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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.

With Outlook we had a very user-focused Microsoft Office-like user experience on top of a pretty decent back-end which IT didn’t hate. Collaboration was a big thing and IBM felt it could drive collaboration with a product that was arguably more secure and that IT administrators actually liked better. What both they and Lotus didn’t think through was that a practice called “Forced Ranking” that had made it out of GE and spread like a virus through the technology market. This practice pitted employee against employee and made collaboration all but impossible. So Notes’ killer feature didn’t work in IBM thanks to an incredibly stupid decision to apply a process from GE designed as a triage for an emergency turnaround as a general management process.

Thus Microsoft administrators really didn’t have much authority, and Notes’ killer feature (collaboration) had been institutionally neutered.

The problem with dominance

If you were to describe the 2000s by theme, in Microsoft one of them would be “sitting on their laurels.” Exiting the 1990s they were dominant in pretty much everything they touched and they got pounded by the government for some of the questionable things they did to Netscape that made it even harder to respond to threats. Ironically, Netscape self-destructed anyway, but this combination of unwillingness to invest and inability to respond created a foundation for bleeding market share and power that is almost unmatched short of government-driven breakups.

IE didn’t change much and suddenly market share was bleeding to Google, Windows didn’t change much and had some really bad releases, and success on smartphones and tablets was taken as a given. Microsoft mostly held on with Windows but got creamed on smartphone and tablets (along with a few other once dominant players). That got us to this decade where the Microsoft CEO was forced out and the company has been adjusting to a very different more competitive world where Google, Apple and Amazon are all arguably more influential.  

But email pretty much held, there was some push from open source projects and certainly in the consumer space Gmail became a power. However, for enterprise email there really wasn’t much of a challenge to Exchange even though, from the user’s perspective, Outlook pretty much remained stuck in the 1990s (which is OK as long is the user doesn’t suddenly want something else).

Reenter IBM

Well IBM came back this year with a vengeance with a product called Verse and an alliance with Apple that is actually changing how IBM approaches this market. Verse is user-focused, it changes the process of last-in-first-out email management to one based on importance to the user. In addition, it layers on cognitive computing to both automate much of the process and assure that the user doesn’t make career ending or project limiting mistakes. With a full implementation its goal is to have a product that almost writes the email itself and helps the author ensure that not only the spelling and grammar are correct, but the tone of the email is appropriate.


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