In a yellow uniVERSE now far far away from where I live today I attended my first Lotusphere and heard of a new vision for Lotus that was called Project Vulcan. Over the years the Project Vulcan story has changed many times and some might say it has been abandoned by IBM altogether. But there are some core ideas that have remained and for the first time we can see them in a totally new product that was released by IBM a little over a month ago. A product that does not bear a traditional name for an IBM product such as the IBM Connections Exceptional Mail Experience for a Smarter Planet, but a much simpler and compelling name…. Verse.
For the past week I have had the chance to work closely with the Verse client on both my laptop, smartphone, and tablet. I have also had the chance to participate in an excellent workshop in which IBM outlined to partners the current positioning of Verse in the collaborative space and a detailed roadmap for Verse moving forward.
Let’s start by looking at the most striking feature about Verse. Its look and feel. I would have to say Verse is the most visually pleasing email client I have encountered. It is a little bland when compared with Material Design as used in Google’s Inbox. Its performance is quite slick. And while it has a few “issues” it has proven itself to be quite reliable for a 1.0 release. On the flip side, the browser client for Verse is currently just mail, so when you switch to calendar or contacts the relative harshness of the old iNotes interface is still used.
Verse may run on top of a Domino server but it bears little resemblance to the Notes or iNotes mail clients. Many would say that is a good thing! If you have used other Web-based mail clients or Mobile mail clients the transition to Verse is fairly painless. The faceted search feature is perhaps the biggest addition in mail functionality. Searching in Verse is simple and fast, but still lacking a few things such as the ability save searches. I also love the way I can now can quickly display message containing attachments or links.
The current Mobile client is really only designed for SmartPhones (iPhone, Android, or Blackberry). A tablet client is not far away from being released. Unlike the browser client both calendar and contacts are presented using a consistent modern design. Key functionality such as free time lookup for scheduling meetings is still missing. Unlike Traveller, Verse is a separate client on iOS and it is not possible to federate other mail files so you are left with a need to use a second mail client if you have multiple business mail accounts and/or personal mail accounts.
Bait and Switch?
After an initial play with Verse I started to look for the new way to work that I had been promised. It seemed like only a couple of months ago I had seen a very compelling video about Verse demonstrating a range of cool features such as the Watson Personal Assistant, team analytics, muting of threads, and the ability to quickly share content into a Connections Blog. The UI had seemed so intuitive how could it be I could not find a way to access these features? After a lot of probing I found out some of these features simply were not ready in time for the initial release while other appeared to have been disabled after the launch. This can be viewed in one of two ways. Yet another example of IBM Marketing getting well ahead of what would be delivered; or a new level of discipline to make sure everything is right before new features are made available. One of the advantages of a Cloud First strategy is the ability to quickly have thousands of people testing new releases and for changes to be made very quickly that corrects issues for everyone. Not only can new features be quickly made available they can also be made to disappear just as fast. In a traditional on-premise model a mistake that finds its way past QA would take longer to discover and require an even longer process for getting fixes out to everyone using the original code.
The Connections Connection
To me the success of Verse seems to be tied very closely to the success of Connections. Verse is integrated into the Connections environment. Social is one of the big bets being made by IBM. But the success of social seems to be less about having the right social tools and more about social adoption by employees. Few organizations have an Ed Brill to drive adoption. Without strong adoption it is easy to see Connections being underutilized. The value of key aspects like File Sharing becomes much less if the organization has chosen to store the majority of its files on Google Drive, Drop Box or One Drive. This needs to be considered carefully when planning a move to Verse. Expectations for Verse may not be met without an effective strategy to drive social adoption.
If you are an organization open to the idea of moving to the Cloud then Verse offers an attractive Web Mail client and a workable mobile client that is consistent with the Web client. It is not going to change the way you work but it does provide a path for getting Domino servers out of your server rooms and reduces the need to install the Notes client on everyone’s desktop. If you are determined to bring business email into the 21st century Verse is the path for Notes mail that involves the least amount of risk.
The investment you make in moving to Verse today should be based more on the potential of what Verse is going to deliver moving forward. IBM have a very aggressive road-map for Verse that should see it quickly deliver the features already demonstrated and ultimately deliver much of the potential outlined in Project Vulcan. If IBM’s big bets on Social and Analytics pay off then Verse is going to be one of the bigger winners and we truly will have a new way to work.