If you've never been to Lotusphere, the first thing that grabs your attention when you arrive is that suddenly you're surrounded by true believers in the Lotus vision of computing. In this world, the true purpose of computing is not calculating the corporate coffers, but communicating and collaborating within a community of networked professionals.
"Where did all these Lotus crazies come from?" you wonder. "Surely they know that Microsoft has already won the collaboration wars!"
Wrong! And the sheer numbers in attendance tell you how wrong you are. The 7,000 people who attended Lotusphere at Disney World in Orlando are just the tip of a looming iceberg of more than 118 million Lotus Domino/Notes users, users that are networked not only though the Lotus Notes/Domino email infrastructure, but through highly productive collaborative workflow applications. Most are from large corporations in the United States. Many are from the largest organizations in the world.
The impact? By the end of the conference, you too will begin to believe that Lotus is not only a company, but a religious cult of collaborating WiFi geeks, running around with laptops, cell phones, Blackberries, Palm devices, and Bluetooth earpieces, merrily collaborating in their own virtual workplaces. Attendees were literally draped with small wires hanging from their pockets, which they plugged into their portable workstations in order to conduct business while simultaneously attending the conference. An errant strike of a single lightning bolt might have welded all these techies into one of the largest post-modernist wire sculptures in the world. And all of them were tied together through Lotus software applications. Some were even Web conferencing with the home office during sessions, holding up Web cameras to catch the presentations. Completely networked into their parent corporations, they were physically present in Orlando, Florida, but their minds were thousands of miles away, doing their tasks collaboratively.
The Lotusphere Excitement
First of all, Lotus announced an incredible number of new enhancements to Lotus Notes and Domino. Release 7 of Domino and Notes is to ship in the third quarter of 2005. I've already identified many of these enhancements in "The Once and Future Domino, Part 3: Release 7 Beta 2," and indeed, seeing these enhancements firsthand was quite impressive. What does this mean?
Well, anyone who was concerned that IBM might be positioning Domino or the Notes Client for retirement should see this R7 combo of Notes and Domino in action. This application environment is a perfect match for iSeries collaboration efforts, scaling up to almost any size of enterprise.
Other New Stuff
In addition to new Notes/Domino versions, Lotus also launched a broad array of new open standards-based software and technologies designed to give organizations the choice and flexibility to build the "front-end" of their collaborative solutions--on a variety of client devices, from PCs to mobile devices. These include the following products and enhancements:
- IBM Workplace Collaboration Services--This is a single, integrated environment that includes a wide range of collaborative capabilities or "services," such as email, calendaring, instant messaging, electronic learning, Web conferencing, and document and Web content management. Built on a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), IBM Workplace Collaboration Services provides organizations with pre-built, reusable collaborative services that offer the flexibility to adapt to changing business conditions and react to market opportunities.
- IBM Web Services for Remote Portlets (WSRP) Self-Service Validation Site--This program is designed specifically to give Business Partners the ability to validate and test their WSRP services to ensure they're easily integrated with IBM's WebSphere Portal. In addition, WebSphere Portal will include single sign-on functionality, increased support for industry standards such as WSRP and JSR 168, and enhanced collaborative capabilities through IBM Workplace client support.
- IBM Workplace for Business Controls and Reporting Application Hosting Service--This is a hosting service to help customers manage documents and reports in connection with Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The service provides businesses with an alternative to building and running their technology infrastructure in-house by tapping into computer systems in IBM data centers to provide management of software applications. The service uses existing IBM infrastructure, personnel, and management expertise to help businesses lower costs and eliminate the complexity inherent in deploying sophisticated software.
The release of Version 7 of Notes/Domino ends the debate about the viability of developing in the 20-year-old technology. There are already plans for a Version 7.5 and a Version 8, and IBM Lotus has committed to keeping this platform alive and updated with enhancements well into the future.
In addition, Lotus says that it intends to raise the number of paid seats to 200 million over the next few years as it challenges Microsoft's Exchange Server with new collaborative offerings. But while the technical challenges of the Lotus offerings are top-notch, there are serious branding issues that IBM Lotus must address if the company seriously wants to move Lotus from mainframe environments down to the SMB marketplace.
Most of the activities that have been confusing customers and industry watchers about Lotus continue to stress IBM's branding nomenclature--a perennial problem that has plagued Lotus for years and has only been made more difficult by IBM's internal marketing brand mavens. How many times will the pieces of the Lotus Domino/Notes and Workplace architectures be renamed before IBM gets it right? When will they stop fiddling with names and start focusing on SMB packaging requirements? Certainly, IBM could take some lessons from Microsoft here.
Lotus Workplace, Domino/Notes, and IBM Workplace Brands
Lotus Domino/Notes is now being positioned as a part of the IBM Workplace collaboration brand. Previously, these were called IBM Lotus Workplace offerings, and they were uniquely positioned within the Lotus product line by the fact that they were programmed to open standards using Java. IBM is now re-branding with just the IBM Workplace (dropping the "Lotus" brand) and also incorporating elements of the Notes/Domino architecture within that brand, which are not programmed in Java.
Consequently, it's no longer truly possible to identify the underlying architecture--Domino/Notes vs. Java J2EE--simply from the name of the product. This was an important key for SMB organizations to understand product lines because some will not consider the WebSphere J2EE platform for their future applications. Yet these Domino/Notes customers may still be reliant on the Domino/Notes platform.
For instance, if your company isn't following J2EE standards but is aiming toward Windows .NET--but still wants to keep or expand the use of Domino/Notes--you will have to ask whether a product is a J2EE product or a Domino/Notes product. If it's a J2EE product, you will also have to ask if it requires WebSphere Portal Server...and a slew of other questions.
This is not a good incentive for SMB customers to consider the Lotus suite of offerings.
Cross-Branding and Package Pricing
The other frustrating part of the current IBM Lotus offerings--especially for iSeries customers--is the Lotus products' pricing structures and packaging offerings. It is still almost impossible for iSeries customers to identify the components that are required to advance the organization beyond simple Notes/Domino email. The nomenclature of the "Express" offerings was once a beginning, but it's not consistently applied to all package pricing, and IBM Lotus would be wise to start looking at the SMB market with the idea of better packaging. Here's the problem.
Most of IBM Lotus packaging is aimed at the mainframe environments, where clustered servers and high-end administration resource are requirements. Fortunately for these customers, there's usually a dedicated IBM customer representative who can ferret through the Lotus product line to get a customer what it needs.
In the SMB marketplace, however, providing Lotus products with consistent names and scaling the packaging downward to meet the specific needs of these smaller customers should be the number one priority for IBM Lotus. It's doubtful that they'll ever do this, however.
At the moment, IBM seems to be relying upon its Business Partners to wrestle these packaging offerings out of the Lotus marketing maze. But if IBM truly wants to expand these platforms into the SMB, the company has to start looking at the manner by which customers make their choices.
Examples of Lotus Brand and Packaging Confusion
There was once a Domino/Notes product built by a third-party vendor called Aptrix. It was a good product for building structured Web sites using Domino, and it was very successful.
IBM bought the company, merged the offering into its Lotus portfolios, and created parallel versions of the product for building Web sites using both the Domino/Notes architecture and the J2EE Workplace architecture. So there are, architecturally, currently two versions of the offering, one for Domino and one for J2EE under the Workplace architecture. OK, that's simple enough. But that's not all.
IBM Lotus originally re-branded the Aptrix product as "Lotus Web Content Management," internally using the WCM acronym in literature and affectionately calling it "Wick-Em".
If you are a new or potential Lotus customer and wish to purchase Wick-Em, you will not easily find this product. Nor will you find WCM! Using the IBM Lotus Web site, however, you might stumble across Lotus Workplace Web Content Management. However, this index entry mysteriously tells you that it is "Currently called Workplace Web Content Management." What does that mean? It doesn't tell you, so you click on the link, and you are sent to a completely different product page called IBM Workplace Web Content Management. Is this the same as Wick-Em? There's no way to tell.
But that's not all! You discover that not only are there two different architectural versions of this offering (one for Domino and one for Workplace), but that there are two different packages costing significantly different prices. IBM Workplace Web Content Management costs nearly $40,000. IBM Workplace Web Content Management, Standard Edition costs only $10,000. The more expensive packaging supports clustering, while the less expensive is for a single processor.
The point is, this kind of cross-branding and segmentation packaging is inherently confusing for SMB customers. Customers are skeptical that products in which there is a lot of package segmentation will meet their specific needs. They are skeptical that IBM Business Partners won't load them up with the more expensive elements that will remain unused. They want to understand what they are buying, and the IBM Lotus offerings are confusing.
And Wick-Em is only one offering within the Lotus constellation of products. Imagine trying to document the systems used in the organization if the underlying product names are constantly changing.
Consequently, IBM Lotus needs to work harder to provide a better solutions map--not only for its potential SMB customers so they can understand the products, but for the SMB Business Partners so the products can be sold.
Lotusphere as a Technology Fair and Conference
Finally, how was Lotusphere as a technology fair? It was great! There were over 150 vendors representing a wide array of products that were based upon the various Lotus collaborative architectures. The technology sessions were in-depth, and the educational offerings were superb. If your company is currently using IBM Lotus products but can't seem to find the right way to find the educational sources that you need, I can highly recommend Lotusphere as a cost-effective conference where your technical people will get their minds filled and your company will get its money's worth for the educational dollar.
Thomas M. Stockwell is Editor in Chief of MC Press Online, LP.