Today it is almost impossible to imagine heading too far without without (a) possession of a smartphone; and (b) having it connected to the Internet. Smartphones have totally transformed the utility value of s mobile phone. While phones themselves are not all that new, it has been the integration of software capabilities and data that has transformed what we can and can’t do in our daily lives.

Chat may never be quite as transformative, but we are definitely in the early stages of a new revolution that promises to redefine he way we work together. In some ways Lotus Notes was a pioneer in this arena with the emergence of discussions databases and team-rooms. Later we saw the introduction of Sametime, QuickPlace, and then Connections. Each of these have added new features and capabilities but they have rarely made a pronounced change in the way we do work. Having a telephone in the house used to only be useful when there was somebody on the other end with whom to have a conversation. If you had one or more friends who could talk the leg off a chair you would get more use out of the phone than others. The same has been very much true of discussion databases and communities. Discussion groups/communities have often relied on having a relatively small number of people making a big enough contribution to warrant others to visit on  regular basis. This is why so many discussions database now languish on Domino servers around the world and it is a major reason why Connections communities have often failed to take off – a lack of enough recent content to warrant ongoing attention.

We may be a small company, but already Red Pill Now find ourselves with a team that is spread out across seven different locations (California, Georgia, Michigan, Virginia, Brazil, Mexico, and Uruguay). Virtual conversations are an essential way of us working together and staying in touch. I believe it was Tim Tripcony who first suggested we use Skype persistent chats based upon success he was having with his XPages (</bitching><doing>) chat room. It worked well for us over the next three years, but it was still just chat in much the same way that a phone was just a phone.

Recently out of a frustration in duplicating information between our systems we decided to move from Skype to HipChat. We chose HipChat over Slack because of the growing amount of work that was already taking place in using two other Atlasssian products, Jira and Confluence. That one small change has been truly transformational for me as I begin to see the potential for what I now call SmartChat.

What is SmartChat?

No, SmartChat does not allow me to to chase Pokemons all over my neighborhood…. SmartChat still does chat in much the same as a phone still makes phone calls. What sets SmartChat apart from traditional chat clients like Skype and SameTime is the growing number of other applications I can add to my chat client. My chat rooms are no longer waiting for members of our team to type in something of interest. Many of our other applications are now making contributions to the discussion. When a new project is created in Jira or a task has been assigned this information is automatically routed to the appropriate chat room and shared with the team in real time. Conversations in the chat rooms about specific projects can be recorded as comments inside Jira. Minutes from project meetings added to Confluence are communicated into relevant chat rooms with a link. Notification about code commits in Bitbucket are announced in real time. And it doesn’t stop there…. I also have integration with our cloud file service Google Drive allowing me to quickly search for a file inside a chat room and then paste a link to a file with a single click. I have integration with Microsoft’s Wunderlist allowing me to manage to-dos that fall outside Jira projects. I can subscribe to RSS feeds allowing news articles of potential interest being added to the stream. In my case I use Flipboard to read articles every day and when I find article of interest I flip them into company magazines that then feed into relevant chat rooms based upon the magazine selected. At the moment HipChat has integrations with over 130 tools. Slack has even more.

hipchat-example-1

SmartChat is still in its early days of development but HipChat and Slack provide some early insights into to the potential of what might be achievable. Forget Verse as a new way to work. Since moving to HipChat I would suggest the volume of e-mail between Red Pill Now employees has probably dropped by 90%. E-mail is now really only needed to communicate with others outside our organization that are not already integrated into our chat environment. As I see it ,the opportunities are endless and it reminds me a little of the vision IBM introduced a number of years ago as Project Vulcan.

What is Next For Smart Chat

We already know that IBM (Toscana) and Microsoft (Skype Teams) are working on building their own SmartChat clients. It is not yet clear what impact they will have on products such as Slack. In all likelihood it will not be the features of the client that sets them apart. What seems to matter more than anything is what integration options exist. We can expect Toscana to be good at integrating with Connections content and Skype Teams to be be good at integrating with Office 365 resources. But what level of integration will these products have with 3rd party software and to what extent will they be successful in appealing to a developer community that can build a more complete set of solutions. Apple and Android have been able to dominate the SmartPhone market in part because of the success they have had in populating their application stories with millions of solutions that make each and every SmartPhone unique and relevant to its owner. The winners in the SmartChat market are likely to be those that can develop the largest pool of applications and establish a strong development community.

The Notes Angle

 To someone with a hammer everything look like a nail (Mark Twain)… and so it is for this former Notes developer!

Imagine the impact on the adoption of SmartChat clients in an organization if it became possible to integrate data from Notes applications into relevant chat rooms. To demonstrate this I will use an example of a simple, real life Notes application from one of our customers called Corporate Legal Documents. In this application every time the organization enters into legal contracts with external parties it is necessary to submit the document for approval to the Legal department. They may revise the document before approving it and storing all versions of the documents along with any notes inside the Notes database. Its a simple straight forward Notes application with some document management and workflow.

In the world of SmartChat as a lawyer I may have at least two chat rooms. One for use by my department. And one with just myself. No I’m not crazy… in a smart chat room I can get value from having personal real time conversation streams generated from the systems with which I work (such as my Notes applications). Before I start work each day a summary may be posted into my personal chat room showing my work status, including how many Legal documents I have been assigned that are still not complete. A sidebar widget may provide a list of those documents as well as a separate list of new documents not yet assigned. The content of these widgets may not be constrained to this one Notes application, they may consolidate workflow requests from multiple applications to which I have been assigned as the next approver. During the day as new requests are received notifications would be posted into the chat stream of the department chat room. I can discuss with my colleagues the relative merits of each new request to determine who might best be assigned each one. If I need the assistance of my team I could paste a link into the department chat or create a temporary chat room just to discuss this one document and invite relevant people to join the chat. We could exchange ideas, bring in additional documents from other places, web links and anything else that may help the collaborative process. If necessary I may even decide to reach out to the employee who submitted the document or the external party who originated it. At the end I could then (optionally) save the contents of those conversations back into the Notes database before approving it and moving on to the next request. I have essentially socialized my Notes application.

Of course we could also add the power of cognitive computing to this equation. A legal assistant may have the ability to identify standard contracts and route them to junior legal council along with its recommendations of a course of action. A legal assistant might collect relevant legal material such as other (similar) documents in the Database, policy documents from a policy database, or relevant legal texts sourced from the Internet or cloud file system that may add value to the consideration and add these to the chat room making it easier for me to process each request. Crowd sourcing of work in a business environment becomes a much more attainable reality thanks to the capabilities of the SmartChat room

Like many I will be watching closely to see what IBM, Microsoft, and other bring to the table to further develop the potential of SmartChat. This is a huge area of opportunity for developers, especially those looking for ways to make the contents of their Notes databases relevant. The future of your Notes data is NOW.