I'll be the first to admit that being in this business for any appreciable time makes you a little jaded. The non-stop bombardment of vendor hype and marketing spin, combined with the relentless, merciless cascade of PR drivel, is enough to turn anybody into a crotchety old cynic.
But occasionally something refreshing comes to light and you're reminded that there's a reason why people are attracted to the IT profession, whether it's as a user, a supplier, a service provider, an analyst or even a journalist observing it all from the outside. It helps you to regain your perspective and to remember that all the hype, spin and drivel aside, there's a lot of good that's being accomplished in the IT realm.
A couple of months ago I was invited by Lotus Development in the US to serve as a judge for the company's annual Beacon Awards, which are meant to recognise outstanding and innovative performance on the part of Lotus' business partners around the world. While it might sound like kind of a self-serving hype-fest (there is an element of that, to be sure), I accepted enthusiastically, because as it happened, I was asked to serve on the panel that would judge what Lotus calls the "Best Philanthropic Solution" category.
The other judges (my counterparts at Computerworld in the US and Computerworld Norway) and I were tasked with selecting, from a list of 18 candidates, the Lotus business partner that had most effectively implemented Notes and Domino in a not-for-profit, environmental or humanitarian effort.
It was certainly an eye-opening experience to see what these relatively small companies from around the world had managed to do in a spirit of true community service. The work of the three runners-up illustrates what I mean:
An outfit called Adience Design used Domino to strengthen the operations of Barrier Free Living, a New York City-based non-profit organisation that helps people with disabilities to live independently in the community; a company called Binary Tree created the Notes and Domino-based COE Collaboration Suite for the Center of Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, enabling more than 500 people worldwide to communicate and collaborate on humanitarian affairs and environmental disasters; and Kluge & Partner GmbH used Domino to create an interactive Web site for the German parliament in Berlin, enabling citizens to be kept informed of and involved in the daily work of the legislature.
But most eye-opening of all was a project undertaken by the company we named as the winner, a Honolulu-based Lotus business partner called DataHouse, which donated its time and resources to create the StarKids Network, a Domino- and Notes-based Web site that gives seriously-ill children an escape from their sterile hospital environments by enabling them to interact with other children in hospitals around the world. Kids can, for example, use the site to draw on a Java-based easel and post their pictures, play interactive games and exchange news and letters.
During his keynote in the opening session of the recent Lotusphere conference in Orlando, Florida, Lotus CEO Jeff Papows singled out the project as being especially meaningful to him personally.
"Medical studies have determined that chronically- and terminally-ill children experience less pain and require less invasive and debilitating medication when provided, as it happens, with technology-driven entertainment," Papows said. "I can't think of a single instance of the power of the technology we've worked so hard (to bring) to market, providing so much genuine good in the way civilisation works."
Papows even took the occasion to poke fun at the hype and spin phenomenon, specifically citing the ongoing marketing battle between Notes and Microsoft's Exchange.
"These are the kinds of in-market innovations that lend to the value of what we're doing," he said, referring to the StarKids Network project. "Not the nominal hairsplitting between Microsoft and us over decimal-point differences in their ship rates vs ours in any given quarter."
The highlight of the experience for me was the awards ceremony itself, a glittery evening affair held at the Orlando Convention Center. Presenting the award in the Best Philanthropic Solution category was none other than Ray Ozzie, the creator of Notes and former chief of Lotus' Iris Associates arm, who left Lotus last year to head a Massachusetts-based startup called Groove Networks. Few people in this industry are more highly revered than Ozzie; and as you might expect, in a crowd of Notes enthusiasts he's practically deified. So there was a certain electricity in the room when Ozzie made the presentation to DataHouse for the StarKids Network.
As I gazed around the room, I noticed that a particular comment he made during the presentation had a visible impact on those in attendance. The StarKids project, Ozzie said, demonstrates that there is no need for there to be an incompatibility between doing well and doing good. It occurs to me that no amount of hype, spin or drivel can detract from the veracity of that observation.