Previously, I lamented about the lack of a non-IBM community dedicated to WebSphere. In this series, I’m going to put myself in IBM shoes and describe what I would do to encourage the formation of an external community. Before I get into that, I’d like to reflect on the benefits it would bring to IBM directly (incase some high profile IBMers need a business case).
Currently, if I’m a customer and I have a serious problem I have very few avenues of non-IBM resolution. I can attempt to google in the hopes of finding other wayward souls. I can browse the infocenter included with the product. I can attempt to toggle random check boxes that I don’t understand (which may result in a more-mangled system that I started with).
Once I’ve exhausted these paths, usually on the order of an hour or three, my only choice is to open a Problem Report (PMR). A PMR is very costly to IBM. Depending on the severity and the visibility of the customer, you could have tens of people on a conference bridge talking about your issue. Eventually, X days go by and you get an answer to the problem. You’ve spent hours of your own time on the phone and hours*attendees of time from the people on the phone. Thats a significant amount of dollars.
The worst part is that you are usually told that the problem is resolved in a fix-pack you haven’t upgraded to yet. Wouldn’t it be nice to have been able to ask a practitioner directly your problem and maybe gotten the answer within 5 minutes because they just ran into it?
You can’t do that today because IBM keeps tight grips on information. DeveloperWorks is a fantastic technical resource. It’s problem is that it’s a massive one-directional fire-hose. You get the technical infomation based on what IBM has determined is important, not based on your own problems and experiences.
What IBM fails to leverage is that most developers are natural problem solvers and would prefer to spend hours resolving an issue on their own in order to move their projects along. Currently, IBM asks you to solve a puzzle (exception trace) without providing the pieces nor the box (for good measure, they spin you around a few times and turn the lights off too 😉 ).
Ok, so that helps support. How can open access to information help development?
Developers in IBM are like the inner most section of an onion, they’re so deeply buried in the onion they wouldn’t know a carrot when they saw one, but they could tell you things you never knew about onions. Most developers would love to hear about the exploits of the user, both good and bad. Increased exposure to the front lines would help developers when they are left with behavioral decisions. What may make sense from a developers point of view, may not work to the customer. Therefore, I would expect an increase in product quality.
What about IBM’s Consulting division (ISSW)?
ISSW’s typical business is to provide implementations of IBM products to customers. Pretty much assume the role of customer to IBM while still being IBM. Increased information helps them be more effective and be able to leverage yet another pool of resource (the external) for assistance.
Therefore, my theme in the forthcoming suggestions are all about opening the public to the vault of knowledge contained in the corporation. Lets empower the consultants to be able to serve themselves to the buffet.
Easier access to information will reduce support calls, improve product quality and improve consulting quality. This will create a self-sufficient vibrant community that will benefit everyone involved.
A colleague of mine liked the quote “If you and I exchange a dollar, each of us would still have a dollar – BUT – if you and I exchange an idea, each of us would have two ideas.”
Lets start sharing those ideas.