With increasing travel costs and decreasing budgets, businesses have embraced online meeting technologies in a big way. Since 1998, the IBM Lotus Sametime online meeting capability has been providing businesses with the ability to keep their employees on the same page by making it easy for people who are not co-located to share documents and applications with each other in real-time.
Given the team's intense focus on continuous improvement and competitiveness, the meeting capability in Sametime was schedule for a complete redesign for the 8.5 release. Two years before the project was scheduled, the design and development teams began working together on design ideas, prototypes, and customer research. The design assignment for this project was to use that background research to develop a design for a competitive new product.
We started off with a few basic design principles, based on some known challenges in the existing product. Those basic principles were used to build several prototypes, which were deployed widely within IBM and then those prototypes were iterated upon based on the internal feedback. At the same time, we did background research on meetings in general, to find out what made meetings successful (or not), regardless of technology, and we asked customers for feedback on specific design questions. The input to the prototypes, background research, design feedback, and competitive evaluations, led us to build a more robust solution, which could then be shared with customers in a traditional Beta program.
In designing this new release, we wanted to provide a compelling product that would satisfy current and potential customers, even though it wasn't possible to address all the features desired by each type of customer. It was essential to determine what IBM could offer that other online meeting products did not and to design for that sweet spot. Our early research with customers focused our efforts on the importance of being able to effectively run meetings. These early conversations helped us realize that the new design had to:
Living with early prototypes, and then with subsequent builds, through the Beta experience, allowed us to find out for ourselves what worked and what didn't. From the earliest days, we found early adopters within IBM who would try out various ideas for actual meetings, rather than for just testing.
From this early use, we learned the importance of various features: making shared files available for downloading, allowing people to capture critical information in the chat, helping people find the call-in number for the meeting, making it super easy to switch who was presenting, and capturing meeting attendance. We also were able to fine-tune the sharing behavior. Some early prototypes made it so easy to share that people were inadvertently switching slides out from the person who was presenting. By adding a simple alert, we were able to balance the simplicity of letting everyone have access to sharing with the safeguards needed to make sure that people didn't take over control by mistake.
While the prototypes were in use, the design team blogged about issues and questions. One of the purposes of the blogging was to get feedback on specific ideas, but another purpose was to make sure that people using early prototypes would know who to speak to about ideas, issues, and so on. Many people at IBM took advantage of this avenue for feedback, sending ideas and suggestions directly to the design team.
Customers who have tried the new product have been extremely excited to move to this new technology. When customers try the new product, they're amazed at how quickly everyone can join a meeting. They love the "no downloads required" browser environment, as well as how easy it is to share content within the meeting. Our customers have also been quite vocal about which features we need to work on next – giving us tremendously valuable information that will help drive future releases.
For more information
For more information on IBM Lotus Sametime, visit the application homepage.