Some thoughts and observations on the recently completed IBM Connect 2017. I think this is now 3 years in a row where I have left for home in a generally positive frame of mind, and in fact the last two have been quite positive.
To begin, I participated in the hackathon that took place on Monday, organized by Alan Hamilton and Christian Guedemann among others, and sponsored by OpenNTF. I have to admit that I was both excited and scared going in. I was excited because it was an opportunity to learn new things, and do it with a certain time restriction, as well as meet new people. I was scared because I might show up and not be able to make a contribution. Well, it turned out that I had nothing to be scared about. There were 7 or 8 teams, including on comprised entirely of people from Japan (who took 2nd prize).
We worked from 9:00am to 4:00pm. The event started with a short pump-up speech by Jason Roy Gary who is leading the Connections Pink team. He put us in the right frame of mind for the day: Have Fun, and don’t be afraid to Learn something New. Inhi Cho She dropped by during the day to talk to each of the teams and learn a bit about what they were working on.
While we didn’t complete our project, it was a great experience, and is one I plan to repeat next year. I highly recommend everyone give it a try. It was well organized and well supported. The only suggestion I have is to do a better job of promoting it in advance, and let people know what the proposed project topics are to generate more interest. I expect that our team will continue to work on the project to finish it. All projects were contributed to OpenNTF at the end of the day so we can all share in the work and innovation produced during the day.
This year I am an IBM Champion for the first time. Champions were featured on the big screen at the OGS before and after the presentations, and it was really exciting to see my face on the big screen. The OGS was presented in 2 parts, and overall the flow worked well. The 2nd part was more technical and demo-focused, and as a long-time Notes guy, I was very happy to hear the focus on Notes and what IBM plans for its future. I can recall recent years where we didn’t hear any talk of Notes and Domino in the OGS, and I am happy that those days are in the past. Having said that, the modernization strategy that was announced (to use partner tools to build modernized apps) didn’t hit the mark for me, but generally the news was good in terms of future support and enhancements in the product.
The cognitive capabilities of Watson were featured of course, and this is the future of the product line, make no mistake. The key is how it integrates, and how we as technology people can make use of the features of Watson. We actually did some work in this area in the hackathon, so I got to see it up close. It will be an area of focus for me as I learn new things this year.
IBM Connections Pink
The other big news was around the future of Connections. The details around Connections Pink were made public. First of all, version 6.0 of Connections will be released by March 31 of this year. Pink is the next version of Connections, which will be a complete rewrite of the product from the ground up, without WebSphere, Java or DB2! Jason Roy Gary told us at the hackathon that he has to personally sign off on any of his engineers wanting to use Java, and he’s a long-time Java developer. If anyone thought they might be able to continue their technology career without venturing into the world of Node.js I am here to tell you that will not be possible. It is an exciting future, making the product much more open and extensible, and of course with a healthy dose of Watson. I am very interested to see it when it is ready. IBM expects to be able to share pieces of the product before the end of 2017.
At last year’s conference I tried something new and sat in on a Design Thinking session. I was very happy that I did. It is a great addition to the conference for IBM to share the approaches that they use to design their products. The concepts are very simple and it helps to have some coaching from people who have done it before to understand the approach. I spent time in the design thinking lab again this year and came away equally satisfied. I came back the next day to just say how I appreciated the time and happened to be there when another attendee was asking about best practices in design thinking and if there were any web resources. Before any of the IBMers could answer I jumped in with my experience and suggested he take the time to go through one of the exercises as having the personal experience would be far better than reading about it and trying to put it into practice on his own. While the concepts are simple, the subtleties in the approach come through when you go through the process for real. I can’t suggest strongly enough that everyone who attends the conference take the time to visit the Design Thinking lab.
Tuesday ended with the Australia party hosted by Ephox. The pictures are on social media. It was the best of the few that I’ve been to by far. Another one of those things to put on your list of things to do if you’ve never taken one in. The Wednesday night event, formerly at one of the theme parks in Orlando, was at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. While it didn’t have the roller coasters of years past, the venue was fun, actually much larger than I expected, and provided good food, live entertainment, an opportunity to geek out on some fun science experiments, and also offer some quiet space to catch up with friends.
The Moscone Centre as an event location served well, but it was clear to many Lotusphere veterans quite quickly that we lacked the Dolphin fountain and lobby bar as a common area to meet people. There were tables on the second floor of the centre, where the sessions were presented, that people could meet at, but that didn’t provide the place to sit and unwind after the day. Even the Hilton gave us that last year. While we did our best to make our respective networks know where we were meeting up after the sessions of the day, after the day was done you had to go elsewhere. Also, for me anyway, while SF is in my time zone, I am not sure it is the right city to hold the event. There were too many people from Europe who would have normally attended the event who chose not to. I applaud the reasoning behind trying a new location for the conference, but personally I don’t think holding it in the tech capital of the US added anything. Also, I am not a fan of Las Vegas. Just sayin’.
IBM is curious to know if the conference should go back to the 4-day format. Without consideration of cost, I whole heartedly vote that it does. Three days, with the loss of what we will call day 0 to the President’s Day holiday in the US on this particular weekend, just felt like there wasn’t any time to see and do the things I wanted to see and do. It normally feels that way when it is 4 days, so removing a day the past couple of years has hurt in my opinion. While there have always been conflicts, this time they were even greater than in years past and it really sucked to miss out on some important sessions. Also, for the first time, Gurupalooza had hardly anyone in the audience. Unfortunately it was up against the lunch hour.
Another good idea that was a frustration last year and continued to be a frustration this year was the Expo Engagement Theater, located in the Expo hall. The idea of half hour presentations, with a casual atmosphere is a great idea, and I sat in on a few. Unfortunately having the “theater” situated right next to the noisy Expo hall with mesh walls and big open doors let in too much crowd noise. It’s a good idea that should continue; it just needs some improvement.
Many of the people I talked to didn’t like the food. Personally I was fine with it. While we ate with recyclable plates and utensils, and the lunches were more of the salad and sandwich/wrap variety, I liked how much fruit was available and was never hungry. Admittedly, the food in the past few years has been excellent, and this was a step down from that.
Finally, IBM switched the mobile app for the event to an app called ‘IBM Events’. I found that it worked well. One of the fun features was a game where you could score points for building your network, using social media to share what sessions you were seeing, and providing feedback on the sessions you attended. Anyone who accumulated more than 1000 points was entered into a draw for 3 Apple TVs. I never heard who won, but it was fun to play.
There was no announcement about next year’s conference, but clearly based on the questions being asked at the end of the event IBM is considering what to do. As many have guessed, it may turn out that we will be combined with other IBM conferences as we’ve seen in the past. In fact that specific question was asked and the response was minimal. As was the case after last year, we will likely find out the fate of the conference at Engage in Belgium in May. Wherever it is, it’s now more about the people than the technology for me, although the technology is important, so I look forward to seeing everyone again in 2018.