• IBM has a problem. How can it present a viable alternative to the Microsoft collaboration juggernaut that is Office 365 while simultaneously bringing its still sizable IBM Connections customer base forward?
• The answer, apparently, is to turn pink. After Connections 6 rolls out, IBM will completely reinvent its collaboration platform, quite literally throwing aside internal obligations, existing software investments and technical dependencies.
Usually I find it hard to take a man dressed in a pink linen pink suite seriously. That’s especially true if the man is standing in front of a huge PowerPoint slide adorned with an animated, dancing puffer fish. So, when I sat down this week at the IBM Connect 2017 conference in San Francisco to listen in on a session by IBM’s Baan Slavens and Jason Roy Gary on the future of IBM Connections, I was prepared for disappointment. Rather, I was prepared for “yet another” grand but ultimately unachievable view of how collaboration might be, if only IBM were free from corporate obligations, past engineering investments and technological dependencies. I was entirely mistaken.
Remember Project Vulcan, IBM’s 2010 attempt at inventing a unified next gen collaboration platform that spanned cloud and premises? That’s okay if not. It was a great idea, but it was constrained by the fact that it specifically sought to build upon existing work. What IBM is doing with Connections casts the past away. Standing on that stage, clad entirely in pink and accompanied by the aforementioned frolicking fish, Baan and Jason presented a view of the future that did not build upon existing Connections code or require existing IBM software. Instead, Pink represents a significant break from established product development methodologies within IBM.
Baan and Jason have in mind three basic tenants in developing Connections Pink.
It’s not their software. Connections Pink will forever remain unfinished. Version numbers be gone! Utilizing the Agile development method, Pink developers will evolve the software continuously, but they won’t do so in a bubble, rolling up major features into quarterly releases. More importantly, the team has in mind to involve users in the Agile sprint review process itself. This philosophy is most apparent in the group’s decision to remove dependencies on IBM products, most notably WebSphere Application Server and Cognos. In place of those solutions is a mix of in-house code and aggressive use of some major open source software (OSS) packages including Reds (an in-memory data store) and MongoDB. And of course, the whole thing is built using Docker containerization.
Customers choose the deployment model. This is big – Connections has struggled in the past to provide users with a consistent view of premises and cloud. With Pink, users will get that consistency, but they’ll also get the ability to define where they’d like specific workloads and datasets to run and reside respectively. Couple this multi-channel vision with the company’s hard line stance on opening up APIs for all Pink services, put that on IBM Bluemix, and you’ve got a highly extensible and flexible collaboration platform.
Disruption without interruption. As with so many IBM products, the cognitive glow of IBM Watson abounds within the Pink roadmap with interesting capabilities coming down the pipe, such as elevated text based upon context and meaning. But the real revolution here comes from the team’s decision to separate UI from back end services and to create a bit of middleware between. This will literally allow Connections 6 users to migrate to Pink without lifting a finger (or perhaps even noticing the change). Pink will simply assimilate assets like user profiles, one asset at a time.
Will Connections Pink succeed? I think so. Of course, IBM must first convince existing users to migrate to the forthcoming Connections version 6 release – a gateway to all things Pink. If this endeavor does succeed and doesn’t fade into another interesting historical footnote like Vulcan, I think we may witness a full on changing of the guard at IBM. I can foresee other groups turning a healthy shade of Pink as well, at least in terms of further embracing OSS, going full-on hybrid cloud, bringing customers into the development/deployment process, and deconstructing software into composable, API-backed microservices.