I had a fantastic time yesterday in Osaka and Nagoya, though I was thoroughly exhausted at the end of the day.  Much of what took place yesterday encapsulates what I love about working with and in the Japanese market, and being here in general.

Yesterday evening, I participated in a roundtable event with customers and business partners in Nagoya.  The formal meeting was good and useful discussion, but it was the dinner afterwards that will stay with me for a long time.

Image:What globalization forgot

(More pictures being added to this set on flickr)

My sixth trip to Japan is actually my first time meeting with customers and partners.  (It's also the first time I've actually managed to see Fuji-san just now as we are speeding by on the train.)  Previous business trips here have been mostly internal meetings.  Thus I am incredibly appreciative of the opportunity to hear directly what's on the mind of the Notes community here.

Over dinner last night, I was asked many questions about the future for Notes, Lotus, software as a service, how to defeat Microsoft, Lotus's position in the Japanese market, and many other professional and personal topics.  I've received a lot of good input on product strategy, licensing and packaging, upgrade and support cycles, and usage profiles.

It seemed to me that some of those present were surprised at my depth of knowledge of Japan and Japanese culture and business.  While I credit some of that to my friend Kobayashi-san back home, I admit a strong intellectual curiosity about a culture where intricacy, detail, respect, and ritual are all key components of every human interaction.  And a trip like this sates that interest in a way that no textbook can.

One of my biggest learnings and reminders this trip is about the typical Lotus Notes adoption profile in a Japanese company.  My colleague Terasaki-san and I were discussing whether I needed to make a pilgrimage to Akihabara, the Toyko electronics mecca, seeing as how my daughter received a Nintendo Wii for her birthday and all.  In the course of that discussion, he pointed out that many of the Japanese gaming companies are Notes/Domino customers.

I had no idea.

On the train down to Osaka yesterday, Katoh-san pointed out other Notes customers -- three Japanese automakers, electronics companies, banks.  Again, all new to me.

Now you may wonder, why doesn't a worldwide sales leader know who his customers are?  Well, I know some of them, but here's the globalization challenge.  The reference stories on these Japanese companies, if they exist, are published in Japanese.  They are covered in Japanese-language trade publications and at Japanese-language events.  Any public reference to their use of Notes, even if it happens to be in romanji characters, is likely to be opaque in a set of search engine results because of the lack of additional English-language context.

So Notes has a huge presence in Japan, which I always knew through data -- sales reports, market research, escalations from the region -- but I didn't know until this week.  

And that puts an interesting context around those requests I often get for "name me the big companies that are [still] using Notes".  This FUD-led challenge comes up about once a week, where a (usually American) CIO has been pushed by my competitors that "nobody uses Notes anymore".  The raw statistic of 46,000 active subscription customers is helpful, but the name-dropping is harder since many companies are hesitant to be public references.  And it's harder yet with the globalization issue -- it's dificult to allocate resource for translating reference stories from Japanese, Italian, or Hebrew, but they'd be very valuable in demonstrating the continued strength of Notes/Domino on a worldwide basis.

As for my daughter's Wii -- grandpa loaded her up with a bunch of games to start with.  And daddy isn't quite sure his sometimes-addictive personality is ready for a game machine in the home.  Maybe I should have brought it here to sell -- apparently, in their home market, Wii consoles are in short supply.  Now, about that "Hello Kitty"...

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