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HCL shares a vision for Connections at Engage 2019

Robert Collings

May 29th, 2019

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Robert Collings
Robert Collings

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Product Management

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With the announcement in late-2018 that India-based HCL was acquiring a range of IBM’s solutions, there has been a lot of chatter in the community about the future of products like DominoNotes, and Connections.

After spending two days at the 2019 Engage user group conference in Belgium, there’s no doubt that HCL has a grand yet clear vision for the future of enterprise collaboration.

Several members of the Tiny team attended Engage, two of us for the first time (Fredrik Danielsson our global head of design, and myself). I thought it would be fun to write a recap of Engage from the perspective of a first-timer. After all, sometimes we take excellent things for granted, and let me tell you, Engage is very excellent.

What is Engage, why did we go and what did we hope to achieve?

If you’re not familiar with the Massive World Of IBM (it’s a thing), user groups are a long standing tradition and a way to bring communities of like minded people together to share ideas, challenges and keep up-to-date with the latest advances in specific IBM technologies. Of course, this idea isn’t limited to IBM and user groups are a common way technology companies build and maintain communities.

Engage started as a user group focused on IBM’s (now HCL’s) Notes and Domino platform, and serves the Benelux region of Europe. It is organized by lifetime IBM Champion Theo Heselmans and his partner Hilde. The event is famous for being held in a unique venue each year, and 2019 saw us at AutoWorld in Brussels.

Team Tiny was a proud sponsor of Engage this year and we wanted to introduce some of the team to the HCL community, touch base with old friends, and make some new ones in the process. It helped that we were lucky enough to get two speaking sessions accepted also.

Arriving at Autoworld

After a near 24 hour journey from the West Coast of the United States to Belgium, with other team members traveling from Texas and Sweden, we arrived at AutoWorld. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and arriving at a conference venue that’s also an auto museum is quite an experience. It’s a unique venue for what would turn out to be a unique conference.

Opening General Session features TinyMCE 5 in HCL Connections

Every conference has some sort of opening session and we arrived early to get our seats. A little too early … within a half hour of this pic being taken there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.

We knew in advance that IBM would announce TinyMCE 5 for Connections during the event, but we didn’t expect to be front and center during the opening session. It’s always exciting to see the hard work of any team on stage and we greatly appreciate IBM including us in their session.

Not wanting to miss the moment I took a quick pic with my iPhone. (Unfortunately, my phone’s camera and the refresh rate on the big screen weren’t in sync, and I captured what looks like parchment lines on our demo. That’s kinda meta, for a digital writing solution. Anyhow, the demo looked great on the day.)

TinyMCE 5 in Connections (don’t mind the lines, they’re not real)

As mentioned earlier, the IBM and HCL teams were out in full force and they made a compelling pitch for the future of Connections and a number of other enterprise collaboration solutions coming over in the IBM/HCL deal.

Richard Jefts (VP & GM Digital Solutions at HCL Technologies) delivered a very passionate presentation about HCL’s commitment to the future, and users of HCL’s collaboration solutions have reason to be very optimistic. It is of course early days, but the right things are being said in a very open an honest way and that’s encouraging.

From the point-of-view of the content creation experience in Connections, with the introduction of TinyMCE 5, I’m personally super excited about the next 18 months.

Richard Jefts explaining HCL’s strategy (apols about the lines in the pic, again)

It was interesting that Richard highlighted HCL’s design system during his opening session, since this was a topic my colleague Fredrik would discuss later that afternoon. We’ll get to that a little later in this post.

Richard Jefts introducing HCL’s design system

With the opening general sessions done, it was time to reconnect with old friends, make some new ones, and get ready for my afternoon talk about TinyMCE in Connections.

Sharing a vision for TinyMCE in Connections

With IBM making the big announcement that TinyMCE 5 would be shipped with Connections earlier in the day, it was great to see a strong attendance at my talk about extending the editor through plugins.

At 20 minutes it was a short presentation, but we managed to cover a lot of ground. From our long history in the IBM ecosystem, to our commitment to the future with HCL, to our vision for an expanding partner ecosystem around TinyMCE. We also managed to successfully demo a few very cool TinyMCE features in Connections, including a quick track changes demo.

Thanks to everyone who attended, and if you missed it and would like to learn more ping me on robert [at] tiny.cloud and we’ll set up a call.

Building a design system to modernize Connections

Fredrik’s talk, which followed my in the same room (thx Theo), was about design systems and how to approach applying one to Connections in the context of the role as product owner inside a larger organization. It was interesting that design and design systems featured prominently at Engage, from the open session to discussions about the customizer tooling for Connections.

Evening networking event

What’s a conference without some sort of networking event? Let me say that Theo and the Engage team know how to throw a party. The sponsor dinner on the first night of the conference was held at a venue in Brussels’ Grand-Place. The view of the square alone was worth the trip.

Grand-Place of Brussels

I actually returned the day after the event to spend a little tourist time exploring this part of the city. And to buy chocolate.

The Connections Customizer

A recent feature in Connections is the Customizer which provides an official way to customize Connections. The Customizer acts like a proxy between the Connections application and the browser allowing all sorts of cool stuff. For example, you can now include external JS files, such as JavaScript plugins. A demo shown was using FlipCardJS to add a fancy flipping  effects to a list of cards.

Connections Visual Update 1

The big thing with Customizer is customizing the visual appearance via CSS. Together with Customizer IBM has released Visual Update 1 which is fresh contemporary look to the Connections suite which is built entirely using Customizer. Of course, you can expect a TinyMCE skin for Visual Update 1 in the future, making our editor feel right at home in Connections.

Wrapping up the conference

Engage concluded a mere 48 hours after the opening session where HCL stated an unambiguous vision for the future of the solutions they acquired from IBM. The Tiny team took several highly valuable meetings with long-standing friends in the IBM ecosystem, many of whom will (or already do) call HCL home.

The quality of the sessions was exceptional, and ranged from highly technical content to design to the partner ecosystem. We attended all of the Connections related sessions and as a first-timer I walked away with a much deeper appreciation of the value delivered by Connections, and how TinyMCE contributes to that value.

Engage also offered an opportunity to connect with people who have until now been email friends only. And to make some new friends in the process. In many regards, mission accomplished.

I will wrap this post with the last photo op from the conference. It is of the IBM Champions at the event, who will soon be HCL Masters. Engage is first and foremost a user conference, comprising people who share a passion for enterprise collaboration and communication. IBM’s Champion program and HCL’s Masters equivalent reflect a commitment not to software, not to services, not to sales and marketing, but to people. It is people, after all, who make businesses successful.

It was a huge privilege to have presented sessions at Engage, to have meet more than 400 people who share a passion for enterprise communication and collaboration. The Tiny team will be at Engage 2020 and we look forward to seeing you there. Theo, Hilde and team, count us in!

IBM Champions (soon to be HCL Masters)

Thanks to Fredrik Danielsson for contributing to this post, and a great session at Engage about design systems.

If you are in the “HCL ecosystem” we will be at Social Connections in September. If you’d like to meet to learn more about TinyMCE in Connections, email robert [at] tiny.cloud to start the conversation. See you in Berlin!

Events
Robert Collings
byRobert Collings

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