IBM LotusLive Engage: Can It Help Us Get Through the Night?

Collaboration & Messaging
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With a host of collaboration features, we can save on travel, help the environment, and still carry on business--somewhat--as usual.


IBM announced this week that it will release the gold version of LotusLive Engage next Tuesday, giving Business Partners an opportunity to capitalize on the recession.


That sounds a bit crass, perhaps, but this could be the perfect solution for the times, at least for small and medium businesses. If businesses were flush with cash and could afford all kinds of new hardware and custom software solutions, would they really want a SaaS collaboration solution? No, they would just keep getting on airplanes, spending bucks at the Marriott, and coming home with a fistful of business expenses after calling on Joe in Minneapolis. Who would need to collaborate online?


My father used to say that "necessity is the mother of invention," and he lived through some hard times, including the 1929 stock market crash and the depression of the 1930s. That event, which he referred to regularly, ruined my maternal grandfather, a former self-made millionaire.


Things aren't that bad yet, and hopefully they won't get to be. In the meantime, life--and business--must go on. And to survive, businesses will need to find smarter and less expensive ways to do things. LotusLive is one of those ways, and Engage offers some useful tools for small and medium businesses in a decision-free package. If you ever bought a Swiss Army knife, and really liked it after you hit the trail because you found you actually could use that little magnifying glass and pair of scissors it contained, you'll like LotusLive Engage.


"Due to the economy, we don't travel as much," says Colgate-Palmolive's Leslie Moore, an IBM LotusLive user. "But that doesn't mean we have to stop business.... Using the collaboration tools allows us to communicate quicker, more effective, and actually be more proficient working with our employees and also reaching out to our customers," Moore says in an IBM YouTube video. Collaborating online also has a positive effect on the environment, notes Moore.


For those who aren't familiar with LotusLive, it's IBM's SaaS--cloud computing, if you will--offering that delivers online meetings, conferences, instant messaging, email, and more, all on the Web. It's a service to which midmarket businesses can subscribe without any up-front investment in hardware or software but instead pay for on a subscription basis. It is a combination of several earlier and since-renamed Lotus products, including IBM Lotus Sametime Unyte, recently renamed LotusLive Meetings. It also includes IBM Lotus Sametime Events, renamed LotusLive Events. LotusLive has other modules, including the upcoming Connections, which is still in the works, and Engage, which will be released Tuesday.


What is Engage, and is it something that I want to recommend or, as a Business Partner, a service that I want to sell? Well, whether you want to sell it depends on how much goodness you want to drizzle over your customers (and, needless to say, how much IBM is going to cut you into that monthly fee). Whether you want to recommend it is another question. The service is for companies that want to collaborate inside and outside their organization and expand their networks and, hopefully, create new business. I guess that's just about everyone.


One of the exciting things about the service is that it allows an organization to instantly integrate emerging technologies without the risk and cost typically associated with leading (bleeding-edge) solutions. It's all online, so you log on, and the new features are just there to greet you. It provides space online where workers can collectively store and work on documents, presentations, and other materials of common interest.


Here are the main features of LotusLive Engage:

•  Web Meetings--This always-on Web conferencing service is secure but requires no downloading of software. You can record your meeting, poll your audience, and facilitate Q&A chats.

•  My Network--This this is a place where you can manage your contacts and connections. It's more than an address book; it's the launching pad from where you can connect to anyone in your world--inside or outside your organization--using Engage services.

•  Files--This is an online space for storing and sharing documents, presentations, and content folders. You upload your files to the online storage area and choose with whom you want to share them. Features are more sophisticated than similar offerings from some other vendors in that they include version control, commenting features, tagging, quick find, filtered views, privacy settings, and notifications.

•  Activities--This is the area where you introduce new projects, track to-dos, and brainstorm new solutions. It includes quick-start templates and flexible project tools and allows for posting of comments.

•  Forms--I love this module because it is a very easy-to-use, wizard-like service that lets you create and publish surveys and forms for the business. Forms makes it easy to send out surveys to gather quick feedback from users, customers, or colleagues. You can publish these to anyone with an email account. Replies can be charted and presented in a dynamic format.

•  Charts--Similar to the charting function in Excel, Charts gives you visualizations from raw data but does it online and then allows you to download the results and store them for later use.

•  Instant Messaging--Instant Messaging is, well, instant messaging. The main difference between IBM Lotus Instant Messaging and what you're using now from Yahoo is that anyone can pick up your Yahoo information off the Internet. Hello! It's not secure! But LotusLive Engage Instant Messaging is encrypted. Do we get it now?


This looks like a good package from Lotus, which is finally integrating all its products into suites that people can understand. I think I'll recommend that my boss take a look at it. It may not completely offset the effects of the recession, but it sure looks like it could make business life a lot easier.