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Can IBM redefine the future of email?

Rob Enderle | Feb. 10, 2016
IBM may have a great product in Verse, but columnist Rob Enderle writes that if Big Blue can’t figure out how to market this powerful email offering, it will never rise to its potential.

tracking email @ sign
Credit: geralt

I was in the middle of the great email battle between Microsoft and IBM [Disclosure: Microsoft and IBM are clients of the author] in the 1990s and there really wasn’t much competition. Microsoft had Exchange, which had its greatest power in its focus on users. IBM bought Lotus to get Notes, which had stronger administration tools and a far better focus on collaboration, but sucked at email. In the end, Microsoft dominated, massively, and Exchange is the recognized standard for business email.

However, IBM just brought out Verse, its new advanced email offering, and it comes to market with many of the same advantages over Exchange that Exchange had over Notes. But, this is email, and experienced CIOs know that changing email is potentially a career-ending process. In order to succeed with a user-focused product you have to get the users excited about it, which may be a skill IBM no longer has.

Let’s talk about email.

Migrating email is suicidal

This is often the conclusion of anyone who has done it. If the migration goes perfectly, and I’ve never known an email migration to go perfectly, no one pats you on the back for getting the job done. Email touches everyone from the temp worker on the loading platform to the chairman of the board. If a migration goes badly every one of these folks will quickly become vocal members of the “fire the CIO” club.  

An email migration, as a result, tends to be hard to sell to anyone but an inexperienced CIO unless there is a massive push by the users and the executive management team to make the change. This is why a user-focused product is so critical. Outside of some industries where IT has near god-like powers, an IT-focused product just won’t sell well here and you need a massive user benefit to get the users to rally around this change. Then they can drive it in, over IT if necessary, as we saw happen with the iPhone and Windows 95.

All of this speaks to why the smart CIO generally leaves email migrations to someone else, and knows that it makes a great present to a successor (especially if the departing CIO is pissed about their departure).

1990s email wars

It was fascinating to be part of the email wars in the 1990s. What made the fight interesting was that Outlook was Microsoft’s killer app, but it almost didn’t make it. Its creation was part of a skunks work project, which the Exchange people apparently didn’t know about, to create a better email client. It was a good thing too because the Exchange email client really sucked. Now this doesn’t always happen in a big company. Often when some separate group comes up with something better they just get shot. A good example was Chromeeffects, which could have been what Adobe Flash became but it died due to political infighting.   (For its time it was a pretty amazing product).


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