(Note: because the features of IBM Connections is so tightly tied to releases in IBM Connections Cloud, this story applies to both)
On September 24th I published an article analyzing the Gartner report about Social business offerings. In it I mentioned the lack of a roadmap for IBM Connections Cloud (SmartCloud). The issue keeps resurfacing. So far it has been met mostly with diversions and redirects: “Why do we need a roadmap published?” or “We already have webinars and meetings with customers and present the roadmap to them“. I will say Luis Benitez has done a great job of posting information in various external sources like this slideshare or on his personal blog website (Still not official and only covers the Connections functionality of Connections Cloud and it not a roadmap). And of course there is the official IBM wiki website with the “What’s New” posting highlighting some features after the update, although not all changes are mentioned here, like the update to the ActiveX control for Internet Explorer which was pushed out without warning last Wednesday, outside the usual maintenance window; and the post contains no history of earlier releases. All of these are only partial lists of what features are being working on or have been released to the service and they miss some of the key points of a roadmap. Perhaps the name Roadmap is misleading. Timeline might be more accurate. I will take a moment to clarify what exactly I am looking for in a roadmap and why I think it is so important.
A roadmap provides several things:
1. A general description of each feature that is coming along with a target release date
2. A detailed description of each feature that has been released along with the exact date
3. An indication when a feature is cancelled or delayed (optional)
4. A general vision into the progress of the service past and future that builds confidence and rapport
A roadmap does not need to show the next 2 years of features coming. Requirements change too often to be reliable and it would be unwise to tip their hand and show the competition too much about what they are working on. But it should show the short term list of features that are imminent, within the next 2 to 3 months. Why is this so important? Because Cloud is not like software. First, there are no beta releases for us to play with in advance. Second, there is no SPR listing for it like there is for software, like Notes/Domino. Third, customers cannot chose to delay or avoid a release like they can with software updates. Therefore we need enough advanced notice to prepare for the new features. This often requires communications to our user communities of the impending changes. Larger organizations often have a series of reviews that the communications must pass before being sent out. The help desk may need to get special instructions or at least be prepared for the calls that will inevitably be generated. Administrators may need to request the feature be enabled once it is available, like using federated login method for mobile apps.
The single most important reason for posting the date a feature was added is for troubleshooting. In an environment where the customer is controlling the installation of software, they can track when the software was installed or upgraded. So correlations of when the change was made and when a problem started happening are possible. This is not the case in a cloud service environment. Therefore it becomes an essential role of the cloud provider to document and publish the dates that new features are released. Without it, it can take much more time identifying and resolving issues.
Sometimes plans change. It is better to show the changes than to have them simply disappear. This is not a legal contract, only a guide to help inform the customers. Changes are OK.
Trust is essential to getting companies to buy into your solution. The historical data will provide a track record that demonstrates how much work is continually going into improving the service which will build confidence in both current and potential customers.
In other words, a roadmap doesn’t just show you what is coming, it also shows where you’ve been and where you are now. Just like the GPS in your car shows where you are and the roads around you for safe navigation. Without the ability to see these things, customers are driving blind. That is why we need a roadmap for IBM Connections Cloud.