A blast at Air 14 and another one of IBMs lost opportunities

This should have been a series of blog posts over the 10 days as I was working as a volunteer at the Air 14 Air Show in Payerne, Switzerland, but since we were up from about 0600 (that’s zero six hundred for you military guys or just too early for the rest of us) until we had tucked in the last of the jet pilots (helicopter pilots don’t need us, they are adults) at 2200 or later, frankly I was toasted by then. Therefore I put it in one, albeit a long one.
For the nerds among us, the IT part is at the bottom. But if you read on, you get exciting stories of lost love, almost homicide, Kung Fu Panda, not so funny jet pilots and such a deep view into human nature, your world will never be the same.
For me, that was one of the best times of my life. I am still completely worn out. My back hurts like hell and my feet are finally completely flat, but I would not have missed it for anything in the world. I met hundreds of air and ground crew, was part of an absolutely wonderful team and tagged an Apollo astronaut.
Apart from that, we solved several diplomatic incidents, ended a cold war, made new friends and enemies.

Disclaimer. If you have been convicted for crimes like having no sense of humor, being easily offended be sarcasm or suffer from the inability to recognise irony, do not read on. Please go here.

Air 14 was this years biggest air show in Europe. While still a far cry from Oshkosh, about 390’000 people came to see incredible performances of Europe’s best on two weekends, as it was the celebration of 100 years Swiss Air Force, 50 years Patrouille Suisse and 25 years PC 7 Team. It is quite a task to organise an event like this and I was one of more than 5000 volunteers. Our group of around twenty were there to manage welcome and transport of hundreds of air and ground crews with Hotels in 5 different locations. We had to herd our flocks around which became quite a task with certain teams. Others came, parked their aircraft and where never seen again. Unfortunately, while we were preparing to sell their planes, they always showed up to reclaim them. There goes the chance for the Swiss Air Force to replace two crashed F/A-18′s by two (rather filthy) Canadian ones.
On monday after the show I met the USAF F-15 drivers. They claimed they were at the static display the whole day. I never saw them and since I distributed coupons for ice cream and drinks at the static display every day and stayed there for quite while to chat with the teams, I suspect they got lost on the way to the show, somewhere in the alps or at a beach. To make up for that, they wanted to do a bit of tactical navigation on their way home, finding almost unknown and boring places like the Matterhorn, Eiger-Mönch-Jungfrau and the Aletsch glacier. ATC wasn’t up to it and sent them home on a more direct route. But that happened to everybody. The crews that had to hold on their way in, were luckier. Some of the holding patterns they choose were so large, they covered half the alps.

Love at Midnight
My colleagues Martina and Matthieu had the task to work with the Midnight Hawks, the Finnish display team, which kept them on their toes (literally, because M&M are both quite short), that they did not eat for 14 hours. There was always something new and since Martina is a quite cute 19-year-old from Ticino, most of the pilots were hitting on her. They probably just made things up to see her. Matthieu had a hard time to get their attention. One get’s the impression, that if Matthieu had just thrown Martina to the lion pack of blond-haired and blue-eyed pilots, things would have gone much smother for him. But always the gentlemen he is, he saved her every time from the fangs of the Hawk drivers until, the lowest member of the pack got his chance. The copilot of the Casa transport aircraft and Martina saw each other and the rest I will not reveal to protect the bud of a young love. Alas their luck was cut short on monday when the Midnight Hawks left (finally, from Matthieu’s point of view). Despite all the trouble they caused, there is no doubt that the Midnight Hawks will have a special place in M&Ms hearts. They were presented with two framed pictures with all the signatures as a reward for their exceptional work and dedication. While it is possible that others were given to somebody important and then will collect dust on the wall of some pilot lounge, the two for M&M are a symbol of true gratefulness. And for the first time Matthieu was just speechless (which is a very rare event in itself). I think he even got a bit teary-eyes, but that was probably just the fatigue he accumulated over those days … yeah, must be … no doubt …

Pilots and other animals
It’s all about style. When the french Ramex Delta Mirage 2000N arrive, it’s low and noisy. Here we are! Same with the dutch. He used up every feet he could spare. Then you get the Frecce Tricolory. They use smoke at every moment, they feel it is appropriate, which means about every time they turn on the engines and even on their last take off, they turned on the smoke still on the taxiway. This time the tower must have told them in not uncertain terms to cut it off. Certainly because they did not want the airbase go IFR again. The Italians used so much smoke, our sight to the world became a green, white and pink (the red smoke becomes pink when dissolving).
A completely different story were Al Fursan, the UAE Air Force display team. Rumors got out, that our hotels weren’t good enough, nor our cars, almost new Renaults in all forms and sizes. They booked the ground crew into a five-star hotel near by and the pilots in an even better five-star hotel, the Palace in Montreux. As cars they somehow got hold of three Mercedes with all the trimmings and a Range Rover. The rumor peaked, that they bought them new before the show. They did not leave them on our car park after the show, though. Pity that (now read the comment of my colleague Olivier).
One of the pilots was quite attracted to one of our adorable female staff members. While she was rather quite annoyed whenever he showed up – and he did that a lot – we were negotiating in the background the number of camels we could get for her. Unfortunately we couldn’t arrive at an agreement.
The UAE pilots were trained by the Italians and shared the same addiction to smoking, even in the same colors. I am pretty sure that still today, from the air the landscape around the airbase is checkered white, green and red.
During the displays of the Italians or the UAE, once in a while the fire alarm went off in our building.
Quite an impact had the C-130 Hercules of the Danish air force in the static display. They lost count after five minutes about the numbers of people they visited the plane. I am not sure, if it was the plane that was the main attraction, or madam doctor they brought along. What an excuse for a father to tell the kids how cool the plane is and they should absolutely go inside. Some of them probably dragged their kicking and screaming offsprings several times to the plane or bribed them with toys and ice cream.

The Caps Affaire
I believe many would hope to keep this story under the hat but some things just must be preserved for future generations. It all started on the first training day. Our bus drivers asked for base-ball caps as souvenirs and protection. An airfield on a normal summer day has a micro climate like the Sahara in mid summer. Since there were hats available to us from the main sponsor, we asked for some, but they were already gone. A little later we were sent to the VIP welcome tent, because they were understaffed (there is probably a very logic reason why). Every VIP was presented with absolutely useless VIP batch around the neck (how on earth would anybody think a VIP batch could be a nice souvenir for a VIP), a useful VIP wristband and a hat. Since we are fast thinkers, we asked for a few caps for our drivers. We got two or three. So far so good. The next day, other bus drivers asked for caps, too. Thinking of nothing, one of us went to collect some more caps at the VIP. This time, no luck. Our colleague, always dedicated to make everybody happy, was a bit desperate. Being an elderly lady of chinese ancestry, she must have triggered the fatherly feelings of Chefchef (Sebigboss, The ONE), who must met her accidentally (or she tracked him down like a Ninja fighter she probably was in another life, the story is not clear here). On hearing her problem, he immediately jumped into action and ordered some caps for her (did he just wanted to get rid of her?). Since it was Chefchef who ordered, the staff acted right away to this asian-european crisis, ad hoc meetings were held, action plans drawn and after another “accidental” encounter with Chefchef, she was finally provided with caps. They were rather sorry, that they could not bring more, but they got her 500 caps. Unfortunately they did not provide transportation. Now imagine your grand mother sitting among thousands of people on four rather large boxes of caps everybody wants. She was stuck. To her luck, she met her white knight who took pity and drove her back. But that’s not the end of the story, somehow that triggered something. After a while we got the message, that giving the caps to the bus drivers would be a court-martial offence and we would be shoot at dawn. The VIP organisation thought, that the VIPs would not be amused to see bus drivers and other beings from low casts with the same caps. Having met quite a few VIPs in my life, rest assured, they could not care less. Anyway, the same caps are given away to every spectator during other air shows in Switzerland. There must be millions of them.
By mischance, we were not able to make a dent in our stock it that short of time. So I packed the caps and drove them back. Four big boxes of stupid caps back to the sender, dully signed and stocked. Strangely, one box seemed to be lighter than the others.
The next time I was at the other side, I went to Pilatus and asked for caps. They did not have a lot, but since then, at least a few of us made publicity not for the main sponsor, but for Pilatus. Our boss just smiled when he saw me.

Pyjamas saved from doom
One of the highlights of the first weekend were certainly the Patrouille de France – flying wise – while on the ground the situation was a bit less glorious. It started when they arrived at our head quarters. Cool pilots as they are, they strolled in with a nonchalant manner. Unfortunately they wear light blue flight suits (probably tailored by one of the great french couturiers). Actually that does not look too good. The remarks started immediately among us: Get’s dirty easily … my boy had one while a toddler … are they flying in pyjamas? That stuck! Since then the PaF drivers are Pyjama 1 to 9. But it got better. On saturday, with fair weather predicted, the traffic situation on the highway deteriorated as expected to an almost standstill. Up to two hours of stop and go traffic on the highway which accidentally runs along the air base. We had provided the Pyjamas with cars and warned them about taking the highway but they still thought, they would be much faster not taking the proposed route, but sticking to the highway (or the could not handle the basic functionality of the navigation system). And yes, they got stuck. When time for their pilot briefing started running out and their take off time was almost there, they phoned the base. The Swiss Army immediately started one of the biggest search and rescue operations in history. One Super Puma was made ready – really – and truck loads of soldiers were dispatched to drive along the highway to find the stranded stars of the show. Fortunately they were right at the edge of the air base. The soldiers got them over the fence, herded them to their planes, shoved the in the cockpits and sent them flying. Some grunts were left with the cars to drive back. The rumor goes (not confirmed), that the pyjamas even did some cold forming on our precious cars, while parking on the emergency lane.
On another occasion, one of the bus drivers would not believe one of our colleagues, that it was absolutely imperative to follow the proposed route. Twice he rejected her plead to get off the highway: “I am a professional, I know what I am doing”. The police finally had to get them.
Not that next weekend’s “stars” of the show, the Red Arrows were any better. First we booked them into one of our partner hotels and the rooms were free of charge for everybody. In fact a quite nice one just twenty minutes from the air field. Somehow it wasn’t to their liking and they booked their own hotel. One that we rejected on the grounds of a too low standard. But they paid for it and we thought they would just organise themselves. On friday evening the Reds arrived and the pilots got the rental cars we provided and asked us for the shuttle for the ground crew. What shuttle? They only booked the hotel and thought we would do the rest. Not that we hadn’t enough to do shuttling around crews staying in our partner hotels. One other RAF member just called them divas.
On the other hand, I had the pleasure to work with the RAF Falcons parachute display team. Their organisation was just perfect. Unfortunately the VIP organisation messed up the access to the VIP area for crews. Their rule was pretty simple. Goes up in air, VIP. Stays on ground, NOT VIP. Now that was bound to cause problems since the VIP organisation wasn’t able to tell apart important people on the ground, from not so important in the air and vice versa. In the morning before a rather posh party for air crews with invitation, the commanding officer of the Falcons, who is on the ground during the display, came to us and explained that either all of them go or none. Since he and all his colleagues are rather impressively built, the decision to come up with more VIP tags was made pretty fast.
As everybody thought that the whole VIP invitation stuff was done a bit randomly, solutions were created on the fly. Whole medevac transport airplane crews were smuggled in at some point. There is really no reason, why they should be less important, than some common jet driver.

Me as a screaming teenager
Rainer Wilke is the closest to a super star you can become as a helicopter pilot. So I locked forward to see his performance and probably even meet him. In the end I saw his flight three times from different perspectives and I did meet him. Albeit I am not sure, that he has such a good memory of that event. The first time I saw him, I was standing beside him at hangar 2 which served as pilot lounge. First he was eating ice cream, then he got a phone call. And that is while some times it sucks being brought up in Switzerland. We just leave stars alone. And if you are a star and think that you get special treatment every time you open the front gate, you become pretty fast an unperson. We treat pretty much everybody equal. That’s why famous people like to live in Switzerland, because they can live a normal life. Therefore I did not approach him boldly.
The next time I saw him, he was talking to a few people I knew and I joined the group. He explained the fuel system of his BO 105. Probably not that interesting if you are not into stuff like that (I am). We changed a few words after he got a call from OPs, if he could fly the JetMan when the Ecureuil broke down, but that didn’t happen. Then I saw him at the final party the same day. I was talking to the dutch F-16 demo pilot, teasing him about who did the best F-16 demo – he did, but I would not tell him – and there suddenly Rainer Wilke joined us. That was the moment were the difference between helicopter and jet pilots became apparent. The F-16 driver was explaining his maneuvers in great detail and talking with his hands, too, while Rainer Wilke was standing there calmly, explaining once in a while his stuff.
By then, I had spent the last drop of adrenalin that kept me running and my brain must have been shutting down more and more parts that were not necessary to keep me barely on my feet. In retrospect, I have the impression I was just babbling. I just hope Rainer Wilke has not a good memory for faces.
(And for the US guys who think Chuck Aron is the man, Rainer Wilke trained all five helicopter pilots doing this kind of display).

Bush Pilots vs. Jet Pilots
I have a confession to make. One of the reasons I volunteered was to hang out with other pilots. Unfortunately, and I am not alone with that view, many jet pilots are amazingly boring (or too snotty to talk to us). Not all though, the dutch were quite approachable and fun to be with, but we had loads more fun with the technicians/mechanics/engineers (it’s always the same job, but the designation depends on the country).
There are several groups of pilots apart from jet jockeys. First, size matters. In the first week, those with the biggest plane were the most pain in … Somehow a lengthwise challenged Airline driver managed to get special treatment. He parked were nobody else could and somehow he got shuttle service when nobody else could, just because he drove the biggest plane? Fortunately he was too cool to come to the party were just about everybody made fun of them. But as always, you get those guys, and those who for come with their own P-51, are happy to flying an air show, are naturally good-humored and just grateful for everything we could do for them.
At one point I had to pick up a VIP, who was lost at a public entrance. It took us about 10 seconds to find out we had worked as pilots in the same bush years ago. We had so much fun with in the 10 Minutes we needed to go to the VIP area – where staff like me was persona non grata – it took me several days to accumulate the same amount fun with jet pilots. One evening we were sitting at a table and telling “war stories”, the only jet pilot never ever smiled, not once. How can you live like that?
Constantly complaining were some, who flew for some sponsors. What they don’t get is, without us organizing airshows, they would not have the platform. Nobody does it for them. If they want to sponsor it, all the better, but they are not the customer, neither the most important stars … most of them at least. The Breitling Jet Team is quite the opposite. Again, M&M got the problems and the rewards. While the Breitling Jockeys are extremely nice and approachable, they also had a lot of smaller and bigger wishes. But M&M got invited for dinner and karting and a whole bunch of other goodies. The trunk of M’s car was barely able to hold all of it. But it was a small car anyway.

The fun magnet
If anybody ever needed a laugh, Carmen was the girl to follow. She has the amazing ability always to find the coolest crews to hang out with. In the first week, it was the French Mirage Ramex Delta ground crew, in the second week the German CH-53 (helicopter!) crew. Don’t know how she does it, but it worked every time.

Plank strollersThe Breitling Wingwalkers must be escapees of a mental clinic. Why on earth would anybody do this? Quite impressive, though. The two stearman put up a hell of a show. We were standing under the show line one day and saw them crossing at 90 degrees, which is very difficult to judge. Oh, sorry, forgot the girls. They both were pretty young, cute, light and out of their mind doing this kind of stuff. They flirted with about anything in a flight suit. Probably even with that dummy on the ejection seat at the static display. Not with me though, I somehow became suddendly invisible (note to myself, buy flight suit, not in light blue). The pilots on the other hand, did exactly the same thing. Unfortunately their market niche was pretty limited. We did not even see a single female pilot. I hope they didn’t saw the Danish doctor.

The Lady
Sometimes in life you meet somebody who is at the same time extremely annoying, on the other hand have such a strong personality, that they leave you behind completely fascinated. Such a personality is the head of the Sally B preservation trust. Sally B is the only european B-17 still flying, and frankly, one beautiful plane. She is in top-notch condition and that is – credit were credit is due – thanks to Elly Sallingboe. When she arrived, she made such a fuss about everything, that even chefchef had to be summoned, to keep the situation at bay. But that seems to be her normal behaviour. After all, she manages to keep an aviation icon flying, and that probably only works if you are not afraid to act like a leopard tank and just run over everything in your way. But still, when she was near, everybody just got extremely important tasks to do or out of sight as fast as possible.
Don, our liaison officer who knows her, just said: “After a few gin-tonic, she is actually quite a nice girl.”

Czech best sales men for SAAB
One of my flocks was the Grippen Team from the Czech Republic. Due to some language barriers it wasn’t a constant party, but we got along very good. On training day we checked on them at the static display. There they were sitting in the shade of the wing, certainly a bit bored. We talked for a while and then he invited us to sit in the cockpit. The Grippen is a really nice plane inside. Everything seems logically arranged and it is very comfortable. But our visit must have triggered something. Over the whole weekend people were queuing up for a sit in the Grippen. The plane the Swiss population did not want.
SAAB should have sent the Czechs on a few good will mission before the votation, rather than trying to convince some what they thought “key persons”. That sounded like bribery to the Swiss voters. What SAAB’s communication department did not get, was that in Switzerland you have to convince the voters, not the politicians. Now SAAB got it and brought a Grippen E to the show, but it was a mock-up.
Some day, the Swiss Air Force has to buy new planes anyway and the Grippen isn’t off the table.

Kung Fu Panda
When I started kung fu, I took the oath, only to use it to defend myself. But there are some times, where on gets to the edge to break the oath and bend somebody’s knees the other way. There were times were someone in the organisation started to put spokes in our wheels. Since we had to meet teams, we were travelling quite often between our head quarters and the other side of the field, were static displays, VIP area and spectators were located. We took whatever means of transportation was available, shuttles or crew busses. After a few days, we were told, we were not allowed to use the crew buses anymore, just the shuttles. Unfortunately, the shuttles stopped at one end of the runway. That meant a walk of sometimes up to two and a half kilometers and going against the flow of 100’000 spectators. No fun. That was resolved after a day, but we weren’t allowed to take the crew buses, if they were already full of crews. No really? Did they really think we wouldn’t be that clever?
The next thing came with the VIP organisation. They were understaffed (one has an idea why) and asked for help. First day went ok and somebody had the idea, that we should make a plan and whoever is free, should help out at the VIP tent. Good idea. Three times I was summoned, three times when I got there, I was told they did not need me after all. Though I thought to myself: “get lost”. They tried to contact me afterwards, but they had the wrong number. Now bugger that.
The third time I was close to going bananas was, when four of us were asked to help the staff on the other side to help selling books together with caps, about the history of the Swiss Air Force. I said yes, but I had to leave at a certain time. We went there with our personal Renault cars we were provided in the beginning. Since I became somehow the head of the group (my mother always told not to be the first to volunteer. Should have listened to her), I searched for the person responsible and finally found him. I told him that we were there and ready to roll but he shut me up in a quite unfriendly, if not rude manner and continued to do small talk with some female staff, until the bags with the money arrived. By then I had already identified the targets I would hit, if anything else would happen in the next five minutes.
We loaded our cars with hundreds of books and caps and went to the static display. Here we were told, no commanded, to sell the stuff and would be relieved in one hour and just leave our cars there. Ah, no way my friend, our cars stay with us. Then we were told that in one hour other cars would arrive. Fortunately we had Martina with us and I was immediately relived of my role as the boss, since I am by far not as attractive as her.
While we were standing there in the sun desperately trying to sell the books not many wanted with caps everybody wanted, but not for that price, our friend was standing 50 meters away, watching the air show with one of VIP support girls (and I thought they were understaffed). That did it, at 1500 sharp we packed up and left the scene. The other promised cars did not arrive and were never seen at the static display. We reported back at headquarters and poor Kevin had to listen to our story. He picked up the phone and told the other side in very clear words, not to ask for help again.

Party poopers
As my readers can imagine, we were happy campers, when we were told, that we could attend the two parties on thursday and sunday. First thursday we got in without any fuss. Next sunday we were not really welcome, but let it, because we had to meet our crews, sort of. Technically we were still working. But for about half of us, access was denied. Markus, our team leader (or whatever, I never figured the hierarchies out anyway) wasn’t amused. Next thursday we got stopped at the entrance, but chef was there and told us to get in. Since we had to follow orders, we went. Somebody must have been annoyed by our presence and pulled strings in the background. But since we were the group that did the most for the crews and were pretty much the face of that organisation, and a very pretty one for that, they had hardly any reason to suddenly deny us access.

I did it again. I asked people to take pictures of me while sitting in various cockpits. I do not get wiser with age it seems. On every single picture I look like terminal ill rat with a stupid grin, due to distorted face muscles. That is the reason, why there isn’t a single picture of me on the internet, except the one, where I am standing behind an R44 with only my feet in clear view. Why can’t I be a quarter vampire? Normal, just not showing up on photos and in mirrors.

Our biggest mistakes
No event of this magnitude goes without moments we really messed up. I mean big time. We have to admit, that these situations could have been prevented, had we thought about it correctly. And the press, always up to the task to find any flaw in an organisation, put its finger on it.
First problem: We had no grilled sausages. They were available, but from private booth, not at our restaurant at hangar five. Sorry about that. The reason was probably that we are in the french part. One right-wing party even thinks we are not real Swiss anyway.
Second problem: The German speaker was from Austria. Actually the French speaker was from France, but the press didn’t find out. Why didn’t we get Swiss speakers? Because the two are highly experienced airshow speakers and you can not find people like that in Switzerland.
Martina, having Italian as mother tongue, always started to groan, when the guest speaker of a swiss team said things like “finale grande”. It’s gran finale.
The rest of the BS we did, the press did not find out about and I am not going to tell them.

One more lost opportunity (here starts the nerd thing)
One of the problems we faced, was the lack of information we would have needed at our fingertips and not on some spread sheet. Those poor guys organizing the event had to rely on very few legacy tools, like Word, Excel, Access and Outlook. With XPages, a mobile framework and all the smart phones around, we could have provided everybody with the information at the time needed. That would have saved hundreds of hours of searching, revising lists, general chaotic trouble shooting and a lot of pain in my back and feet.
We as the Swiss IBM Business Partners could have made a lasting impression on quite a few people: let’s say 390’573 and few thousand VIPs thrown in for good measure, if we would have reacted early enough. It is a pity, I often get the best ideas, when it is too late.
I could not help it, while there I started to design the application in my head. As has been done during the Christchurch earthquake, we have the unique capability to start from scratch and get results fast. A q&d application would easily be ready within a week, with the first results up and running in a few hours. The data wasn’t that complicated and not a lot of features would have been needed. Just a few good views and a concept to keep all the data connected and the ACL correct, would have made a huge difference. In exchange I would have asked for a boot for all involved, preferably near the VIP area. Even a public information service could have been possible.
We probably would have had to ask IBM for a few licenses, but what a small price to pay, for such an incredible opportunity.
I think we should face the fact, that we will not get any marketing support from IBM to broaden our customer base. If we want that IBM products are better known also to non-IBM customers, we have to do that ourselves. Events like this, were we could show a solution that is working and helping people right there, could be a low-cost, but very effective marketing tool.

Usability made in France
As I mentioned, I was provided with an almost brand new Renault. An Espace. When I first took it for a ride, the radio was on. There is a multifunction display for navigation. On the center console are buttons and stuff, labeled with “menu”, “-” and so on. I started to fiddle around with it. There wasn’t anything on it, that said “Radio” but I thought, if I click through all the menus, I will find it eventually, because after three days, the darn was slowly annoying me. Nothing. Then I tried every glove box I could find. There is one in the middle, that opens downwards on pressing a button. After three days I found out, that instead pressing the button, I pulled upwards, there is another glove box. And there it was, the radio. After a while without music I realised, the MFD only showed a clock. Touching the navigation buttons did not change that. Since I did not need it anyway, I forgot about it. After a while I turned on the radio and the MFD lit up? What? I turned the radio off, MFD off. It turns out, if you want to navigate, you have to turn the radio on (I asked the mechanic). Thank god the germans help the french to build the Airbuses.

The End
At the end we were happy and sad, that it was over. We had no accident, that is the most important. We got a personal letter of the european airshow council, congratulating us for the amazing organisation. Seems we even get a price for the best airshow, but the season isn’t over yet. Anyway, everybody gave us high marks and that makes all of us proud. Never have so few be thanked by so many.

To make things clear, because I was asked this more than once, M&M are not a couple. Their relationship is rather strange. They went from complete strangers to “let’s just stay friends” skipping everything in between. While Martina has hit Matthieu on several occasions, he did not suffer lasting effects. With the right counselling he should be as good as new in a few month. The twitch he developed will hopefully disappear with time.

Thanks to all of my colleagues during those 10 days. It was a joy to work with you and I am proud having all of you as friends.

Thank you Joe for being a good mother.

… and I don’t like jet noise anymore.


I told you, didn’t I?

THIS I wrote almost two years ago and surprise surprise, I was quite close to what happened lately with IBM and Apple. Quick read? I’ll wait.

(Dumdidumdi… have to mow the lawn again. Stupid rain … Oh, the cat (Floh, because he had flees when we got him) under my table is dreaming again. Sounds like a fight with someone. Haven’t heard him growl like that since that stupid orange tom attacked him)

Ready? Good. Overall it seems that I had the same ideas than IBM and Apple. Their products do not overlap, Apple needs, or rather wants more foothold in the B2B market. Only IBM doing something in the customer market, isn’t mentioned at all, which I think is a mistake. But I am getting ahead of things again. Let’s read the Press Info. (Dumdidum and so on)

Does somebody strike something there? Mostly it talks about what IBM is going to do. There is hardly any mention of Apple, bar the enterprise care plan.

The landmark partnership aims to redefine the way work will get done, address key industry mobility challenges and spark true mobile-led business change—grounded in four core capabilities:

  • a new class of more than 100 industry-specific enterprise solutions including native apps, developed exclusively from the ground up, for iPhone and iPad;
  • unique IBM cloud services optimized for iOS, including device management, security, analytics and mobile integration;
  • new AppleCare® service and support offering tailored to the needs of the enterprise;  and
  • new packaged offerings from IBM for device activation, supply and management.

Apart from the selfworshipping in the first part, it’s more or less IBM stuff for iOS. Apple will certainly help with the design – meaning look-and-feel and IBM needs every help it can  get – but otherwise, it’s all about IBM’s cloud offering.

For me, that does not sound like a partnership between equals. Taking in account IBM’s current problems with declining revenue, that looks more like IBM’s grasp at a straw.
If that concept fails Apple has still its consumer market, where it shines and if Apple decides it can do it without IBM in B2B, it will. For IBM it would be a lot of lost money it can’t pay to share holders, a lot of lost time it does not have to turn around and again lots of pissed off customers and partners.
Analytics also comes into play again. I don’t believe in a huge market. Analytics can become quickly much too complicated for most people and specialists in that field are in short supply. Most companies will do without or will try to mimic it by using SQL and spread sheets.
But IBM has 400 mathematicians(!) that can help. That will be the same problem as with business ratios. Most managers do not understand where the numbers come from and with analytics it will even get worse. Ratios and numbers that change with time without any clear meaning because nobody remembers the algorithm. That’s like being on the Titanic. The music is still playing, therefore it can’t be that bad. As of lately it was estimated, that of all companies using analytics, only about 40% of managers or employees understand what they are doing. That isn’t a too good ratio. If the numbers are wrong and management does not know it, they could be in for a surprise. (But hey, if a new product fails, managers now have a new culprit. “Not my fault, Analytics was to 89% positive, couldn’t help it that we happened to be in the last 11%”. And they can never be proven wrong. What a job security mechanism.)

But let’s look at the latest news from Mail Next. Kramer hints that about 60 % of all the stuff on mobile devices is mail and calendar. There is hope for a iOS based mail and calendar client from IBM? And Apple is doing the look and feel? Nice idea, isn’t it.
Somehow the whole story isn’t consistent, regarding Mail Next, Mobile First, Cloud first, Apple and IBM. For the mobile devices, IBM will have to build apps, which are “rich” clients. On the other hand, there is no mention of any rich client on “traditional” clients. PCs and Macs should go to the Mail Next web client.
Both IBM and Apple have rich clients for Macs and mobile devices. Logically I would think, something has to go. Apple will not let go of the Apple Mail client, neither on iOS, nor on OSX. Quo vadis Notes? Using Outlook as a front end, the browser plugin for Domino applications and the browser for XPages? That’s a three window hell (And it will not work for me anyway, since there is no browser plugin for anything on the Mac). A mail app from Apple, a mail app from IBM, two calendar apps and two “Notes” apps. Does that look good for Notes on iOS or OSX?
But what about the applications? It would certainly be nice to have local Domino apps for iOS. Xpages could do it. Is IBM planning on an app for iOS for all these Domino applications out there? About ten million as somebody once estimated?
I don’t see the browser plugin come to iOS, but who knows, but if that app does not happen, Domino will be relegated to what every half backed migration expert out there thinks it is, just a mail server. On the other hand, if IBM comes up with an app for that, happy days, suddenly we would have a whole new market to play with. One, where nobody knows or cares about “Notes is Dead” rumors. (And if it works on iOS, it could also work on OSX, which would be right down my alley). They just want apps that work and do not require a server farm at home for connections … ups, sorry, we are supposed to move to the cloud.
But again, I am just putting Lego pieces together and completely leave out politics.

Now there is another thing that came up in the last few years with cloud offerings. Today many companies outside the US like the idea of mobile first but not the idea of cloud first. In every webcast about IBM’s cloud offerings questions about on-premises come up. Every single time. Why is that? Do customers not trust IBM? The problem is not limited to IBM, every US cloud service, inside or outside the US, has to provide data to the US government on request (secret judge and everything). It does not matter if IBM (MS, Oracle or whoever) tells you, that the customer always knows where his data is. Neither does it matter if IBM firmly believes, that with its data encryption and with the customer only having the key, the data should be save from everybody. Nobody outside the US does trust it.
If IBM wants to shine in that market, the only solution is to sell (in selling and then they own it, not just selling the usage) the cloud software to european, russian, chinese, japanese, swiss and so on companies. These companies can set up the cloud offerings with IBM’s blessing and help, but no piece of hardware or software can be owned by IBM. There should not be any cloud or data contract between IBM and the customer. Only then, some more companies might be reluctantly be ready to move to the cloud.
(BTW, there is still an unused Yahoo data center around the corner. If anybody wants to set up a data center for anything big, Yahoo might want to be willing to sell. I would help to make it work).
Costwise IBM is in for a hard game. Cloud will become cheaper over time until enough players drop out. IBM will need a lot of money and breath to survive this and become a important player. But if you believe in the latest rumors, cloud isn’t the big money maker as the hype makes us believe.
IBM, how about the on-premises offerings? Probably Apple can help there to, how to make updates without anything crashing.
One big argument for cloud always is, from IBM’s point of view at least, the faster upgrade cycle, because IBM does not have to test on several OS’s and hardware configurations. If IBM would just sell the VM’s it uses anyway in its cloud, that wouldn’t be a problem anymore and we could all continue to use our on premises installations or move to the cloud and back without so much as a mouse click. They had them once. Where are they now? I know, some companies just don’t want shrink wrapped VM’s, but if the price tag is right, many arguments will just disappear into oblivion.
Whatever happens, it will be interesting to see where Notes and Domino goes with iOS… if they are really part of the package.


Mail Next and Many of you are drunk right now … kind a!

Yup, that’s true, if you are one of those incredibly hard-working men/women, who know they don’t need a lot of sleep and can work for 20 hours a day for weeks. If you find yourself here, you might want to realise you have a mental performance of a heavily drunk. And as a bonus you are killing yourself.

Every other year in May the time comes, were I have to renew my flight instructor privileges. Probably for the last 10 years they beat into us, that fatigue is one of the bigger problems in aviation and the one the easiest to solve. It rectifies itself literally while we sleep. Would be nice for all my problems.
Now the most important misconception:

  • I am young, strong, I run, I bike, I work out, therefore I need less sleep.

Na, sorry. Older people need less sleep. The average person at around 25 needs 8 straight hours of sleep and that does not change a lot until 60. No argument will change that fact. Not even coffee. And you can’t do a training to need less sleep, all you get is even more sleep deprivation.

When somebody has to work for a while more, that’s ok, as long as enough rest awaits in the end. If not, the continuous sleep deprivation leads to burn out, depression, cardiac problems, there are even signs that it might be a factor in getting cancer. Need more reason for enough sleep?
Let’s say you stay awake for 24 hours. Would you consider yourself at peak performance? Not really. I personally start feeling quite dizzy after 20 hours. Test show that continuous sleep deprivation of only two hours per night over 14 days, reduces your mental performance to the level above. That is about the one of a drunk with an alcohol level over 0.1%. Nobody wants a driver or a pilot in that mental state, but developers, admins and managers all over the world think that this is their normal level of performance. A bit more coffee and I am ok. Wrong. In that state my work is lousy. More mistakes and way slower. The problem is, my subjective feeling tells me different. In don’t feel very sleepy, actually quite ok, but my mental performance is still lousy.
Unfortunately we have a culture of who stays the longest in the office, wins. Everybody has to show, they can work hard. Real men culture. Working under pressure. Yeah.


The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) just released new regulations about Pilot Duty and Rest Requirements for Airline Pilots (not for the freight dogs, which I think is stupid). After a 14 hour shift with not more than 9 hours of flight time (8 at night), every pilot must at least get 13 hours of rest and 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Every pilot has to sign a document to affirm that they are fit for duty. There are now limits for daily, monthly and yearly flight time. Why? Because we don’t want almost brain-dead people on the wheel. But pilots are real men/women, aren’t they? Especially helicopter pilots. We are by definition cool, no? But if I would fly for 20 hours straight, I would probably crash. Now I am not cool anymore, rather the late blithering idiot.
Do we really need sleep deprivation to be considered hard? The results should count, not the number of meetings I can press in a day.
Unfortunately many people see this like sport. They say, that working hard is like running a marathon. That picture is wrong, because after a marathon, your body needs rest. Everybody knows that. Nobody runs 10 marathons in a row but this is perfectly acceptable in business. Working should more be considered like a round the world tour on foot/bike/boat. Constantly working toward a goal without damaging the body, because it is a loooooong way and you can not do this with the speed of a marathon. But it brings the best performance over a long period. But no, (almost) everybody thinks long hours are the cool/hard/peak-performance factor. In reality they are the stupid mistakes, bad mood, irritating behavior and friday afternoon crash factors. More coffee please, thank you.
It’s a question about what one wants. It’s either a game of who can keep the seat warm the longest or who performs the best. If I want the best performing employees, I should throw them out after 10 hours in the office and go home, too.
Now what about mail next guy Scott Souder? Every time I hear him, he is complaining about the email flood and his solution is mail next. Good show though, but not a solution for his sleep deprivation. The 10 PM mail from Kramer will still come and Scott will only find it faster with mail next.
How about a feature in mail next where mails from certain people only show up between 8 AM and 8 PM? Cool no? As long as the boss can override that setting. If I have one of my great ideas, I want that all my subalterns know that immediately and start working on it.


A View from Beneath the Dancing Elephant – another book

Now this book is different from Cringely’s. It was written by Peter E. Greulich, an insider. He tells the story of the Watsons in IBM and the impact they had on a positive corporate culture. Something inexistent today, as the author believes.
While Cringely relies on information he can gather from the outside, Peter E. Greulich has worked for IBM for about 30 years in various positions, including management. He has many interesting stories to tell, but the essence of the book is his grief with IBM’s current situation and how it came to it. For him it started with the reign of the white knight in the person of Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. who at first was his hero. Later, especially after changing the retirement schema, he started to feel, that IBM was going in the wrong direction. With Sam Palmisano, it got worse. Management started to use rules and tools, that were either incomplete or not understood. As an example he recalls Tivoli Configuration Manager. At first a game changing product, but for the lack of continuous developement it became obsolete.

The development director said, “TCM is a cash cow. Why should I spend money on a product that is nothing but pure profit?” He believed that products in this market were commodities with low margins, and should be left to others to waste their profits on. We never convinced him otherwise.

The cow in “cash cow” is quite a good example for this. When you got a cow you have still to feed it and you have to look for a replacement – its offsprings normally – while the profit you make with the milk, pays also for growing (cash-)cow. But until the old cash cow becomes a poor dog (meat loaf), it is the duty of the product manager to push the poor dog as far in the future as possible. In the software business that means constant upgrades and enhancements and at least some marketing, until nobody has any new ideas (good ideas that is) to keep the milk flowing. By then, the rising star should be ready to take over and eventually become the next cash cow. That’s the ideal world and it does not always happen but still, Just abandoning a product, just because one thinks it good enough right now, without having the next thing in the drawer, is rather short-sighted.

The other story was with “Lean”, even so he does not mention the word. IBM used Toyota’s “Lean” initiative in a perverted kind of way. The real “Lean” wants to free resources by using everyone’s knowledge to eliminate inefficiency AND augment quality. The idea is not to find ways to fire people but to free resources to use them better. That’s one of the main principles of Lean, not to fire people. Greulich recounts how he lived through that time, when more and more of his friends disappeared and how that hurt his and others work. Key people were “resource actioned” (fired), because that department just had a quota to fill. It works exactly like Microsoft’s performance management. If you have a bad quarter, you are a goner. Does not matter, if your family just died in a train crash. Or in other words, if you had Einstein, Newton, Curie and Pauli on your team, Curie probably would have let go, due to her morning sickness and the resulting slightly lower performance at 7:30 AM. With that IBM became even more inefficient and the quality dropped. To make up for the loss, IBM bought more and more other companies for a lot of money, only to bluewash and crush them. Small example: Nitix. Developing their own products ahead of time with freed resources from a proper Lean program, could have saved and made IBM billions (in the case of Nitix, IBM once had a lot more Linux developers). But that would have cost shareholder-value. Now that’s bad, if the friends at Wallstreet don’t like you anymore because you don’t fill their pockets enough. It might be a wild guess, but if you look a the prices IBM paid for some companies and the number of products that after a few years are still alive, one gets some doubts about that strategy.
This kind of senseless loss of manpower (today: knowledge drain), did not happen 20 years before, when Greulich had a hard time himself as a single parent with three small kids. His friends at IBM and his manager just helped him through this time and he is forever grateful. First, it did not hurt IBM, because the work got done anyway and second, Greulich committed himself even more. If that isn’t a win-win situation? And don’t tell me that isn’t possible today. Many companies all over the world show that you can prosper and accepting a social responsibility.*
The numbers are also different to Cringeley’s. According to Greulich, for every old IBMer (in the US, Europe and so on) let go, three to five Indians or Chinese developers were hired and still they can not match the quality and therefore the speed of the old team. Not even financially that makes sense. As a side note, many big european companies in-source again. Even Apple starts to build computers in the US. Do they probably know something IBM does not? None of all those companies do that because suddenly labor costs dropped below China’s, oh no, they do it because it makes sense financially. More money in the long run!

Worth a read? Definitely. It does give you a point of view of somebody inside. Cringely looks for sensation (that’s his job) and Greulich is just sad. Somewhere in the middle lies probably the truth, but all in all, the pictures match.

A View from Beneath the Dancing Elephant
Rediscovering IBM’s Corporate Constitution

by Peter E. Greulich

* One of the best example came from the union representative at Porsche during an interview at Le Mans. You can be nice to your workforce and demand that extra effort if somebody wants to work for Porsche. That’s the view of the “Betriebsrat“! In early days the enemy inside, today an important asset to the company. No wonder VW wanted one for their american workforce, because it pays off.

i Cringely: the Decline and Fall of IBM – a review

For quite a while I was working on a series of blog posts about the decline of Notes and Domino and then came this book. Damn, he was faster. But this book isn’t about Notes and Domino and I couldn’t say if Cringely even knows it, but it does not matter. Here is a bigger picture and it explains quite well, why Notes and Domino are on a sinking ship. It’s not only that Notes is under constant fire from outside, the whole IBM is a mess, if all what Cringely writes is only half-true.
I like the book. I said similar things before. But is the magnitude of stupidity that reigns in the ivory tower of IBM as bad? Sam was on the wrong track, but it looks like, the Road Kill 2015 is not going to stop soon and the C-level is following like lemmings.
Forbes has a nice article about it, too.
The whole problem with IBM turns around shareholder value, or rather the gamblers version of it. Even as a first year student, I knew shareholder value is not one of the clever ideas (according to Jack Welch, the most stupid and he should know), if you want a company to survive. It’s a good idea, if you don’t care about the company and all you want is more money. But that river will dry out eventually. It just does not work as a sustainable strategy.
From my point of view – you may call it idealistic – investors are people who give a company money to work with, to build on. They have a long-term view, because the investors believe in the company and the products. People like Ican, BlackRock and so on, are more like gamblers. They are not investors, because they do not invest. They want making money as fast as possible. Which means buying cheap and – now comes the important part – selling high in the shortest possible time. Only by selling the stocks, they actually make a lot of money. Dividends are just a nice to have on the way there and a way to move the stock price higher (read: the twenty bucks target of IBM in 2015). What comes after, isn’t their concern. If they leave a bloodless hull on their way to wealth, who cares. What amazes me most, is the way Sam thought, that the investors are a good thing for IBM. They buy stocks from outsiders and sell to outsiders. There is no money flowing into IBM. It is absolutely useless. The only reason to schmooze with them, were his own pockets, as Cringely points out. According to him, Sam did everything to get rich and get out … and on the way make his friends on Wallstreet happy.
What I find interesting about the investors, is their view about “their” money. If it was “their” money, it wouldn’t be in stocks, it would be a credit, where the company pays an interest and after a while the whole sum back. Capital stock is money you don’t get back from the company you invested in. That’s the whole point. It’s the companies own capital. But you get a dividend which is hopefully higher than the interest you would get from a credit. The only way to get your money back, is to sell the shares to somebody, who believes that this risk is worth taking at a certain price. That’s the stock market were the gamblers reign. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is wrong to use your power to influence companies to act in a way that hurts their business only to make money for gamblers, who have nothing to do with the company. Why the heck should IBM care about them? But it looks like, there is a whole generation of economists, that never saw the stupidity of shareholder value.

My profession – the economist, not the developer – is a lame one. We can’t do anything. We depend entirely on others to develop, build and sell products (I am not really one of them, because I can build stuff) but we are the clever ones that made a whole economic world revolve around us and we are very good at slapping each others backs. Yes, there are things we learn and can do, like organising, reorganising, book-keeping, all very important things, but we are nothing without the grunts on the shop floor, who turn the screw drivers.
Unfortunately, not many managers realise this.
Now the real clever ones think; yes, the grunts know a few things we don’t. How can we make them expendable anyway? How about knowledge management? If that works, we can fire the expensive grunts and hire cheap ones without loosing anything. Unfortunately it does not work, not even with IBM Connections. Because intuition, experience and creativity isn’t something you can store in a database.
Back to the book. IBM added 100’000 Indians, Brazilians and Chinese developers, managers and whatever else, and fired (or talked them into leaving) 100’000 Americans, Canadians, Germans, Swiss and others to cut cost. What I don’t get is the fact, that outsourcing developement, services and design is so last century. By now everybody knows that software written cheaply elsewhere by newbies without experience and proper (which means looooooong and expensive) training, will be easily 20 times more expensive, because of the errors which have to be rectified at home (from those few left, that still now how it works). That has been common knowledge for years and still is true today. But since my brothers and sisters of the economy schools do not have a clue about software or hardware development (they don’t, I gave many of them private lessons in excell programming. It was horrible) they probably really do not know about it. Another interesting effect of this is, that IBM seeded hatred against itself. Many fired IBMer will eventually turn against IBM and 100’000 ex-IBMers with a grudge is a lot of influence in the market.

Can Ginni turn the ship around? If she wants, but she will make a lot of gamblers angry, because it would mean to stop the Death March 2015 (said that before). She would have to stop borrowing money to pay for buying IBM shares. Invest IBM’s own money to make better products faster. I don’t agree with Cringely, that they have to be cheaper, but for a premium price you need premium products and services. It’s doable, but not like this. I get itching from the last sentence:

One thing is certain. Rometty will likely breathe a sigh of relief once her hands are no longer tied by it [the Roadkill 2015].

Why are her hands tied by it? Just because Sam had a this idea? And even if she does pull the 20$ off, who believes that after that she can do the right thing? By 2016 the gamblers want even more. It’s a never-ending story, if you are in bed with the gamblers, they will not let you off the hook. That is the reason why Tim Cook did not want to give in to Ican. He knows what happens. Fortunately Apple has so much cash left, that it almost looks like a good idea to give something back and since Apples stock can’t rise indefinitely, one day Apple had to pay a dividend. Every company has to look for its owners, but not for the price IBM is willing to pay.
The only solution for IBM is to throw the gamblers out. Which either means that Ginni looses her job or the situation is desperate enough, that even the most greedy gambler sees the writing on the wall, which means the stock price has fallen, despite the 20$ bucks. In that case the gamblers will leave and try their luck elsewhere. Ginni might still lose her job, but at least she has a chance to convince the remaining share holders that she has the right ideas to save IBM. On the other hand, if the stock price falls far enough, Apple could use its petty cash and buy IBM. Now wouldn’t that be nice?
The next thing that I have not seen to this extent are the management levels. Up to 13 from the shop floor to the boss. Oh my, what happened to KISS? What are these guys between level 2 and 11 doing? But wait, let’s crunch a few numbers. If each of the managers have just 2 others report to them – which would be silly – that would make 8’191 managers. Not that bad for IBM, but the lowest level would have about 100 grunts each. That’s too much. Let’s say it’s 3 per manager. That would make 797’161 managers. Obviously too much. You can’t invent that many job titles. There are probably quite a few dead ends in the reporting chain. Whatever, there must be a lot of spread sheet pushers in IBM.
When I think back about the last ten years, IBM constantly changed. Once it was services, today it’s software, people came and went, it was always a big surprise, who you would talk to next time. Products came and went. Big failures, small failures, name changes, changes back to the original name. It’s a mess and it has been for a decade.
Probably one of the more important reasons why Notes and Domino customers jump ship is, they are just fed up with IBM. Something I have probably underestimated. I should have learned from my own experience, when IBM took very nice prospective customers from me.
Ford once was in a similar position not too long ago. They made more money with financial transactions and forgot that they were a car maker, until it caught up with them. One day the CEO said: “We understand our troubles.” How about that as a motto, instead of “Be essential”?

PS: I am now reading “A view from beneath the dancing elephant”
Looks like it goes in the same direction.


No really. What kind of evaluation license is this?

I made myself a Smart Cloud Engage(?) test account.
Now what I wanted to do, is invite somebody to work on a text outside “my” company. First it is rather complicated until you get there. You can not invite somebody from outside by adding him on the document. You have to go through files and invite them first from there. Right there were your new document shows up (aaaarrrghhh).
When you just added somebody and click invite, you are informed, that you are not allowed to do that. The invitation will not be sent. What kind of usability is this?
Wana do that in Google Drive? Add an email address on the document, done. That is how it should work.

IBM you just won my Catch22 special award for annoying usability. If you don’t want somebody do something, tell him first, not after he did everything required.
Could somebody within IBM please call Apple for a course in usability? Might be worth it.


Mail-Next and a amazing change

First the rant. I am with Volker Weber and the annoying stuff one has to do to follow a web meeting with IBM.All started well until it actually started. I had an image but no sound. In the chat window phone numbers appeared. Toll for anybody outside the US or Canada. IBM, that’s not nice. Is anybody on another continent a lower life form?
I restarted the whole shabadoing and had to install the latest Java Version. A little window asks if I want to start the plugin which did not start anyway (just an empty window and nothing happens) or it started and did not say so. I continued without the plugin and had sound. I missed the first 15 Minutes due to a half backed web tool.

But it got interesting in the end. I am not going to describe all the things I saw. I suppose almost everybody got invited. What struck me is the new openness of IBM. Last year there was the big silence and now Kramer and Scott show even prototypes and concepts. Scott said about ten times not to take the current design as a final version.
It is either because IBM tries a new way of promoting Mail-Next or they are just not sure, if the concept holds its promise. But the curiosity how it will look, almost kills me.
Now IBM, let me tell you this: You set the bar high by promising a new mail experience that should help all of us to keep the mail flood under control. What I have seen, there are some ideas that immediately struck me as great. Some were more like “told you years ago” and some were “great, but …”. All in all I can see some huge improvements for the mail experience.
The calendar bar (name might change … or will certainly regarding IBMs tradition of killing easy to remember names with multi word gibberish) is nice. I would like that, but I would not use it, because I still try to keep my calendar in my head. I always thought, that what it’s made for, remembering things. But it think that will help a lot of people managing their time better … as long as they can do it on the smart phone, too or the tablet for the matter.
I definitely liked the search. Finding not only mail but also links, attachments and other stuff is great. Adding the search to the bar as a single button is the way to go. I would even go a bit further and add a tagging possibility for adding stuff I know it belongs to the search but did not show up for whatever reason. That could replace folders. And to make the transition easier for every folder addicted user, call it something like smart folder. Click on it and it shows everything that is tagged and everything that is found in the search.
We can do what we want, folders are not going away. We can just stop pretending having found a better way. If we would change “Tagging” to “add to Folders”, the acceptance would be much better. The Folder Cloud with different sizes for different numbers of mails, would be a good idea, too.
Many claim not using folders but still move everything to the old mail folder just to have an empty mail box. Why not just leave it in the inbox? Because it looks tidier. I just use one folder in Notes, the inbox. Works too … as long as I remember to clean the crap out once in a while. One day I am going to add that “remove from inbox” button again.

Now what about the Notes client? Mail-Next is browser-based. The browser has become the universal framework for a lot of great tools. It works. If IBM wants to keep the Notes client, it should have the same user experience as the web client. With Mail Next for the first time the web version has surpassed the client version. Now what? Either kill it or find another solution. The only reason for the traditional client are the applications. In case of killing, the solution is either the browser plugin or move to XPages. The later even enhances the app experience and helps us developers make a few bucks. In case of matching the capabilities, IBM has a huge problem to solve. Expeditor can’t do all this very good. Rewriting to Notes client as a kind of browser and expeditor based client just to be able to do in a new client what you can do with all the other web tools already, does not make a lot of sense. What would you do? I think we all agree, building a new Notes client does not look very useful. Except IBM comes up with an idea, that is so awesome, that everybody is going to uninstall the browser immediately. We know the answer to that. And if some traditionalist thinks he can not live without a mail client, move down to Outlook and leave us alone.

I am looking forward to Mail Next and I am just now looking at Smart Cloud to get the last Domino server into its retirement home. And if I am really nice to everybody I can probably sneak my way into the advisory group and test Mail Next early.
And due to the NDA I could tease everybody that I have seen great stuff but can not talk about it.

Scott Souders dead cold hands

There are not many occasions when IBM has amazed me recently but yesterday that was the case. I attended IBM Connect in Switzerland – organized by the partners Belsoft, Cross Works, GIS, TimeToAct, WebGate and Avnet, probably paid by IBM through co-marketing money, whatever – and I saw Scott Souder for the first time in person.
That man lives a dangerous live.
But first things first. As ever I enjoyed Louis Richardson. At least in his presentation one stays awake. He does not have a clue about technology (say he) and still, every time I know something new about IBMs technology in the end. Which probably is the whole point.
Next thing was Duke Daehling about Kenexa. Interesting, one could say, but I think there is a huge misconception about that search of the best talents. They always forget to say: search for the best talent FOR THIS PARTICULAR JOB. Otherwise we end up in a war for employees with high IQ’s. The point is not to search for the best employees in general, as it might seem if you follow the marketing pitch, it is about finding people to excel in a particular job. Connect job description and people better. Since Duke Deahling is a statistics guy, he should know that in general, your workforce is build from average people and that will not change. Oh yes I know, your company is special and 70% of all drivers think they are above average.
What I also liked was the contribution of Professor Andrea Back from St.Gallen. She talked about measuring the success of a social/collaboration/whatever infrastructure and in short told us, don’t bother too much about it. You soon will realize if it works or not. Too much measuring is for bean counters and can be dangerous and spoil the whole effort. All that depends on the company. A telemarketing company might need to analyse it. Others don’t. But Professor Back knows a lot about social software and uses it. Much more than most generation Y kids I know. Why? It just makes sense to do it. That’s a message many still haven’t got.
Martin Donnelly was certainly a highlight, too. But even though IBM thinks that XPages are a technology on the rise, I can’t get rid of the impression, that it is something for new customers … which are rather rare.
Now back to Scott. First he said we should not Twitter about some things we see, but he said nothing about blogging and he forgot to mention which things. Here we go.
Scott said Notes isn’t going away or in his words, “you have to pry Notes from my cold dead hands”. If that isn’t a statement from a Notes dinosaur, I don’t know what is. Did you know, that he was one of the first twenty people working on Notes at the dawn of history? He really loves that thing. Even his kids make fun of him about using Notes. If IBM ever decides to let go of Notes, they have to remove every sharp object in Scotts vicinity.
What really amazes me, that he is still there. How did he hide from the IBM job carousel?

For all of you who saw Mail Next at Orlando you need an update. I saw the latest design proposals. Most certainly it will not look like anything we have seen until now, but the underlying technology is just amazing and it works … NOW (probably not all of it) and it is there to solve Scotts own email flood. Take that as a motivation. Scott showed his email account with the latest build. Want it. And it is good news for developers. iNotes is a nightmare for developers. Looks like with Mail Next we can actually fiddle around with it.
Not to forget project Hawthorn. That should take the pressure of poor admins, when the new CIO wants Outlook. Give it to them and let them struggle with its shortcomings … ok, cheap shot. It isn’t that bad. The thing is, does Hawthorn solve a problem? One, yes, the Outlook pressure, but today there are many more web mail systems which pose a problem for Microsoft and IBM. Mail Next is one hell of an answer to those.
As for the Notes client. I am much more convinced it will be with us for a long time and when you hear Scott, he is aware that the footprint is just too big. Especially for mobile devices. What is pretty clear, there will be a Notes 9.0.twoish Notes. Next year. After that?
Mail Next in the Notes Client? Would not surprise me but is it worth it? Well, a few years ago I hated web apps, but that has changed. I’d rather take a good web app for my Mac Book, than a slow local client. What about offline? Whenever my internet goes offline I can’t work anyway. Take a book and hope they don’t finish fixing it before the next chapter.
Or what about just once use the time to get something done in peace and quiet.
Now I just have to find out, how to get in the Mail Next Beta … Scott and Louis seem to respond to bribery by Swiss chocolate. Worth a try.

BTW more people should read the book of Anitra Eggler: Email makes stupid, sick and poor (sounds like a lousy translation). That was a) funny and b) I know one or two persons that could benefit from her insights.

SocialBizUG trolls … They do have a problem

There is somebody hovering around the Social Business User Group who is trying to sell Office 365 desperately. Last time it was under the name of a british actress, this time it’s interior design: Grace Lilly.

This time he/her/it/them even went as far to build their own WordPress blog. Quick thing, they just installed it and did no customization at all. Will probably disappear in no time, too.
Nice url: lotusnotestooffice365.edublogs.org/
While edublogs.org is in australia, I suspect the “Grace Lilly” to be from GB. But who cares, the real bad thing is, that SocialBizUG has a problem with trolls. I wonder, how they intent to fix this. They should, if they really want to be an IBM collaboration solutions user group, as they say in the “about” page.
Edublogs shouldn’t be happy about this either.

Think inside … or outside the InBox? Mail Next continues the never ending Story

I can’t get it out of my head. While I like what I saw in Scott’s and Kramer’s presentation (and I get more and more the impression Ed’s shoes are probably too small for them), I think we are somehow going in circles.
The Mail Next concept is really cool. No doubt about that. IBM got to the point (already a while ago), where they realized, that users don’t want to get out of their inbox. It is today the epicenter of the work. Bringing the other applications to the inbox, is probably easier, than forcing users to go elsewhere for tasks they always did in the inbox. All very nice. But I fear, the run of the mill user will not “get” it.
What we have to realize is, that most of us are biased. We like technology. We like to fiddle around with things and I for the matter always used my skills as a developer, to make my life easier. For example, it started in the days with Notes 6. I never used folders because I always ran into the problem, where to put things. Customer? Project? ToDo? Once you moved it from the inbox, it’s gone. It was too much of a hassle to go every time to the all documents view and put the same mail in different folders … tagging for the poor. I knew how that works, the common users do not. I explained it a hundred times to users, nobody grasped the concept. Where I worked then, we made our own views (not folders, views). Customer/sent&received, Sender/send&received, Projects/ … and so on. Tagging for the a bit richer. Many things you don’t find even in the latest and greatest mail client version. Some of these even made it in my contribution for OpenNTF: the OpenNTF Mail Experience German Version and some even used it. But, that’s just us yellow bleeding guys and girls.
Some time ago I wrote about that CFO who was so happy to finally having migrated to Outlook, because now he had tasks. Now stop groaning, the story continues (BTW after two years they still have Domino servers and Notes clients for applications). A bit later I told that story to a group of people, who were just bitching about their email flooding. Nobody laughed. They just asked, what are tasks. If anybody thought just IBM failed at the design of Notes, because the tasks were not easy enough to find and use, surprise, surprise, Microsoft failed, too. It’s not the design of the client, it’s the training of the user.
It’s like driving. If you are required to be able to drive a car for your job, all the employer expects is a driver’s license. You can be the lousiest driver in the world, does not matter, the employer (most) will not send you to have some special training to become a better driver and bring accidents down or make you to learn to read a map to stop you getting lost.
Same with email. You know Email? You are hired. I bet that 90% of all users just now “New”,”Send”,”Delete” and how to move mails to a folder.
I even saw geeks that did not now more, because all they did was programing and Notes was just an annoying piece on the screen that did not look like everybody else’s mail client.
But all of them think they are pretty good with computers. Again like driving a car. Over 70% of all drivers think they are better than average..(pause for thinking)…. (got it?).
I bet way more than half of all companies think, that they use IT to the max, despite the fact that they just use mail (probably calendar, but no task or simple BPM), file server and some “ERP” and have a homepage that isn’t up to date at all. They never dive a bit deeper into the possibilities of their tools. But they do tons of nice and shiny Word and PowerPoint templates.
Most of the reasoning I heard is, they have no time. You can argue, that if you learn a few things about using Notes/Outlook, you save so much time, that you can even take on more projects. Does not matter, they don’t have the time to invest NOW to save time later. Today we just “know” how email works. Nobody invests in something, that everybody knows already (see above “tasks”).
Now back to Mail Next. I want it … It’s not really new, IBM has tried for years to reinvent how we work with mail. They took on one of the most daunting tasks out there and came up with some really great ideas to make live easier but all of them require training. If pick some average user from the street, tell him that Mail Next is his mail client and he should now start working. No training, just start working, like it will happen in many companies. After five minutes the user will hate it with a passion you can only dream of. Just because he can not find the inbox and hasn’t a clue why there are pictures of people he just met five minutes ago or not at all. And what is a dash-board?

If IBM does not come up with a way that everybody just looks as Mail Next and “get’s” it, they are back at square one. And I don’t think Gamification is a solution.
Now if IBM wants that to be a success, and I don’t see a reason why not, they should probably add FREE training to every migration to Mail Next. Otherwise the “I hate Notes” will  seamlessly become “I hate Mail Next”.
Oh yes, some marketing would help, too (now please stop rolling on the floor, I had to say that, didn’t I).