect. That is their biggest challenge.

Special thanks to Doug and Konrad for their time answering my questions and to Karen Lilla and Rachel Round for making this interview happen/.