IBM’s Domino/Notes market – Let’s face it, it’s a cash cow.

What did I learn from my article about IBM’s and Microsoft’s market share? At least that nobody told me how the market share calculation really works. There are two numbers: 47’000 companies (down from 60’000 about 5 years ago) and a total of 192 million Notes licenses sold (up from 143 million about 5 years ago). That’s not really helpful. Let’s leave it at that. But that made me think about the future of Notes/Domino in general. The yellow bubble is groaning about IBM’s almost non existent marketing effort for Notes. Why isn’t IBM promoting Domino/Notes as we think it should? Do they really know what they are doing? Is there a plan? To find out I dusted of some of my marketing books and tried figure out, what strategy IBM is following. It looks like, they know more or less, what they are doing.
If they have a plan, Lotus Notes/Domino is a cash cow today. Or in other terms, it is a mature product and the product life cycle is closer to the end, then to the start. That is not a bad thing by itself, but it is a something we have to accept. IBM is showing standard behavior. It is not investing heavily in marketing because it does not make sense. IBM is continuing improving Notes/Domino to keep the customer base happy. Sometimes there is even a big win, but all in all, sales are sliding downwards. That is something completely normal in a product life cycle. We will see that happening with MS Office, Exchange and Sharepoint, too one day.

What would I do with that cash cow? I would milk it to the last drop and do gradual improvements and then kill it. But I would grow a new beast at the same time. That’s (from my point of view) what IBM is doing right now. I only think, that they are a bit late in the game. They should have started to build a replacement product much earlier. But it is possible, that Workplace should have been that replacement. Is project Vulcan part of that completely new product? I don’t know, but I hope it is.

If I had to design a replacement product I would do quite a few things, which my BPs probably wouldn’t like.
I would build an (almost) completely new product and cut as many legacy connections as possible. Fast, good looking and widely available.
I would provide a migration tool, but I would really strip especially the client from ballast. Is it really necessary to have 6 or 7 different programming languages? I don’t think so. One good one would be sufficient. RAD does not seem to attract a lot of sales. In the end, the admins kill RAD because they definitely don’t want every user to develop it’s own little app (at least the admins IBM is talking to).
I would want a client that lets me not only organise mails, but also calendar entries, office documents, sms, mms, chats or just anything that contains information which is necessary for my work and preferably I want to have the stuff offline and encrypted.
I would add VOIP as a standard feature.
I want to see all my documents under the customer and supplier and friend and tag and project and whatever or in a calendar view. Let’s get rid of folder structures in file systems or mail applications. We don’t need that, it never worked. It was and is the biggest data cemetery in the known universe.
I would want to add addresses by drag and drop from my and others address book to a document regardless if it is an email, sms, letter, fax, blog entry or whatever else and I want to decide AFTER having written the document, how I want to send it.
I would make the new client modular. For example for free without a server and mail, Facebook and calendar only, but fast (somebody remembers NotesBuddy? I liked that one a lot) and then add whatever else is needed (at a very reasonable fee…).
I would add MAPI support to client and server.
I would add complete iCal and CalDav support.
I would add a simple back up functionality to client and/or server.
I would integrate as many online services as possible.
I would add an easy way to use several email accounts.
I would provide a free online calendar access for everybody using my client. Now users could just use free POP accounts and still have the calendar sharing possibility.
… and I could go on.
Most of these elements are already around but nobody adds it up to a complete solution.

Lotus was always ahead of Micro$oft, but they keep up. Now they add offline support for Sharepoint thanks to Groove. That was one of the best features of Notes/Domino.
Let’s face it. All the features we always thought were so incredible cool did not stop customers from migrating to Outlook/Exchange and nothing else will stop that until IBM comes out with something new.

We need something exciting, never seen before and useful to about everyone (for my 7 year old daughter I want a „Hello Kitty“ Theme)… a new rising star if IBM wants to beat Microsoft. IMHO that will be the way to success.

But… and that is big BUT. Can IBM do this? Big companies have the tendency to be not very innovative. Bureaucracy and internal competition are the killers. Microsoft is the best example for this. They almost always only copy what others have done before. IBM is better, but not a lot. The most patents every year but not many new products. Evolution yes, innovation less.
Let’s keep the fingers crossed, that IBM really knows what it is doing.

2 Gedanken zu „IBM’s Domino/Notes market – Let’s face it, it’s a cash cow.“

  1. The single biggest reason that market share numbers are misleading (even bigger than IBM’s willingness to publish total number of licenses sold, but not to publish total number of licenses still under active maintenance) is that Domino is still trying to be two things: a messaging platform and a collaborative application platform.

    If the focus is on messaging (which, for far too long, it has been), then Domino’s competitors are Exchange and GMail. There are other players as well, of course, but those are the two everyone talks about. As the role of messaging has been marginalized over the last decade by the introduction of more effective means of collaboration, many organizations have shifted from Notes/Domino to alternatives that they consider simpler, cheaper, or otherwise „better“. Each time this occurs, industry analysts consider this a loss for IBM, no matter how long they continue to collect licensing revenue due to the maintenance of Domino applications within the organization. Often, these applications stagnate, because the organization views the transition the same way: they are „getting rid of Notes“, so it appears not to make sense to continue to invest in the creation or enhancement of Domino applications. This neglect fosters negative perception of the platform, contributing in part to subsequent migrations as employees of those organizations move on to others still actively using the platform, bringing their dislike of it with them.

    If the focus is, instead, on custom application development, then market share goes out the window entirely. No longer is the competition limited to Exchange and GMail; the very breadth of what Domino *is* means it competes with everything. It’s a database server, so now the competition is Oracle, SQL, MySQL, DB2. But, specifically, it’s a NoSQL database, so when defined only as such, it competes with Hadoop, CouchDB, Cassandra, MongoDB, Terrastore, BigTable. It’s a web server, so it competes with PHP, .Net, Apache. It’s a rapid application development platform, so it competes with SalesForce, Joomla, Drupal, ad infinitum. Even if you just limit the analysis to XPages vs. alternative implementations of JSF, the list of competitors would include jBoss RichFaces, Apache MyFaces, Mojarra, Backbase, OpenFaces…

    So how do you measure Domino’s performance in that arena in terms that can be compressed into a press release? What is the market share of Joomla? Of Hadoop? Mojarra? I believe that Domino’s market share continues to be measured in terms of messaging for the same reason that messaging features continue to exist and be enhanced within the platform… that’s comparatively easy. It’s easy to describe the various features related to mail and calendar. People know what you’re talking about; industry analysts can wrap their head around that. Once you start talking about the merits of denormalized, schemaless data in building flexible application architectures, component-driven interface development that provides stateful awareness of user interaction… people’s eyes glaze over unless they already know what you’re talking about. It’s far more difficult to describe just how revolutionary was the addition of XPages to the platform, and how they can bring true bottom-line value to a customer, than to explain what’s convenient about ghosted calendar entries or a sortable inbox that now ignores „re:“ and „fw:“ prefixes. People grasp that stuff with very little background knowledge… to really analyze how Domino compares as a JSF implementation to Mojarra requires much more thorough exploration.

    On the bright side, I feel that the work IBM has been doing on Project Vulcan is at least an unconscious acknowledgment of the marginalization of traditional messaging within the overall collaboration landscape. Email is important; scheduling is important; but far more important is being able to streamline and automate a wide array of business processes in a fashion that allows participants to be aware of, and effectively respond to, their colleagues‘ actions and needs. If Vulcan is successful in demonstrating this, I suspect we’ll quite rapidly begin to see the market share of Domino framed in very different ways. For the foreseeable future, it is likely that there will continue to be more people using Outlook as their messaging client than Notes, but that doesn’t matter… organizations that value their members‘ contributions to the overall success of their organization will know that Notes and Domino provide a mechanism to maximize those members‘ productivity that is unmatched by any other product or framework currently in existence.

  2. Tim’s 100% right.

    Messaging is in a „race to the bottom.“ Witness LotusLive Notes, Gmail, etc.

    IBM *will* continue to milk that market with incremental improvements (e.g. sorting by subject ignores „re:“ or „fw:“ or whatever), but is there major innovation to be had there? Not really.

    Integration, though is another story. IBM’s been needing to give birth to something else in the meantime that can EXTEND that messaging capability, providing true business value (wow, I sound like an IBM ad.)

    That thing is XPages + Vulcan. Because only when IBM tried to port NSF to DB2 did they start to „get it“ about what Domino provides.

    The thick client will eventually die, replaced by the ultra-open and lightweight web browser. IBM will milk that for as long as they can.

    But the Domino server is still light-years ahead of many things out there, and is where Notes/Domino’s true value has always been. IBM will continue to invest heavily in that and XPages, though I would expect them to also coexist XPages into Websphere at some point. But *Domino*/NSF will still add a ton of value, and will likely still be the *preferred* XPages server environment, possibly forever.

    It’s all about the apps.

    It always has been.

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