Who or What Are Penumbra Group?

Thursday 15th December, 2005
While surfing around the BlogOval (who said the world was a perfect sphere) I've come across many a reference to Penumbra Group and it's members. I know that recently Bill Buchan and Alan Bell have joined the clan, but never known exactly what it is. From the website:

Penumbra is a network of Business Partners who can draw upon deep experience and proven skills to deliver your business solution. You name a business software solution and a Penumbra Member will have delivered it. You get the value from that collective ability and a clear, consisitent focus on your project - we really do care for each customer, our reputation depends upon it.

Sounds impressive, especially when you read that they represent over 1 million seats!

So, would any of the Penumbra members out there care to share how Penumbra came about, whose idea it was and is it true that you have to bring a towel to the induction when you join?

Over to you guys...

  1. 1) Richard Schwartz Said: (15/12/2005 14:51:15 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Who or What Are Penumbra Group?

    Penumbra is a consortium, or maybe a little less formal than that... a loose association, of small and independent IBM Lotus Business Partners. We formed ten years ago, and we have about 30 members in the US, Canada, UK, Scotland, Germany and the Czech Republic at this time. There is a formal entity called Penumbra Partnering Inc. that provides the umbrella for our organization, but it is important to know that Penumbra is not a business entity that you can call for products or services. You deal directly with whichever member or members you want to engage.

    Small partners, including the founding members of Penumbra along with many others, had played a huge part in the early success of Lotus Notes, but by 1995 Notes was being seen more and more as a strategic enterprise-level solution, and all the big players in IT services were getting involved. It was perfectly natural that Lotus (and soon IBM) would be paying far more attention to the big partners, and less to the smaller shops. And starting with R4, Notes was getting to be a really big product, and it was clear that it was going to keep getting bigger, making it more and more difficult for any given small shop to provide the full spectrum of skills that customers may need.

    We formed Penumbra in order to band together to address these issues. We had a great relationship with Lotus right from the beginning, as they realized that by concentrating some attention on Penumbra that they had an efficient way to strengthen their relationship with a lot of good partners. They, and we as a matter of fact, even encouraged other partners to form their own groups similar to Penumbra.

    As Penumbra has continued these past ten years, I think it's fair to say that most of the members feel that Penumbra is primarily about relationships with each other. Penumbra doesn't dictate anything about how we work with each other. It doesn't dictate that we must partner with each other. What it provides, through our meetings and through our on-line collaboration, is a more efficient and effective way of building trust relationships with each other, and the rest follows naturally.

  2. 2) Andrew Pollack Said: (15/12/2005 16:42:20 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Who or What Are Penumbra Group?

    Its fair to say, as a member, that what Penumbra "is" changes over time. It changes with the membership as people come and go, with the business climate, and with how IBM looks at partners in general.

    Rich states well the original goal, still held to some extent, to break through the old barriers at Lotus (and later IBM) that make it hard for a huge corporation to interact with a small shop. By banding together, Penumbra members were able to better demonstrate a combined value as influencers and industry leaders in ways not shown by sales statistics like "number of seats sold" which are more tangible and easier to track.

    Penumbra brings together a diverse set of talents, interests, and business focuses for whom the primary common trait is that in whatever that focus, it is industry leading.

    Participating members are the owners or primary stake holders in the business and at the same time the technical leadership. As a result, there is a great deal of commonality in needs, interests, and challenges. That kind of commonality provides a basis to build trust. With trust comes shared knowledge and skills. The end result is that members have a strong network of "go-to" people when something they need isn't in their primary skill set.

    Small shops like ours have different needs, different challenges, and for many of us entirely different goals when compared with other kinds of businesses. Being a Penumbra member does not mean a person or business is better or smarter. It just means that some existing members recognized a kinship in them and invited them to give it a try.

  3. 3) Alan Bell Said: (15/12/2005 17:09:59 GMT) Gravatar Image
    A good Hitchhiker should always know where his towel is.

    As I see it the ethos of Penumbra is all about partnering and sharing expertise, kind of the opposite to cut throat competition.

    Notes is collaboration software and Lotus (probably Ray Ozzie in person but I don't really know) fostered from the beginning a collaborative mesh network of partners. Other large software companies also build up a network of partners, but theirs were hub and spoke rather than a mesh if you get my analogy. I think Penumbra exists because of that difference in the Lotus Partner community, and it was formed from the small partners who really understood the benefit of working together rather than working against each other.

  4. 4) Wild Bill Said: (15/12/2005 18:41:28 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Who or What Are Penumbra Group?

    Think of Penumbra as a collection of some of the best Notes folks on the planet. The only people to escape Penumbra have rejoined IBM - Rocky and Bob Balaban to name two.

    I'm but a lowly member. I did however spend two days at a meeting sitting between Bob Balaban (again- I'm really sorry Bob!) and Andrew Pollack, whilst Richard Schwartz played "Jawbreaker" on my phone for 72 hours.

    And the Penumbra Lotusphere Saturday Night "Foultons" party attracts fairly senior IBM folks. I spent my time there last year wedged between the chairman of Binary Tree, and flicked croutons over Mike Rhondin.

    Gary Devendorf and Ed Brill famously shook hands there last year, and two of the Penumbrites got engaged on the deck.

    So there's a social aspect to it too.

    Hope this helps.

    ---* Bill

  5. 5) Neil Agate Said: (16/12/2005 03:27:30 GMT) Gravatar Image
    Who or What Are Penumbra Group?

    While Penumbra is all of the things that Rich, Bill, Andrew and Alan have said I think that for me the most valuable part of being a member of Penumbra (and I think I am unique in being one of the only members who has had two companies that have been members) is the incredible personal network of like minded individuals. As those of who have done it know, running a small company in the software industry can be an undaunting challenge and while in the early day the Partner Forum provided a support system for this, it is the Penumbra Group that has provided that support for me. While every member has incredible technical skills the friendships have been the biggest asset to me both personally and professionally.

    BTW - thank you for asking and I enjoy reading your Blog.


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