IBM Mail Next - Your New Personal Interaction Manager

February 4 2014 12:34:55 AM Add/Read Comments [6]
Last week at IBM's annual conference IBM Connect they announced a new project code-named IBM Mail Next. Via a series of screenshots, IBM showed their vision of a new way for people to interact with their email, tasks and social networks. By leveraging IBM’s extensive analytics capabilities, Mail Next aims to help people focus on what the most important things they have to work on are, not just what’s new at the top of their inboxes.

While the initial reaction of attendees (live and online) was quite positive, personally I did not find the current designs to be radical enough. Don't take that as a negative, but rather an indication of the high hopes I have for IBM in this. I’d like to see a much more graphical user experience, something that takes your messages, tasks, profiles and communities and displays them in a digital magazine or collage like experience. Think of it as Flipboard, Flickr or CoolIris for enterprise messages.

Here’s my reasoning, given a blank slate, would this be what a startup or design agency would come up with? I don’t think so. I fully appreciate that IBM has thousands of existing enterprise users that they have to be concerned about, but I'd argue they are already customers and can continue to use Notes or better yet iNotes. If IBM wants to elevate their image and leadership to visionary in this space (and ideally attract new customers) they need to break out of their comfort zone on this.

Based on the currently public information, the vision of IBM Mail Next corresponds well with two of my primary research areas: Social Task Management and Personal Analytics. My upcoming report on Mail Next will provide a more detailed look at each of these areas, but here is a quick summary:
  • Social Task Management - In Mail Next, current assignments and project statuses are brought to the forefront of user’s attention, providing them structure around their work, instead of the chaos of today’s chronologically sorted inboxes and activity streams. In the 1990s Lotus used the slogan "Communication. Collaboration. Coordination.” By bringing back some focus on coordination, IBM could again market these 3C’s.
  • Personal Analytics - One of my favourite saying these days is “Don’t forget the me in social media.” Of course I strongly support collaboration, openness, transparency and all the other social business kumbaya, but I also believe most vendors have lost sight of the individuals that are hard at work everyday. Leveraging IBM’s vast portfolio on analytics, Mail Next aims to show people information based on relevancy, urgency and importance. It will help people know (and prioritize) what they should (or should not) be working on.

Consider This

There are 3 vendors that control almost the entire enterprise messaging market: Microsoft, IBM and Google. Yes, Microsoft has Office365 and Yammer, and Google is quickly integrating GMail, Drive and Google+ but neither has publicly shown a vision for their next generation of combined email, tasks and social networking that is similar to IBM Mail Next. That said, I don’t believe existing Microsoft or Google customers will switch to IBM just for this new functionality. Instead this will push Microsoft and Google to improve their communication and collaboration experiences.

IBM is an analytics powerhouse. Still, having algorithms determine what is important and what needs attention is a tricky subject. People will need to be able to fine-tune and even override the suggestions in order to meet their individual needs. Sorting, filtering, hiding, including and excluding must be both powerful and easy for Mail Next to be successful.

Mail Next is the most effective plan to date for uniting the two worlds of Notes/Domino and Connections. If done correctly, customers will longer need to concern themselves with which platform products are running on, they will simply focus on the end-user experience. With Xpages applications running on XWorks servers and Mail Next and Connections being accessed via browsers, the need for a full OS-specific Notes client will be reduced.

Start calling it Messaging Next not Mail Next. This is not about just email, but evolving the way people receive and respond to email, chats, posts, text, assignments, notifications and other forms of communication. IBM needs to make Mail Next, I mean Messaging Next a single hub for receiving and sending any type of communication. I don’t mean a series of widgets or sidebar plugins, but a single integrated view that mixes together various type of messages and displays them in a common format. Blackberry did a good job of this with their v10 operating system, I’d like to see IBM do something similar for their enterprise tools. Imagine having all your interactions with a person (emails, chats, threaded conversations, assignments, shared files and more) available, and actionable, in a single user experience.

Ship with a name like Messaging Centre or Messaging Hub. Better yet bring back the old term PIM, but this time instead of Personal Information Manager, it could be Personal Interaction Manager. Want to really swing for the fences… abandon conventional naming and give it a attention grabbing moniker like "IBM Lucidity” or “IBM Clarity”, names that say "this is all about focus."

My talks on Purposeful Collaboration explain how collaboration works most effectively when people focus on specific business outcomes, such as reducing support times or closing more sales leads. As Messaging Next evolves, I hope to see it move beyond just an integrated hub for messages, tasks and contacts to an onramp for specific business use cases. I envision Messaging Next scenarios (or themes, skins, patterns) that integrate CRM information or Support tickets, allowing people to pivot easily from one use case to another as they work through their day.

Overall I am thrilled to see IBM putting a big effort together to evolve the way people interact with their communications, content, colleagues and communities. There are still many questions about pricing and licensing, deployment options (on-premises vs. cloud), supported platforms, mobile access, API integration and more, but those answers will come. I look forward to seeing the progression of Messaging Next as it reaches it’s first shipping release later this year, and even more so what IBM will be doing further down the road. I hope the marketing and development teams are given the resources and freedom they need to make this something special.