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IBM email fiasco complicates sales deals, is worse than biz is letting on – sources

Unreliable messaging interferes with contract completion, we're told, as Slack channels flooded with memes

IBM's email migration misadventure has been worse than the IT titan has let on, current and former staff have told us.

Big Blue yesterday acknowledged "some IBM employees are experiencing email service delays," and that the company is using "a variety of alternative communications tools to ensure minimal disruption to our clients and to our business" while it restores its systems.

We're told IBM's communications problems follow from an email migration, planned over the past 18 months, that aimed to move the tech giant's messaging data from HCL servers to machines operated by Big Blue. The migration didn't go as planned, and has led – for some portion of the company – to four or five days with limited or no email capability and the inability to schedule calendar events and meetings. Outlook, Verse (IBM's webmail), and Notes have been affected; Slack chat messaging, at least, has been spared.

Now two sources have told to us that the botched email transition has affected not only communication and productivity but may have revenue implications for the company's second quarter, which closed yesterday. We're told that IBM has given its salespeople special instructions to ensure they can complete customer purchase orders and obtain contract signatures because their usual business processes have been disrupted.

These instructions, seen by The Register, describe the unusual procedures IBM has put in place to ensure the company gets paid in a timely manner while its communications infrastructure is undergoing repair.

The instructions state that, for Direct clients, contract signatures and supporting documents to "firm" a purchase order can be sent via e-signature. But they can't currently be reliably received via email.

"IBM can still send e-signature request[s] to clients, however we cannot receive them back via email for the 12 [affected server] clusters, however [the] e-signature app is still working," the instructions state.

IBM has very strict guidelines for hitting quarterly financial close dates, one source explained. If an order comes in after midnight at the end of a quarter, then the next quarter has begun, and the order didn't hit the books on time.

The temptation may be to backdate orders completed after the deadline so the revenue can be recorded as planned, but doing so raises legal concerns. Presumably, IBM wants to avoid this.

The instructions lay out an alternate process for clients using Slack – "client can be invited as guests to a workspace and receive material through Slack." For clients not using Slack, other processes are proposed.

One of our sources, an IBM employee with knowledge of the company's technical operations, told us that the situation is worse than has been suggested.

"They claim it’s only about a dozen 'clusters,'" the individual said, insisting that the number of affected clusters is more like 15, which corresponds to a larger disruption. "I would guess it’s maybe 150,000-200,000 mailboxes impacted out of 400,000."

A cluster, as it applies to Notes messaging, refers to "a group of two or more servers that provides users with constant access to data, balances the workload between servers, improves server performance, and maintains performance when you increase the size of your enterprise."

In this case, however, access has not been constant.

"They keep saying it’s just 'delays' but users have had zero access for days," the individual told us. "The Slack channel is overrun with comments. They had to shut down chat support because too many users asked for help. Users are posting memes and dragging them in every comment. I don’t see this getting fixed for many more days."

They need to move everyone to Outlook/Office 365 and just rip the bandage off

The Register has been unable to determine the specific technical problem that upended the email migration. But in a comment posted to Hacker News, software engineer Bernd Verst suggested that people who really understand how to deal with Notes data are few and far between.

"Migration from Lotus Notes is always horrible," he wrote. "In 2011 I worked on many migrations to Google Apps for Business (GSuite, Google for Work, etc.) and there was only one person in all of Google who understood Lotus Notes and could maintain the migration tool he had created."

That said, not everyone has been affected and things may be on the mend. According to our sources, IBM hopes to have everything resolved by Monday – a public holiday in the US as the July 4th Independence Day falls on a Sunday.

Asked what message Big Blue's management should take from this, our technical insider wished for better planning, better communication, and better testing, adding, "They need to move everyone to Outlook/Office 365 and just rip the bandage off."

The Register asked IBM whether it could confirm claims that special business process instructions had been instituted and whether it expects the email disruption to have a material impact on its Q2 2021 results. A company spokesperson acknowledged our email – a sign perhaps recovery is underway – but we've yet to receive a response to our inquiry. ®

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