Surfing through IBM Service Engage


Have you ever heard of IBM Service Engage? Back in February, during the IBM Pulse 2014 cloud conference, Service Engage was one of the hotter “software as a service” (SaaS) topics in town. Nowadays, 5 months later, I haven’t heard IBM talk too much about it. Maybe that’s the cyclical nature of user conference marketing. But recently, I’ve been feeling a fresh breeze in my direction.

Hi, my name is Jay, and I’m an IBM TRIRIGA information developer at IBM. In the coming weeks, I might have an exciting opportunity to develop instructions in dynamic guided tours to help potential customers who are still unfamiliar with and exploring the benefits of our IBM TRIRIGA products. If so, then these guided tours or demos of our products could be added to the Service Engage portal!

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

Naturally, to get familiar with the Service Engage portal, its look, its feel, its highlights, and maybe even its limitations, I decided to surf several of the guided demos myself. While I might not conclude with a negative review, I certainly won’t ignore the negative experiences. Besides, if I want Service Engage to improve, it’s best to not only celebrate its good points but also criticize its bad ones.

What is IBM Service Engage?

Even if you’re not familiar with the cloud or SaaS, here’s my old post about the cloud. In less than an hour, just like I did, you’ll gain a clearer understanding of cloud services and the different cloud flavors. But if you’re already familiar, then simply put, IBM Service Engage offers “an engaging online experience to learn, explore, try and buy service management solutions that run SaaS…”

Here are several descriptions from the IBM Service Engage portal itself plus two EMA articles.

Your business runs fast and so do you. Delivering great results means you need to understand what’s going on, prevent outages, and deliver at peak performance. You need simple, cost-effective and secure tools to get the job done. You want an engaging online experience to learn, explore, try and buy service management solutions that run SaaS and On Prem. You want to extend into the cloud. We’ve got what you want and need. Start Engaging… Welcome to the new world of systems management…

IBM service management solutions take service and systems management to the cloud enabling you to analyze, optimize, and automate your infrastructure, apps, and data. We take the headache out of installing, managing, and securing your solutions so you can spend time managing your business – not your software. Our SaaS solutions are securely running on IBM SoftLayer, and they are available in a variety of delivery models – SaaS, hybrid, and on premises.

We’re constantly evolving to make it easier than ever for you analyze, optimize, and automate service and systems management. What are you waiting for? Get Engaged!

Also announced was IBM Service Engage – a brand new set of management SaaS offerings hosted on IBM’s SoftLayer cloud platform. A full EMA Product Brief on Service Engage can be found here. While network management is not part of the initial SaaS offerings, it is on the roadmap and we could see it by the end of 2014. Service Engage represents a major shift in the way IBM delivers its management tools.

In the past, IBM solutions typically required significant professional services engagement and extended time periods for deployment, and product upgrade cycles were measured in months or even years. With the Service Engage SaaS model, deployment has been radically streamlined, to the point of becoming nearly trivial, and product updates can be delivered in weeks or even days.

As an example, the design objective for one of the initial offerings, systems monitoring (a la IBM Tivoli Manager,) is to complete deployment and be up and running in under five minutes. This is a revolutionary departure from the time and effort required for IBM’s traditional on premise model, and represents the most viable approach IBM has ever had for successfully meeting the needs of mid-tier shops.

IBM Service Engage is IBM’s response to enabling practitioners and line of business buyers to test-drive IBM software products without investing time and resources in the deployment of a pilot environment. Through the IBM Service Engage portal, customers can spin up environments of IBM enterprise software, such as IBM Workload Automation, IBM Performance Management and IBM SmartCloud Control Desk, without having to obtain the hardware resources and staff knowledge that would typically be required for a local POC. Ultimately, IBM is planning to make more and more of its current SaaS and on-premise software offerings available via IBM Service Engage.

Meanwhile, here are several views of the IBM Service Engage sign at IBM Pulse 2014 in Las Vegas.

MGM Conference Center hallway

MGM Conference Center hallway

MGM Conference Center hallway

MGM Conference Center hallway

MGM Conference Center hallway

MGM Conference Center hallway

How was my mobile experience?

Now that you have a better idea of the concepts, offerings, and expectations behind IBM Service Engage, it’s time to get to the actual review. To be clear, my focus wasn’t to surf the entire set of materials and offerings nor to compare this portal to other competitive portals. With a possible project in a few weeks, my primary aim was to take a few targeted test-drives of the guided demos.

Although my particular exploration didn’t follow this particular path in this particular sequence, let’s begin by opening the portal from a mobile device. Why? The answer is simple — because the Service Engage portal is clearly and understandably designed for mobile devices. Without digging into the exponential popularity of mobile devices, its mobile design expresses its mobile strategy.

As shown in the first few mobile screenshots, the portal experience feels swipe-friendly, smooth, and seamless. This smooth seamlessness is expected but still reassuring. There are many colorful areas to Learn More or Explore. But for this example, since I already know where the demos are located, I swipe to the Enterprise Asset Management section, tap Learn More, and tap Explore.

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

Very quickly, I see the guided demos for Work Requester Phyllis and Maintenance Supervisor Lester. Under Work Requester Phyllis, I tap the first Demo. Unfortunately, here’s where my seamless experience begins to hit barriers and break down. After I tap Demo, I see the “Tell us a little about yourself” popup. For casual surfers, this type of popup is a distraction if not a deterrent.

Fortunately, for this example, since I already have a mobile browser bookmark to this first demo, I can bypass this distracting popup. But as you can see in the last mobile screenshot, the demo fails in my Google Chrome mobile browser with the message “There are no portlets to display.” To confirm the error, I open my Mozilla Firefox mobile browser. I see the same message — no portlets.

This mobile experience tells me that while the Service Engage portal is mobile-friendly, the guided demos are not. This situation is understandable since web applications that are designed to run perfectly fine in desktop browsers might not necessarily be compatible with mobile browsers. In this light, one simple but helpful fix might be to relabel the Demo button to the Desktop Demo button.

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

How was my desktop experience?

Now that you’ve seen my mobile experience, you might notice another reason why I began this review from a mobile device. Not only is the IBM Service Engage portal clearly designed to attract a mobile audience, but also from the opposite if not contradictory view, the guided demos are clearly designed to convince a desktop audience. But perhaps this “dual” state of browsing is unavoidable.

As shown in the first few desktop screenshots, the portal experience maintains the same smooth and seamless feel. However, by implementating this reflowable type of responsive web design (RWD), portals that are designed to be swipe-friendly on a mobile browser might not necessarily be scroll-friendly on a desktop browser. For casual surfers, too much scrolling can also be distracting.

Like the previous example, I scroll to the Enterprise Asset Management section, click Learn More, and click Explore. Compared to the mobile experience, it’s also easier in the desktop experience to hover over the Enterprise Asset Management section and click the Explore link that appears. Either way, I again see the guided demos for Work Requester Phyllis and Maintenance Supervisor Lester.

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

Once again, under Work Requester Phyllis, I click the first Demo. Unfortunately, I again see the “Tell us a little about yourself” popup. Since the popup is irritating enough, I haven’t checked to see whether submitting your information suppresses the popup from returning later. But if it doesn’t suppress the popup, not only casual surfers, but frequent visitors might find it even more irritating.

Fortunately, for this example, there’s a perfectly-ethical techno-geeky trick that also happens to be a perfectly-common browser-developer tool to bypass this irritating popup. Nowadays, every major desktop browser including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Internet Explorer gives you the option to right-click in a webpage and select Inspect Element. Nothing mysterious at all.

In this case, from my Google Chrome desktop browser, I right-click the first Demo and select Inspect Element. In the Elements panel, I locate the highlighted code and click the URL to open the guided demo. In fact, this is original desktop path that I followed to add the browser bookmark to my mobile experience. After I add the bookmark, I can bypass the portal and explore the demo at any time.

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

How was my demo experience?

Finally, let’s conclude this desktop experience with the main event and primary aim of my review — “to take a few targeted test-drives of the guided demos.” Despite the limitations and distractions in the reflowable portal design, I admit that from the very beginning, I was impressed by how smoothly the IBM Service Engage demos ran. I particularly liked the layout of the instructional side panel.

As shown in the first few desktop screenshots, the first Demo renders not only the role-based portal of Work Requester Phyllis within the IBM Maximo Asset Management product, but also an instructional side panel that displays the related tasks, the current step in the current task, and an expandable screenshot of the current step. You can even click forward or backward at any pace.

For this example, I review the role-based portal and the instructional side panel for Step 1. To verify my understanding, I click the thumbnail image to expand a larger screenshot. I also notice that I’m not required to click ahead in the main portal to move forward in the side panel. Next, I forward to the second task. In fact, this second task is also the second Demo under Work Requester Phyllis.

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

Continuing with the second Demo, I click the thumbnail image to expand a larger screenshot. To get a visual overview of this second task process, I move forward through the screenshots from Step 1 through Step 4 while the screenshot popup is still open. Finally, since I already added the browser bookmark, I bypass the portal and open the first Demo under Maintenance Supervisor Lester.

Like the first Demo under Work Requester Phyllis, the first Demo under Maintenance Supervisor Lester renders the role-based portal with its instructional side panel. But interestingly enough, this is where I noticed the first glitch in the demos. As shown in the final two screenshots, Step 1 refers to request 1006. But because many test-driven requests are created, 1006 is pushed off the list.

This demo experience tells me that while these guided tours can be impressively dynamic, the instructional text must also be flexible enough to accommodate these dynamic changes. This situation is understandable if the test-driven demo data cannot be cleared in a hourly or daily basis. In this light, one simple but helpful fix might be to generalize or remove the specific 1006 value.

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

What are my final thoughts?

After my targeted test-drives of the guided demos, I’m still impressed overall with IBM Service Engage. Despite the limitations, irritations, and glitches, the demos were smooth and engaging. But like I noted earlier, “I certainly won’t ignore the negative experiences. Besides, if I want Service Engage to improve, it’s best to not only celebrate its good points but also criticize its bad ones.”

My first recommendation is to abolish that “Tell us a little about yourself” barrier. The demos are test-drives not purchases, so there’s no need to distract or deter potential customers before the experience. If information must be gathered, then treat it like a restaurant questionnaire and delay it until after the experience. If visitors enjoy a demo, they’re more likely to give you more information.

My second recommendation is to relabel the Demo button to the Desktop Demo button. Until these desktop-specific demos are designed to be compatible with mobile browsers, there’s no need to hide the fact until the demo fails in the Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox mobile browser of a potential customer. If you acknowledge this limitation, mobile surfers are more likely to forgive you.

My third recommendation and probably the easiest one to fix is to generalize or remove specific values in the instructional side panel that might be dynamic, temporary, or editable in the main role-based portal. This recommendation is also the easiest one to prepare for if I indeed have the opportunity to develop instructional side panels in similar guided demos for IBM TRIRIGA products.

So yes, there’s definite room for improvement. But wait a minute. If you’re an IBM TRIRIGA developer, consultant, or representative not only at IBM but also at an IBM business partner, you might be asking yourself, just like I’m asking myself, “If IBM TRIRIGA guided demos might be added to IBM Service Engage, does that imply that IBM TRIRIGA SaaS products might be coming soon?”

That would be the logical SaaS assumption, wouldn’t it? I guess I’ll find out in a few weeks.

IBM Service Engage

IBM Service Engage

Do I have an update?

More than 2 months after surfing IBM Service Engage, I bounced into responsive IBM design!

IBM Design

IBM Design

Nearly 6 months after surfing IBM Service Engage, IBM TRIRIGA SaaS sailed into Service Engage!

IBM TRIRIGA SaaS

IBM TRIRIGA SaaS

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