developerWorks: This is a developerWorks podcast, I'm Scott Laningham, here with Beth Friday, vice president of Worldwide Client Support for IBM Rational Software. She's here to talk about where we are with the Rational RFE Community at the one-year anniversary mark. Welcome back, Beth.
Friday: Wow, thank you Scott. Thanks for having me.
developerWorks: You and I spoke about a year ago when the RFE Community was launched — RFE being short for Request For Enhancement. And I'm wondering, for those listeners who might not be aware, do you want to give a quick summary of what the Rational RFE Community is?
Friday: Sure. The Rational RFE Community is an online application that's delivered through developerWorks. This application allows us to collect submissions, to search and to collaborate on requests for enhancements submitted through either our field force or through our client base. The real win here is true transparency on these requests for enhancements that allow clients to see other people's requests, and also to comment and elaborate on ideas generated through this community. You know, one of the things that we've been trying to do is to understand requirements very completely and holistically upfront early in the process. And this application allows us to have more high-bandwidth communication between the client and our back-end developers so that we can answer questions very quickly and get clarity around things that may be unknown early in the development process.
developerWorks: You know, now with the one-year anniversary of the public release arriving on April 2 I think it is, talk a bit about what's been happening since that public launch.
Friday: OK. Yes, you know, I'll tell you quite honestly, Scott: This application is received more positive feedback than any other in all my many, many years doing this job, because really what's happening here is it's an application that has a very user-friendly interface, again, allows for clients to communicate with each other. But also, again, directly with development resources who can have a very intelligent conversation early in the process.
For this year, what we're trying to do is we're really focusing on getting all of our requests for enhancements entered and visible through the RFE community. Last year, in 2008, when we launched the application, we actually collected over 1,900 requests for enhancements, and we had over 3,200 to 3,500 comments on those RFEs alone. But we still had a number of items that went through our standard channels.
So this year, what we're trying to do is we're trying to really drive more usage of the RFE Community application. And we really want to make sure that all of our requests for enhancements are visible through this portal so that clients can see the full breadth of what we're considering for release to be delivered in future products.
developerWorks: Well, that's some great activity. Now, I wonder about how many Rational products are included in the community. Can you talk about that?
Friday: Did you know we have over, oh my gosh, over 26-30 products that we're capturing through the RFE Community. And what we're looking to do in 2009 is really get more of the Software Group portfolio included in using this application.
You know, one of the things that we've been doing along with looking to solicit participation from other parts of Software Group, is that we also added RSS feeds for notifications. We can now do CSV downloads, e-mail notifications so clients can actually create their own watch lists for our feeds that they're interested in.
One of the really neat features that gets a lot of client feedback is this whole notion of having groups, where clients can define logical groups of employees from within their organization, so that they can collaborate amongst themselves.
We have voting capability and a product-customization landing page where clients can actually customize their page for the way they want to see and look at information when they get into the community and start doing their, you know, either their daily perusal, or going in and making comments against other items that have been submitted through the community.
developerWorks: Now, Beth, you mentioned in that last podcast, I'm remembering you wanted to hear from people on how it's working, how we can have better communication. Have you been hearing things, and if so, what have you been hearing?
Friday: Yes. You know, I've had a lot of feedback and, again, it has all been very positive to date. We really, from an internal perspective, we've had a lot of interest in all the parts of Software Group. So again, we're hoping to convert many other products in the Software Group portfolio over to the application. Because again, from a client perspective, as they use more cross-product Software Group solutions — so not just Rational-specific solutions — it'd be great to have one-stop shopping where you could go to submit and see, and really get a good feeling for what's happening across the portfolio. So that's been a real win.
And from our client perspective, what we're really seeing is I think this is the first time that our clients are really able to share information in a very quick and very transparent way. We've spent a lot of time and effort trying to make sure that folks could remain very anonymous, so that we don't give away any corporate secrets. And I think that we've hit a happy balance where we have clients that, you know, need to maintain a high level of secure information, but they can still go out to this community and have a dialog and collect information and submit information in an anonymous way. It allows us to get our jobs done quicker, faster, and more accurately.
developerWorks: Yes. Now based on those interactions with clients, what would you say are the biggest positives about the site with users right now? What are the benefits they're talking about?
Friday: Oh my gosh — so many different things. You know, again, when you're working with a very vast client base, there's never a one size fits all — "I'm just going to do this one thing, and it's going to solve all my problems."
But I do think one of the biggest wins we've had is corporate group functionality. Many of our large enterprise clients are very large and have a very distributive organization. And many of those companies, much like IBM, have logical groupings internally, and having the ability to bring those folks together and have a place to collaborate has, you know, served a few purposes. Now, not only can clients submit and get some early feedback on new innovative ideas but they can also collaborate amongst themselves. You know, we have teams that very often don't have the internal tooling, or the internal application to have these dialogs due to their own corporate infrastructure. So now they're using the RFE Community to actually get that job done. I think there's really a lot of value there. We continue to talk with our clients about utilizing that service for their individual organizations.
developerWorks: Have you made some changes or enhancements to the site as a result of that feedback?
Friday: Yes. You know, we have a lot of releases. Actually, in 2008, we had several, I think we had seven in total into the last time that we spoke, that included different levels. We had a few fix packs, and then certainly some new functionality that was added throughout the year.
You know, many of our clients have participated in the voting, so what clients can do is they can go online and they can vote and they can weigh in on what ideas they think are most beneficial from a holistic product portfolio perspective. So that was launched this year and is receiving more activity.
In many of the items that we have ongoing, we are soliciting through feedback that we get, either through our premium support clients, we certainly use our voice events and our client events to be able to solicit that feedback.
So we're not short of good ideas, and I think really over time, what we'll see with this application, that we will have more and more functions embedded to the application so that we can get clients collaborating with clients, which is a really strong and powerful support mechanism. But certainly getting more firsthand interaction with our development community and our clients were coming up with these great innovative ideas.
developerWorks: What about the future of the RFE Community, Beth? What do you see there? What's the vision?
Friday: Well, you know, the vision long-term, what we'd like to do is not only be able to use the RFE Community to solicit innovative ideas for product enhancements but we also want to use the whole application as a showcase for products that IBM sells commercially into the marketplace. You know, we've had a few ideas with regards to getting some capability online where clients can actually, for example, maybe do some of the requirements definition through products that are delivered through Rational products. You know, certainly add more collaboration capability. Some of the products that are delivered through the Lotus® brand are certainly great candidates for being able to first showcase our technology.
So I think it's also a great proof point to show that our technology, how we can get our technology to work for us, across this larger community of Software Group clients and internal constituents.
developerWorks: What about the Rational developerWorks relationship around all this? How do you see that growing going forward?
Friday: You know, I have to honestly say, Scott, and I didn't ask you to ask that question, but I'll tell you the developerWorks team has been tremendous to work with. They partnered with us in a tremendous and, you know, very aggressive way. One of the things I really enjoy about the developerWorks group is that they're constantly bringing new ideas to the table. They have a subject-matter expertise where they understand the types of things that work within the user community. And they're constantly bringing good ideas to the table, and really kind of pushing the envelope with us in order to make this a cutting-edge, you know, real leading application for the support community. And I think very strongly, and I feel very strongly, that as other Software Group products start coming on board with this application, that they'll find the experience with developerWorks to be, you know, very much the same.
developerWorks: That's good to hear. That's always good to hear. Any closing thoughts, Beth, around all of this?
Friday: I would ask folks to go out there and take a look. One of our biggest challenges being part of the larger IBM community, is that there is so much information available over the Web. One of my biggest challenges, and I think all of our challenges collectively, is to make sure that this application and all the applications we use to support our client base, are very well known. I think this is really, you know, big value-add application, from a client-basing perspective and certainly from our fields teams and our field sales folks, as well. If there's one place where you can go and very easily and quickly capture and obtain information, that's a great win for everybody involved.
So I think the one call to action would be take a few minutes. I'd love to have you go out there and take a look, certainly provide me with any feedback that you have. And you know, anybody that you can bring your clients to this application would be very helpful. There are so many great ways to get help through IBM, but if we really could streamline clients and our internal users to these applications that drive our value, we'll all be in a better position long-term.
developerWorks: My guest has been Beth Friday, vice president of Worldwide Client Support for IBM Rational Software. Always a pleasure, Beth.
Friday: Thank you, Scott.
developerWorks: Be sure to visit the Rational RFE Community Web site from the developerWorks Rational Zone. Just go to ibm.com/developerworks/rational. and the link is in the community box near the bottom of the page.
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Find all of that and more at ibm.com/developerWorks, IBM's premier technical resource for software developers with tools, code, and education on IBM products and open-standards technology. I'm Scott Laningham. Talk to you next time.