Monday, August 29, 2016

Looking at Cloud Licensing - Microsoft, IBM and Google

We live in interesting times and while I haven't changed jobs in years, I now do IT for several companies.  What makes this even more interesting is that some are on the IBM infrastructure, some are on Google and some are on Microsoft...   ...and of course, there's a bit of change from one to the other.

I tend to get a lot of licensing-based invoices across my desk nowadays. 


Recently, we shifted our IBM licensing to the new IBM Mail Dual Entitlement plan. It's basically a combined Notes and Connections licence. Since I've been doing a lot of Microsoft work for another company, I thought I might do a comparison... especially since numbers are so hard to find on the web.

Note that these figures are in Australian dollars and they're probably not entirely "apples to apples" (or entirely perfect -- I've rounded) but they still make for interesting comparisons.  They're not intended to be proper comparisons.... more for interest sake.

IBM $150pp pa. 

IBM Mail Dual Entitlement works out at about $150 per person, per year. For that you get mail in the cloud, plus instant messaging, cloud storage, IBM Notes (which is a great App platform -- but if you're not already using it, it's probably too late to spend time on it).  You also get access to IBM Connections which is the most "full featured" of the social platforms I've seen.  Connections has lots of different kinds of plug-ins, such as Surveys & Wikis.  The interface is terribly clunky though.

IBM's entitlement also comes with a pretty impressive meetings package and IBM Docs, which is a web-based "office" suite. It would have been good once but it's not as good as google docs -- and the web versions of Microsoft Office completely blow it out of the water.

Archiving is extra. I'm not entirely sure of the cost.

Microsoft $330pp pa.

Microsoft works out at about $210 per user, but for that you get the entire Microsoft Office suite, Word, Excel, Powerpoint (and I think Access and Publisher, though what you'd do with those two nowadays is beyond me). More importantly, you use the software on the web or you can can install the software on various PCs, Mobiles and Tablets. It's a very impressive licencing plan and at only $60 more than IBM, it's clearly the better value option.

Of course, what's missing is Sharepoint and Yammer which are required to at least "equal" IBM Connections. They don't quite manage the functionality and security that IBM provides but they're a good example of how to do an interface right.

If you're heading down the Microsoft route, you need to go for the full thing... Office and Sharepoint/Yammer (which will come with a few other bonuses, like Corporate Skype). This bumps the Microsoft price up to about $330 per user, per year, making it clearly the most expensive of the three -- but it's well worth it.

Google $120

Google is undoubtedly the cheapest option, at $60 per user per year or $120 if you want archiving. Google has easily the best mail package of the three (in my opinion) and while the Google Docs suite is nowhere near as full featured as Microsoft's, it's still a lot better than IBM's.

Google also has some pretty good mobile applications, including the google docs suite, hangouts, duo and plethora of other apps (arguably more third party apps that Microsoft or IBM in this space).

Of course, Google really doesn't have much more to offer in terms of social computing. They have no platform... well, they have Google plus but the less said about that, the better.


The Round-up

So, which is the best?  I can't really answer that. If money is more important than Microsoft Office, then you really should consider Google.  If you still have an existing IBM Notes environment to support, then IBM is the one (but you'll probably find yourself paying for Microsoft Office licensing too) and for everything else... there's Microsoft Office 365.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

IBM's Cloud takes the Pain out of Updates

I’ll admit that I'm generally not very kind to IBM on this blog. It's not that they're doing a worse job than their competitors, I'm still very impressed with some of the things they're doing. 

It's just that after using Notes/Domino for over 20 years, I hold them, sometimes impossibly, to very high standards…. and, of course, any goofs on their part affect my systems a little too directly.

The Quiet Migration to 24x7

One of our biggest frustrations in recent years has been the understated migration of our systems from a business hours model to a 24x7 one. It's not so much that our business became so critical that it needed to go 24 hour but more that changes in mobility and connectivity mean that people now expect to be able to connect to our systems at any time, anywhere.

Almost imperceptibly, we quietly moved to a "zero tolerance for downtime" model.

IT changed to suit the business needs in this regard but the change itself and the implications have been largely overlooked.

We're not alone. This seems to be a recurring theme across businesses of all sizes.


Moving to the Cloud Solves Infrastructure Problems 

Like many businesses, we moved to the cloud in two phases. The first was moving our production systems offsite into a hosted environment where they continued to run as servers, albeit virtual ones.

This solution made 24 hour operations easier as it meant that there was always a team available onsite to deal with infrastructure. We no longer had to worry about power failures, air conditioning failures or just "being onsite to push the button".

It didn't solve our downtime problems entirely though, there's always patches to be applied.

The second phase of migration was to cloud services and we moved to various vendors including IBM - Of course, we couldn't move everything. We're still waiting for true “Domino as a service”.

Our mail is now a proper 24 hour service thanks to the cloud failover model and now, instead of dreading the patch cycle, I actually look forward to it. 

The What's New option on the help menu is my new best friend.

Each cycle brings with it a bunch of necessary fixes but it also brings exciting new functionality.


Keep on those PMRs

The best part about this? IBM has become much more responsive on PMRs (fixes).

We recently discovered an issue with address books; turned out that if you removed the last member of a group, it didn't get updated on the cloud.

You'd think that an “empty group” wouldn't matter but in our case, since we need them for nesting, they're important.

For example We might send a mail to the “xyz committee” and we might have a subgroup called “xyz committee.chairman”. In this scenario, even though the chairman had been removed, the cloud wouldn't update and they'd still be on the mailing list. To make matters worse, the lack of an “expand groups” function in verse meant that the problem would only be detected in iNotes or when a bounce occurred.

It took a bit of bouncing to and fro in IBM’s PMR system (a few weeks) before the problem was understood - and then a few more conversations before it was recognised as an important issue and added to the “fix list”.

Although this problem was significant, we were expecting to have to wait a while until the next patch cycle. Imagine our surprise when it was fixed in under a week.

Well done IBM, clearly this is a key benefit of cloud services.

Monday, August 08, 2016

What's Wrong with the IBM Connections.Cloud Welcome Message (and what IBM Needs to do to fix it)

One of the interesting things about being in IT is that you're responsible for hundreds of "automated" messages each day but... as an IT person, who was already set up on the system from day one, you never actually get to see them - at least, not until someone complains.

One of the things we do at work is provide an area on IBM Connections.Cloud for parties external to our own organisation to collaborate. The collaboration in this space is with some pretty important people. 

Recently we had our "communications" staff member express unhappiness about the IBM Connections welcome message which went to the CEO of a large institution.

I've been sitting on it for a while wondering how to explain this to IBM but today I read a great article on welcome messages.  I figured that blogging might be the best way to explain the problem.

The Message

So, without further ado, here is the message (which apart from 5 words) is entirely created by IBM. See if you can spot the issues. Remember: This was sent on our behalf by IBM to the CEO of another company....


What's Wrong?

....and here's what's wrong with it....

  • Hi: This is a bit overly friendly for a CEO don't you think?  (Dear is more appropriate)

  • First and Last Name: This is just wrong. I think that if you were sending an email to Ginni Rometty at IBM, you'd either address it as "Dear Ms Rometty" or "Dear Ginni" - certainly not "Hi Ginni Rometty"

  • Be a Guest in IBM Connections Cloud! If you assume that my company, for example ABC Finances Incorporated is inviting someone from a fellow Financial Institution to connect, then it makes absolutely no sense at all to start talking about IBM Connections.  That would be like sending a quote for a building project to someone and then talking about Adobe's PDF cloud because your quote is a PDF file. It's irrelevant. 

  • Admin: This is technically one of our words... because we've used the "Admin" user to do the invitations. There's a good reason for this. If you want to be able to centrally track how many users have responded to your invitation, you need to use a single user for the invites. Of course, our invited users don't know anyone called "Admin".  To them, it just sounds like spam. 

  • No Obligation to buy: This is stunning. It's basically a sales pitch in the middle of the "welcome email".  If your clients have managed to read this far through their welcome letter, they'll be abandoning in droves now. Especially if they're CEO material. 

  • IBM Connections Cloud (Advert): While it's informative, it's still an advert. It doesn't belong in the Welcome Message. You'd be better off having this as an animated (or otherwise exciting looking link) available on the Connections site as the user completes their registration...
    eg: "Learn more about connections!"

  • Finally, we Apologise: This is an amazing paragraph.  There's absolutely nothing right with it at all. You have to wonder whether this is a product of the Watson tone analyser.  Essentially this paragraph says it all.
    .
    Finally = Whew, we're going to stop talking soon.
    We apologise if you received this email by mistake = What it says...
    This email was generated automatically. = It's not our fault, blame the robot instead.
    Do not reply = Don't bother emailing, we're not listening. 

  • If you have questions: This bit is pretty amazing too.  Essentially it says to contact your own company's helpdesk. So... in my example, even though the email was sent by ABC Finances Incorporated, the recipient at MyPiggyBank Ltd is being directed to their own internal helpdesk to ask questions -- what are they going to know?


The Welcome is Everything

You may think that I'm being a little harsh here but the Welcome is everything. If you fail to get people to register after the welcome message, then your system will fail. 

It's the equivalent of having closed doors, a complex puzzle lock and no branding on the outside of your office building. Refer to my example below for a donut shop. 


Getting the Welcome Right

I could take a little time and discuss how to get the welcome right but in reality, the solution is pretty simple; 

IBM needs to allow Connections.Cloud administrators to write their ENTIRE welcome message in HTML and save it as a template.  There should be an out-of-the-box message which adheres to good practice but it should be able to be previewed and completely changed.

... and in case you forgot that I mentioned a "great article on Welcome Messages", here's a link; 

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Good Resources for Support with IBM Connections and Verse 2: Official Channel Web Sites

A couple of posts ago, I provided a list of LinkedIn Groups which I've found to be good sources of IBM Connections Information.  In this post, I aim to provide some "Official" web sites.  Needless to say, the majority of these will be IBM resources. 

Of course, there are lots of great personal blogs out there too but I'll cover them in a different post.


The Three Big Questions for "Developing Products & Services"

IBM Connections (and specifically Connections.cloud) is a "developing product/service". As such there are always new holes, new fixes and new ideas.  There's always just that little bit of functionality which either doesn't work as expected or doesn't go as far as it could. 

That's not to say that IBM Connections is a bad product, simply that like all "developing products/services" (indeed, like all Modern Products & Services) the ground is constantly moving and sometimes you need to stop and figure out where you are.

The three big questions we're always asking about Connections are; 

  • How does it work?
  • Why can't it do this?
  • Why is isn't it working?
Note: Many of these sites require a login however if you're a paid connections user, all of the resources here are available to you. If you don't have a login for these sites, fill out the registration forms on the sites and get connected .

How does it Work?



  • If you find that Video is more aligned with the way you learn, check out the IBM Social Business Youtube page. Don't just rely on what you can see on the front page, click on Videos and "load more" to see the rest.  

Why Can't it do this?

  • The IBM Connections Forum (http://www-10.lotus.com/ldd/lcforum.nsf) is very similar to the old Notes.Net forum and it's a great place to trawl through old discussions (and add a few new topics yourself).  If you're having any problems with connections, this is a great place to post an exploratory question. 

  • I don't think that anyone is entirely sure what connections is and where the boundaries of the product lie.  It's very like Notes/Domino in that respect.  If you have an idea for a new feature or a great enhancement for an old feature (or even a tiny "fix") then be sure to let IBM know about it. The best way to float your ideas is via the IBM Connections Idea Jam (https://greenhouse.lotus.com/blogs/login?lang=en_us) on IBM Greenhouse.

    While you're in the Idea Jam, have a look through other people's ideas and be sure to "vote up" the ones that are important to you too. 

  • What's new in IBM Connections. As previously mentioned, IBM Connections is a developing product and the connections you're using this week could well have a few features which weren't available last week. Be sure to keep up by reading What's new in IBM Connections

Why isn't it Working?



  • Speaking of PMRs or Problem Management Reports, IBM seems to have renamed them Service Requests (https://www-947.ibm.com/support/servicerequest/Home.action).  These are a great way of getting IBM support on something that is broken or at least "not working for you". IBM have put a bit of effort into making these service requests easier to submit and update and you can now access them online. The key to a good service request is to keep on top of them and always read the last line which says where exactly the next action is coming from.   If it's pointing at you, be sure to provide IBM with what they need because without your action, nothing will get done.

    Finally, on PMRs, don't simply accept "No" for an answer.

    All helpdesks exist to ultimately "close" calls - and IBM is no exception.  If you discover something  in connections which simply doesn't work, their helpdesk will often try to close it with a "working as intended" or "feature not available" message.

    If you really think that connections should be doing something that it isn't, ask for your request to be submitted for consideration (or use the Idea Jam mentioned earlier).