I had the chance for an interview with Dean Lythgoe, one of the Novell people who has been on GroupWise from day one.
Gert: Hi, welcome. You are the Director, Product Management for GroupWise. Can you give us a short background how you got there ? What stops did you make along the way?
Dean: I began my career as a software engineer on WordPerfect for Unix. After Novell’s acquisition of WordPerfect, I began to work on GroupWise. I have held several positions within the team from engineer, Windows Client Manager, Director of Engineering to my current role of Director, Product Management with a focus on GroupWise Customers and Partners.
Note by GWCheck: The development of GroupWise over the years has created a client that has multiple ways of adding the end-user with more than e-mail and a calender.
To mention a few: the home view, panels, the tasklist, contacts with the contacts history, instant messaging, rss feeds, pop3 and imap4 connections to other mailboxes, and sharing almost every piece of information. To mention a few: mailboxes, folders, trees of folders (in the next version), calendars, address books.
The feature set of the client is growing every time a new version comes out. This is necessary, to improve one must change.
Gert: Where do you get the input for these new features or “request for change” from?
Dean: Inspiration and insight into the features comes from a variety of different sources. Customer requests are the overwhelming factor that drives our engineering team. However, we also look for insight from competitor products, cutting edge technologies or simply engineering creativity.
In reality, you never know where innovation may come from – so we simply try to be open minded and well aware of technology trends. Over the last few years, we have added User Interaction Specialists capability and resources to our engineering team. This helps us drive branding, look and feel and turn engineering/product management creativity into useful and practical applications.
Gert: And how do you or let me ask who values them, and do big customers have a higher priority (in other words, is there a ranking in who’s asking)?
Dean: There is no ranking or priority given to innovation or creativity. We recognize that a good idea or an innovative enhancement can come from anyone. Since there is always more to do than there is capacity to do it, we do prioritize customer requests and enhancements using several factors.
We may ask a series of questions like: Does the feature align with our overall roadmap and vision? Is the technology mature enough to reasonably create the functionality? How does the feature relate to the other enhancements we are considering? How expensive is the change? What impact will it have on our architecture, stability or maintainability of our products? How many of our customers will benefit from the solution? Does the enhancement provide us some competitive advantage or opportunity to market or differentiate from our competition? Does the feature compete with one of our partners or other business?
In the end, there are many factors that can influence the priority of a feature or the inclusion of an enhancement.
Gert: For an enhancement request you are asked for a business case. Is this necessary?
Dean: Business cases allow us to look at the problem that is being solved instead of the solution that is being requested. So – yes – a business case is very useful. Providing a business case allows us to make sure we understand the problem accurately and once we have a solution that it meets expectations.
Gert: Who decides on what stays and what is removed from the list? I assume not all requests make it in the next version of GroupWise.
Dean: Jokingly we say – engineering decides – since they are the ones who ultimately implement the enhancement request. However, the ownership resides in Product Management. They are the ones responsible to understand the industry, the market and the customer.
In practice, the final decision usually becomes a negotiation between what we would like to deliver and what we have capacity to deliver within a particular time frame. As a business, we consider a variety of inputs before final decisions are made. Marketing, support, sales, training, partners, engineering and product management work closely together under the umbrella of a Product Leadership Team to chart the course and execute the plan.
Note by GWCheck: Given the expanding feature set, GW administrators like to warn the end-user not to store all information into GroupWise, saying “e-mail is not meant for that”.
This is to protect their work as well. Some of these features do store (an uncontrollable amount of) information in the database (RSS feeds, pop3 and imap4, panel syncs).
Gert: What are the (dis-)advantages of letting the end-user store anything versus keeping the mailbox clean, only necessary information should be saved. Is GroupWise meant for this IYO (in your opinion)?
Dean: …The GroupWise architecture is very robust and flexible. The amount of information and the kind of information that can be stored in your mailbox is not limited in any way by the technology.
However, corporate policies around information retention, E-Discovery, archive/backup, mailbox maintenance or disk space usage have much more to do with this discussion than the expanding feature set. We do want to help administrators and end-users manage these competing demands and easily navigate their options. Disk space quotas, caching/offline mode, auto-archive, Spam/Virus protection, Rules, shared address books, shared folders, proxy, backup, etc. are all features and capabilities that provide end-user and administrator control.
Gert: Do you see different behaviour in using (new) features by the end-user, management and administrators in the companies and organizations that use GroupWise? What strikes you in this?
Dean: Each consumer within an organization comes with their own set of perspectives. We have administrators who tell us all the time that they want new functionality and fresh new options (demands from their users), but they don’t want us to change anything They also want to lock out new features or even lock down old user-interfaces. Training can be viewed as expensive and desktop rollouts or updates are not as easy as they could be.
Management is really pushing to solve overall business problems and integrate solutions from different vendors. They want technology to help drive their business…not the other way around. End-users want the newest, latest and things that simply work. They also expect our solutions to be easy to use, easy to update and simply reliable.
Note by GWCheck: GroupWise is just one of the solutions from Novell. Vibe, OES, SLES. ZENworks, eDirectory, are well know and have shown to be among the best solutions worldwide (not just Novell) in its field.
Gert: Novell has decided not to support NetWare. Yet by becoming part of the Attachmate Group there is extended support for NetWare. Are calls for GroupWise on NetWare configurations still accepted or being answered with “move to Linux or Windows first”?
Dean: GroupWise 8 is supported on NetWare. Novell Technical Support handles all GroupWise 8 calls….even those on NetWare. GroupWise Ascot and future releases of GroupWise will not support NetWare. We are encouraging our customers to move forward with us to the latest technologies and solutions.
Gert: How is this for Mac and Linux clients? Are calls for Mac and Linux clients still supported? I assume there is no option for enhancement requests for Mac and Linux clients.
Dean: The GroupWise 8 Mac and Linux client is still supported and will continue to be supported in GroupWise Ascot. Older clients have always been supported against newer agents. This is the recommended upgrade best practice and we will continue to support it.
We are not currently enhancing the GroupWise 8 Mac/Linux client and we will not be shipping a new Mac/Linux client in GroupWise Ascot. We are, however, supporting the Mac client on the latest Mac desktop platform (Lion). We did have to make changes in GroupWise 8.0.2 HP3 to accommodate this new platform.
Gert: Why did Novell decide not to extend the Mac and Linux client in Ascot, and extend the WebAccess – as a client?
Dean: Our strategy and the strategy of many players in the email industry is to move toward web solutions. Web solutions have many advantages including easy or zero deployment requirements, more rapid delivery of features and capabilities, single experience across all platforms, cross-platform support, and a single client.
The struggle we’ve had in this regard is a gap in GroupWise Web access capabilities and features. In GroupWise Ascot, we have significantly changed the architecture of Web access in order to build a foundation where more frequent, more aggressive and simply ‘more’ features can be delivered to our customers and their end-users. We’re confident that these improvements in Web access will meet the needs of many former Linux and Mac client users. They will also make the Web a viable primary interface for any GroupWise user.
Gert: This brings us to Ascot, the next version of GroupWise. Currently in BETA. How is the BETA going? Are customers enthousiast about the next GroupWise? As a NKP (Novell Knowledge Partner) testing with a focus on WebAccess I have seen significant changes to the WebAccess client.
Dean: GroupWise Ascot BETA is going very well. We have a very active and vocal authorized beta group! They have been essential to the overall quality, look/feel, branding and final feature set of the release.
We have several Ascot POAs rolled out in production within Novell and we continue to hear very positive feedback from our IT staff. We are running a Lighthouse program where several of our customers will also roll out GroupWise Ascot into their production environments as we approach the final stages of BETA.
We will be talking extensively about Ascot at BrainShare and we invite everyone to come to hear and see the latest features and capabilties.
Gert: Bob Flynn said in his interview with GWCheck that Ascot is expected to be launched in Q4 of 2011. Is that still the case?
Dean: …Yes – that is still the plan and the beta is tracking well to meet that plan.
Gert: How is working with Bob, Dirk, Jeff and others? Did the Attachmate Group do good to Novell and GroupWise IYO?
Dean: Absolutely!! The Attachmate Group has been very proactive and engaged in making sure that GroupWise, OES and ZEN and their related solutions are well funded, well represented and well staffed. As a business unit, we are very excited about the level of commitment, investment and enthusiasm they bring to these heritage Novell products. And we’re excited for customers to see how we’re returning to our roots–and to the things they valued in Novell as a technology provider.
Gert: One can find GW support in several ways. I can think of several ways of finding support for GW administrators. The NGW List, the support forums, the Novell Knowledge Partners, TTP’s, the NUI’s, opening an incident to Novell Tech Support, and – with respect – GWAVA support.
Gert: Are there others and is this list correct?
Dean: Novell Technical Support is the very best! Finding expertise and getting the right answer has never been better with NTS. In addition to NTS, you have mentioned several great resources that add value to your support options.
I might also include some of the great events around the globe including BrainShare, GWAVACon and OpenHorizons. I think you can also get great information and find like-minded folks at GWCheck.com.
Following Alex or myself on Twitter, Facebook or in our blogs is also a great way to connect with the product team and associate with other Novell customers and partners. http://www.novell.com/communities/blogs/dlythgoe
Gert: How close are you to the NGW List? Is this really THE list for GW administrators? How does it differ from the support forums?
Dean: It is difficult to participate on a daily basis in very many of these forums. We do watch and participate in the NGWList forum and find it to be a valuable resource. There is a lot of expertise and knowledge withing our administrator community and this is a great way to access that knowledgebase.
Note by GWCheck: These support networks as I like to call them are as I see it based on experienced GW administrators and professionals that give their support to the rest of the GW community, if asked, via the right channels, basically for free.
IMO this creates a strong GW community, hence a good thing.
Gert: Is this model going to change and was it different in the past? What are the strong sides of it and what are weaker sides that can be improved?
Dean: I don’t anticipate any changes to these networks. We hope that they continue to be strong and vibrant.
Gert: You have been Director of Engineering for GroupWise now for several years.
Do you think about a change or can we enjoy your presence and blogs till the next version of GroupWise, after Ascot?
Dean: The old adage is true: there is only one constant: Change! I have recently taken on a new role within the product team and am now working with Alex Evans and assisting in the Product Management area of the business. Hopefully my presence will only increase in this role and I certainly plan to continue my interaction with the GroupWise community through the GroupWise blog, GroupWise events, and direct customer and partner outreach. I look forward to building even more relationships, momentum and support for the product in my new role.
Gert: Thanks for this interview and we’ll follow your blog on Cool Solutions.