This is exactly what IBM Connections needs

[This is a bit rough, but I wanted to get it out there]

Or does it….

Let’s face it, we all love the app dev capabilities of IBM’s (Lotus) Notes. We are able to design, build and deploy apps of all kinds for enterprise users in organizations. In fact, the users we develop these apps for absolutely love them as they help make the job that they do easier. Tie this together with email, instant messaging and IBM Connections services and you create collaborative “system” that people use to get their work done.

There was a point in time in the history of IBM Notes when line-of-business users (LOB) were able to create “utility” apps. Utility apps apps helped LOB people to better serve  their customers. It was a wonderful environment where staff could be empowered to create, with very little programming knowledge these apps.

Now enter the world of IBM Connections. IBM Connections like IBM Notes is a place where people go to get work done to serve their customers. One currently noticeable difference is the way in which IBM Connections lacks the ability to create utility apps. There is no way to currently do this. There are some great developer toolkits available, however these are focussed at pure-play developers.

Now take a look at this video and see how Microsoft Sharepoint users can create utility apps.

I really want to see IBM Connections develop into the portal-of-portals for people to go to and do their work. Currently, it’s another application “destination” rather than the “primary” Lotus Notes like place to go and do their work.

Would you like to see IBM Connections have some capabilities to have users create “utility” apps? If not for utility apps, full fledged apps – an app dev platform.


Author: Bruce Elgort

You’ll find this technology professor – an award-winning instructor at Clark College – working hard to inspire and challenge his students with meaningful web development and programming experiences. With a skinny vanilla latte (no foam) in hand, Bruce loves to tinker and test the boundaries of existing and emerging technologies, to then guide hungry minds through memorable, educational journeys to showcase with passion the ever-evolving innovations of society. An industry leader, Bruce is known for co-developing Elguji’s IdeaJam software, and is recognized by IBM as an ‘IBM Champion’ for being an innovative thought leader in cloud technologies.

35 thoughts on “This is exactly what IBM Connections needs”

  1. I can’t help but feel those days are long gone. User-created apps in Notes were always a bit of a bear to manage once they reached significant numbers in an organisation, and I wonder how they’d fare in this day and age of regulation (financial regs, data protection requirements, and so on).

    1. I agree with Ben. With the complexity of systems and the continued need to carefully regulate the data and controls the business works with, I think that deploying tools for end user creation is a thing of the past. Even more important today is the idea of providing a compelling user experience, and if the history of user-created apps shows us anything, it’s that users don’t understand this much at all. It’s one of the reasons Notes became so maligned in many organizations. I certainly wouldn’t characterize Webparts360 as a user-centric tool, even for tech savvy users. Now as to creating a real development ecosystem that developers can use for building Connections apps, I’m completely on board.

  2. Ben thanks for the input. What about the idea of making Connections much more of an environment to develop apps for. Not one where you simply create widgets and bolt-ons?

  3. (Oh it could use a proper development environment, but that’s a different story).

    For end user apps, a platform like Connections would be nifty because it’s a sandbox—everything they develops stays in that environment, and so there’s a measure of control. But coming up with something, that could be a challenge with what is basically a bunch of JAR files collected together on a Websphere server 🙂

    That said, there’s a rich feed API in there, so who knows…

  4. Bruce, that’s exactly what XPages were made for… the latest OpenNTF stuff (SBT Toolkit and most importantly the Bazar application) could be the basis for it.

    We could easily win back a lot (Just look at that’s targeting Notes apps space).

    The point is too many people still believe lotusscript makes sense (I tryied to start a flame discussion at ask the developers at Connect 2014 asking when IBM will finally demote Lotuscript to “deprecated”).

    Microsoft pushes developers to advance by removing “older” tools. Domino “investment proteciont” has proved to be:

    – Te excuse for lazy partners
    – The worst enemy in the growth / refresh of the platform.

    I remember GBS built something that looked really similar to that… IBM MUST have built that.. IBM COULD have built that…

    Connections has a great potential.. Connection should come of ot he box with a blackbox SBT / XWork server component ready to develop, run domino applications built on top-class methodology for 2014. To me domino needs to move from middleware to “app-dev” once again.

    BTW: that SharePoint thing is just interesting/impressive and very similar to Notes/Domino golden age. Let’s have Domino designer for web browsers… NOW.

      1. Oh, I would look into Web Experience Factor-y. IWidget support is already in. Making OpenSocial gadgets is not an issue. The only issue here is the runtime license for WEF. IBM Could/Should be shipping it into connections too.

  5. Webparts360 is not from Microsoft. With a team of almost 50 Sharepoint/.net developers – we have not seen this at any of our clients. It could be great – but it’s not out of the box. A user can use SharePoint Designer to do much of the same. That’s the target for SP Designer. In our experiences, we recommend people don’t go down that road.

    But yes, I agree. Connections needs a full dev environment. I have specifically asked this of IBM every Connect/LS since Connections came out. It could be XPages, it could be Websphere, or it could be something else – but it needs to be part of the overall solution. With native APIs. That is where SP excels – everything on-premises that is dev in the MS stack is pushed to SP.

  6. If SharePoint was as young as Connections then I would say YES Bruce , you are Correct. But with 4 updates per year , Connections is leading in so many ways. Plus You don´t have any native way to add your email into SP without 3 party apps not talk about mobile. Bruce you are impressed by what you see , you should work with SP for few months then talk to us. I bet you a 12 pack you are not going to be as impressed.

      1. Bruce, Am not talking about work with SP , but more develop with it. I have used it for years. There are some things there that is very good but does not make the cut for solution that i could recommend for company. (with Outlook or Domino). I sell MS and IBM software and I will offer SP but only if the customer has deep pockets and realize that its going to cost them (GOOD SP developers that are hard to find).

      2. Palmi I have also been developing with it. In fact, I know lots of others who develop with it as well. How does the cost of developing apps for Notes/Domino/Connections compare to developing Sharepoint apps? Do you have any case studies? XPages dev doesn’t come cheap.

      3. What am saying is that SP is a Platform not a solutions. If Company XYZ need collaboration tool then SP is not my first choice. i would recommend IBM Connection or Confluence, its out of the box solution with option to have any HTML5 shop create app to tie into that solution. just my 2 cens

  7. IBM has IBM Blueworks Live. It’s been around for some time, and as usual, IBM doesn’t promote it, but its has tools for defining the process as well as building and deploying it.
    There is no reason a tool like 360 could not be done in XPages – in fact there is a basic end user list definition application in the catalog on OpenNTF
    Re development tools. There are a wide array of developer levels from Spreadsheet templates to C++ financial system builders. Lotuscript has it’s place as does java and javascript and whatever the new hot language is.
    I’ve seen some amazing applications in Notes over the years and any limitations are because IBM didn’t include the feature in the product.

  8. “- Te excuse for lazy partners”

    Way to insult people Danielle. Not sure how you can make a sweeping statement like that about people. You have no idea what else they do in their jobs, how much time they have to learn XPages vs some other technology their company wants them to work on.

    1. Carl, I’m talking about the reality I live in, not insulting anyone (not intending to) but I’m now sure I hit a nerve..

      Here (Italy) I see everyday customers with less and less “reasons” to keep using domino. And the reason is mostly because the “IBM business partners” are trying to make their living on the same old stuff they did 10 years ago. When we happen to visit domino/notes customer (even worse if we take into equation Sametime) I keep finding stuf that’s working really bad. Most of the platform advances IBM put in are not even explained to customers.

      So what should I say ? Those guys are “destroying” the market I’m interested to see flourish.

      I’ve seen this happen in the AS400 world (now IBM i). The platform is really powerful but partners spent years selling the old stuff, not innovating and what happened is .. Navision/Microsoft/SAP took the market that once was “owned” by AS400.

      The same is happening with Domino. Even Bruce is telling us that SharePoint is good-to-impressive and it makes sense (maybe more sense than Domino nowadays ?)

      So if saying we’re heading for disaster (losing our market) and that disaster is due to “lazy resistance to innvoation”…. well.. I’ll keep thinking that way…

      I know many out there are learning, innovating, investing but.. I can’t understand how long I’ll need to see Domino lose it’s space (and the market I’m interested in).

      I’d like your comment on this view of things.

  9. If those webparts360 guys see the market opportunity with a Connections solution, then I’m sure they could pretty easily make that a Connections solution.

  10. Wow, Bruce.. Great post to “shake the tree”..Let me shake it to.. (LOL). Firstly, I agree with you. Dare I say that the source of your post is motivated by the lack of accessibility to develop apps on the platform ?

    You can disappear up your “you know what” with the complexity of Connections. Xpages hasn’t taken the world by storm either, and the “Eclipse experiment” has not helped. But that’s a different tree to shake, or have I already shaken it ? The concept of Connections is fine, but the delivery of it was never conceived with “developer accessibility” in mind. RADD still wins. And IBM’s latest manifestations are far from RADD. That’s why we developed Mobilite (Yeah, I know it’s a plug, but it’s also a philosophy about accessible technology).

    Cloud and service based offerings are the “solution du jour”, because the new on-premises stuff is too costly in time, and effort, amplified by skill gaps.

    To sum it up, the best we’ll see is a set of downloadable/integrated/cloud sourced LOB solutions that will talk to Connections (among other platforms). There’s lots of other contentious issues around this to , but I’ll leave it alone. but I don’t think I did…. Anyway, let the flames begin..

    1. I quite agree with you.

      Connections is really filled with great stuff (OAUTH / Opensocial) and that kind of solutions you describe are the perfect fit for it. A number of apps could perfectly fit connections and be developed in any language (PHP / Ruby / .NET etc).

      The point here is exactly the one you’re describing as “You can disappear up your “you know what” with the complexity of Connections”.

      It’s powerful, is rich… but it’s not really documented. Very few “how-to” samples and often not much more than “hello-world”.

      SBT should be helping but you always get the feeling you’re using some kind of “not-so-supported” contribution/api.

      IBM needs to fix this. Make connections a great platform for developers to integrate/extend.

      I’ve been working with ISW / KudosBadge… WOW that’s the way to build things (exploting the platform).

      I can’t name many product with the same quality … that’s a bit of a shame as connections could be the platform to rule’em all (the apps in the company).

      I’m really, really interested in this discussion.

      1. I have been watching this conversation with interest. Now that Daniele has been so complimentary around Kudos (Thanks for the feedback Daniele) I can’t help but get involved.

        From my perspective IBM Connections/SmartCloud Connections are already platforms for Apps. I am actually very excited about what IBM is delivering in this space.

        Can users build Apps/Utilities like Bruce describes? No not yet. But there is nothing stopping ISV’s from building great solutions that extend Connections. I agree there is a place for user built apps in Connections (and we are already thinking about that with team Kudos!). I have more ideas for solutions built on and around Connections than we can possibly execute on!!!

        Has IBM provided everything that App developers need yet? No not yet. But they have done a lot and it is improving all the time. I see Connections 4.x like Notes version 3-4. The ecosystem around Notes 4 was just getting started. Some great ISV’s started to built neat apps. Soon after it really started to get some momentum. Connections is the same. There are some great solutions, a few ISV’s building specifically for Connections, but quite a few intergrating their solutions into Connections. This market is developing most certainly, and has a way to go, but it is progressing well.

        Anyway I am of the camp that Connections is becoming a platform for 3rd party Apps. I know IBM is encouraging this and if you reach out to them are very supportive.

  11. For me personally I see no point in Domino producing HTML anymore and that includes client side XPages development. There are elements of the Domino server which are good and are worth keeping but in reality a API driven middle ware approach is the best way forward. I haven’t worked with connections so I can’t comment but I expect the same argument would hold – just give me a sensible API don’t try and force your generated HTML on me.

    The argument for the everything in 1 box approach worked in the past with Domino because it was quick and powerful to build useful apps and that was supported with good developer documentation and a fast bespoke IDE. Nothing could really compete with it for the level of functionality provided out of the box but things change.

    There’s a tipping point being reached in Web Applications with regards to technology which is being driven by companies like Google, Mozilla and Microsoft, browsers are no longer the slouches they used to be and are far more capable of running client side javascript. The number of supporting tools, frameworks and even servers is growing and work well. Separating your client side development from your server also plays well when it comes to flexibility in things like (cloud)hosting or supporting unknown devices in the future.

    I am giving a small talk at about my experiences in following this approach of building web applications using AngularJS and surfacing REST APIs from Domino, the tools I use (Webstorm) and the integration of real time cloud services (GoInstant).

  12. Bruce…ever the Agent of Change, sir. Kudos.

    I agree it would be a nice add to Connections although perhaps for different reasons. It should be added due to the impact it would have an marketing the tool although the real positive impact of such functionality is very situational and, thus, perhaps not really a value-add.

    Add it in and it makes for a great marketing message “[Power] Users can build their own apps!” “Ooh that’s nice…we don’t have to call IT to build our apps…blah blah blah…that’s one more reason to buy Connections!”

    In my experience though, only about 1%-2% of LOB users ever actually engage these “power users dev tools” enough to create viable solutions and those were always very limited in scope although they were valuable to the creators. The simple fact of the matter is that people have actual jobs that do not include becoming “technical.” Even the ones that want to engage quickly determine that either a) it is too much learning for them despite how much drag-and-drop you whittle the app builder down to and b) the almost certain wall these people hit when they realize that in order to make the application good enough to really be useful to others that some actual technical skills are required.

    Again, I want to emphasize that this is very situational and specific to companies, departments and/or individuals.

    Side Note: Zero of the people I have worked with would be interested in building anything using what is shown in the video but I understand the concept.

    1. “In my experience though, only about 1%-2% of LOB users ever actually engage these “power users dev tools” enough to create viable solutions and those were always very limited in scope although they were valuable to the creators.”

      So in an organization of 10,000 people, there could be as many as 200 creating solutions on the platform and providing value to their colleagues? That sounds like a great reason to do it. Even if these people only produced on app per yer, you’re talking about almost one new Connections app in your company *per day*.

      That would be a huge value add for the platform. You’d need an iOS-scale ISV ecosystem to compete with that.

      1. Why would it stay that way if it were necessarily deployed to a corporate-wide shared environment? I don’t think you can create a Connections add-on that’s limited to personal use, can you?

      2. There are myriad reasons why, but these were on Domino/Notes so they were distributed and available. Dunno’ about the Connections-limited-to-personal-use though.

        If you think it would be worth the investment, make it and sell it.

        I run into this kind of thing all the time. The Tech Savvy folk in my family keep thinking that Grandpa would find having an iPad a really great thing but Grandpa simply does not want one because he’s busy being Grandpa and enhancing his life with a tech device, no matter how easy it is to use or what it might do for him, is just not something he wants to do.

      3. Whether it’s worth the investment is premised on your 1-2% number and the ability to monetize the platform benefit. The first requires research and the second requires a successful partnering strategy with IBM. Neither is something I find feasible. 🙂

  13. To me, one of the biggest differentiators between the IBM platform(s) and the Microsoft platform(s) is the commitment to providing assistance to developers and administrators. I have felt this way both in my life working with the IBM tools and now with the Microsoft platform. A primary example is this:

    Microsoft seems willing to spend the funds and energy to develop that ecosystem. IBM seems more focused on extracting as much out of the community while devoting little to no money themselves (gotta make that $20 eps by next year, you know!) Yes, that’s a cheap shot (pun intended), but it’s the type of behavior that makes it far easier for solution providers and everyday devs/admins to adopt the Microsoft platform and increase the mindshare of the products throughout the industry.

    I know this doesn’t directly address the question of what IBM Connections needs for a development platform (or whether it already has one). It’s just an observation from having lived on both sides of the fence as an in-house developer and not a vendor/consultant trying to sell solutions.

  14. Enabling “knowledge workers” to easily create applications is a double edge sword. While it’s great to provide them solutions to their problem, unless they have some basic understanding of UX/UI (and/or their company enforces rules) they you end up with dozens of apps with no consistency. Still, I think the pros outweigh the cons, and am a fan of the “citizen developer” movement.

    I’ve often said Podio is what I wished Lotus Notes had become:

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