Nobody hates surprises more than an IS manager

There's nothing I love more than a good metaphor, which, when you think about it, is pretty pathetic and indicative of the extent to which I need to get a life. Nevertheless, I would add that the best metaphors are the ones that aren't made up -- they're the ones that occur naturally and manifest themselves to you as if they were all part of some preordained cosmic production being played out before your eyes. I can see you don't have the slightest idea what in the world I'm talking about, so let me explain with an example.

A couple of weeks ago at Lotusphere, the big Lotus Development users' and partners' conference in Orlando, Florida, I found myself standing in a long queue to get into the poolside Super Bowl party on the evening before the conference officially opened. The Super Bowl is, of course, the big annual American football championship game, and the good folks at Lotus had set up large TV screens around the swimming pools at the resort where the conference was being held, and provided tons of food and drinks for the 9000 eager attendees.

As you might expect, this was an extremely popular affair, so a line began to form outside the entrance to the pool area about half an hour before the thing was scheduled to begin. Apparently the organisers saw that after a while the growing crowd was starting to get a little bit restless, so to keep the masses entertained they began to throw toy footballs sporting the Lotusphere logo into the crowd. It was absolutely captivating to watch grown men and women pushing and shoving and clawing each other to try to catch the footballs so that they would be able to take home a free souvenir.

The kicker was when one of the footballs accidentally landed in the lake adjacent to the pools. Now, it was a chilly evening, and let me assure you, lake water is cold in late January, even in sunny Florida. But sure enough, some maniac bolted from the queue and waded chest deep into the lake, fully clothed, in order to retrieve the toy football that was floating on the surface. The crowd cheered as this guy waded back to shore and raised the football over his head in triumph. So what if he had to sit through the game soaking wet on a nippy evening? He was one of the fortunate few who had a cheap foam Lotusphere football to take home with them! Or so he thought.

A couple of minutes later the gates opened and the crowd started flocking into the pool area. And wouldn't you know it -- Lotus employees were conveniently stationed next to huge bags full of toy footballs, merrily giving them away to anybody who wanted one. I couldn't begin to imagine what the shivering lake wader must have been thinking when he filed past the football giveaway point.

But I think I know of at least one guy who probably has a pretty good idea how Mr. Wet felt.

While I was standing in the queue to get into the Super Bowl party, before the toy football grabbing frenzy began, I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me, who happened to be an IS manager from the Michigan office of a large multinational pharmaceutical company called Pharmacia Upjohn. It turns out this company, a big Notes and cc:Mail user, had recently formulated a plan to migrate its 8,000 cc:Mail users to Notes Mail in order to overcome the problem of having users throughout the organisation using different mail clients. This manager was part of a team that put a lot of time and effort into developing this migration plan, only to have it ultimately shot down by senior management because of the projected cost -- a whopping $US11.3 million.

The next morning at the opening session of the conference, Lotus officials proudly announced that Notes Release 5, due in the second half of this year, will boast a new integrated user interface that will incorporate cc:Mail functionality. This, the officials promised, will in turn significantly reduce the cost of migration because companies won't have to spend so much money to retrain their end users to use a new mail client. And training, everyone seems to agree, is what has made the migration such an expensive proposition up to this point.

I couldn't help but wonder what the Pharmacia Upjohn IS manager must have been thinking when he heard that announcement. If he and his colleagues had only known what was coming, they could presumably have avoided devoting the time and effort to developing such an expensive migration plan, and avoided being put in the position of devising a plan that senior management considered untenable. Like Mr. Wet, he must have felt a little foolish -- and frustrated -- to have undergone such a painful process that would turn out to be totally unnecessary.

Of course, none of this is black and white, and certainly for some organisations training costs may not be the most important consideration with respect to migrating cc:Mail users to Notes Mail. Dary Lee, general manager of Future Solutions Laboratory, a Lotus business partner in Hong Kong that has helped such firms as VTech and Li & Fung migrate from cc:Mail to Notes, points out that hardware is also a key issue. Many companies are still using 386 and 486 PCs with 8MB of memory, which may be fine for cc:Mail. "But Notes is more demanding," Lee says. "So you have to upgrade your machines first."

In any event, the cc:Mail-to-Notes migration issue is one that has nagged Lotus for some time. "Frankly we thought we did a really great job in Release 4 of [including] the cc:Mail functionality, and a lot of our cc:Mail customers had a different viewpoint," says Lotus Executive Vice President Mike Zisman. "Not surprisingly, we had some more learning to do."

It remains to be seen whether Release 5 solves the mail-client migration issues faced by Lotus users in a real-world scenario. But one thing is certain -- nobody hates surprises more than an IS manager. What if the Pharmacia Upjohn management had approved the IS team's $US11.3 million migration plan, only to find out six months later that if they had waited for Notes Release 5 they could have avoided the end-user discomfort and excessive training costs? My guess is our IS manager friend would soon be standing in another queue -- the one for unemployment compensation.

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