Messaging and Collaboration Waypoints

Collaboration & Messaging
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In the world of messaging and collaboration, IBM and Microsoft are clearly still battling for market share. And why not? Analysts now anticipate there will be a growth of 73% in this market over the next four years. So IBM's release last week of Lotus Domino/Notes Release 7--along with its continual development of the J2EE-based IBM Workplace--is an important event. Indeed, it demonstrates that Big Blue is not about to cede this domain to Microsoft Exchange Server.

For instance, a recent study by The Radicati Group shows Lotus Domino's current market share to be 88.3 million seats, and this represents about 23% of the current messaging and collaboration market. This compares to Microsoft Outlook's desktop client market share of 58% share in the corporate desktop client segment and nearly a 49% market share in the consumer desktop client segment.

So from IBM's perspective, there's plenty of room to grow against Microsoft and hardly anybody else to compete against.

But is that true?

The Battle Behind the Desktop

Of course, the war for customers is not being waged on the desktop alone. Analysts believe that as organizations continue to move progressively into the realm of collaboration, the stakes for customer loyalty will shift away from a war of Personal Information Managers (PIMs) like Outlook and Notes to the battleground of collaboration services supplied by application servers deployed back at the main office.

That's the key to IBM's Workplace strategy--deploying the IBM Workplace client built upon the newer J2EE technology. Workplace can completely integrate with all of IBM's collaboration services through a single streamlined interface. IBM believes that as soon as customers realize their need to integrate their messaging suites with comprehensive collaboration services, WebSphere and IBM Workplace will be perfectly positioned to supply the complete infrastructure.

Customer Acceptance Lag Time

Yet, according to Radicati, 25% of IBM Lotus customers don't really understand the IBM Workplace strategy, and only 21% currently plan to migrate from Domino/Notes to IBM Workplace.

What these customer survey figures seem to indicate is that customers are not yet fully attuned to where messaging and collaboration technologies are going to lead their organizations or what they will gain by embracing newer technology. They do know what they've currently got implemented, and they do know they will be expanding the use of messaging and collaboration. But they are uncertain why one technology will be better than another over the long run. Market leadership by IBM and Microsoft--the dominant players--then becomes an important factor for a customer's strategic consideration.

Fast and Furious Technological Revolution

One needs only to review how the technology has evolved in the years since IBM purchased Lotus to comprehend why customers feel this confusion. We have moved from proprietary in-house messaging services like Lotus Notes to Internet-based email messaging. Then, we moved to workflow applications. Then, we moved to World Wide Web distribution. Then we moved to e-commerce, to Web conferencing, to instant messaging, to peer-to-peer file sharing, to on-demand virtual presence and virtual office implementations, to globalization, and now to wireless broadband connectivity. All of this has transpired within the last 10 years. That's a lot of movement in a single market segment, and this rate of technology innovation has created a conundrum for IBM's customers. Why? Because the cost of building these messaging and collaboration infrastructures has not been trivial.

More importantly, the return on investment (ROI) was usually not predictable until after several quarters of successful implementation. That meant IT was sitting out there with new technology, often years in advance, waiting for its user base to prove to management that collaboration was, in fact, a good idea. During that period, IT suffered the economic meltdown of the dot.com investment bubble, and companies suffered through the resulting recession of 2000 to 2002. For a long time, companies were left hanging with IT investments in infrastructures that they couldn't sustain.

That's not a pretty scenario that any IT manager would care to explain to his CEO.

Globalization Proves IBM's Insight

Yet, in hindsight, the investments made by those who judiciously embraced messaging and collaboration technologies have, in most cases, enabled IT to revolutionize the workplace, streamline the workflow, "virtualize" the organization, and position it to compete in the global marketplace. Those productivity increases--and the lowering of personnel costs to run the organizations--have almost invisibly increased the bottom line while opening up new business partner relationships and new markets for goods.

At the technology companies, like IBM and Microsoft, those economic mechanisms were well-understood from the get-go. The problem is, how do they sell their customers on the next wave of technology?

PhDs in Market Speak

For example, coming up with a marketing scheme that justifies the expense of the new messaging technologies has not been an easy task for IBM. On the one hand, IBM Lotus plans to continue development of the Lotus Domino/Notes platform. On the other, they are positioning IBM Workplace as a more resilient base of technology upon which to leverage their customers into the world of full-out collaboration.

Moreover, there is a lot of perceived product overlap, brand confusion between Domino/Notes and Workplace, and a considerable licensing cost for customers to deploy. In fact, merely understanding the pricing structures for these products alone requires a lot of study.

One IBM Business Partner said it this way: "You need a PhD in IBM Market Speak just to understand how to buy these products. And once you've bought in, you'd better be able to show a big ROI right away!"

In other words, to embrace IBM's pricing structure for the IBM Workplace or Lotus Domino/Notes licenses, a CTO must take an epistemological leap of faith that he's making a sound decision.

No wonder 25% of IBM's current customers don't understand the IBM Workplace strategy. No wonder only 21% will commit to implementing it. Better to play it safe with what you've got!

Beyond Proprietary Messaging and Collaboration Servers

This has led many CTOs to start wondering why they're even bothering with Microsoft's or IBM's proprietary messaging and collaboration strategies. Instead, many look increasingly toward the open source movement for some relief. They feel that Microsoft's and IBM's motivations to push their new technologies down their throats has started to look suspiciously like simple greed. Moreover, they don't like feeling that their organizations are held captive to future release costs that offer few perceived benefits.

Instead of suffering from "market push" by IBM and Microsoft, these customers are longing for the good old days of "market pull." That's when the customer still seemed to be in control.

With this view in mind, some corporations are beginning to look at the new offerings in open source messaging clients like Mozilla's Thunderbird. While not a full-featured PIM like Notes or Outlook, these clients remove layers of IT complexity while providing basic email support with spam filtering and--in some cases--virus protection.

By stepping back to these basic messaging technologies, these IT managers feel like they're clearing the air: They are reducing their overall cost, cutting back to the bare minimum for email communication, and reducing their companies' exposure to the demands of continual release updates made by Microsoft and IBM.

Messaging Security Concerns

In addition, many IT managers of smaller companies have come to believe that the current underlying technology for Internet email messaging is long overdue for a complete security revamp. Instead of increasing their investments in proprietary products that don't fully meet their current security demands, their strategy is to retain their current servers, reduce the client license fees with less expensive open source clients, and wait it out until the future course for messaging security has been set within the industry.

Finally, because the actual future of collaboration for their companies is not clear, their stance is to rely upon outside ASP services for instant messaging, CRM, and other critical applications. With these ASP services, they are finding that their IT involvement and investment is more financially controlled.

Open Source Messaging and Collaboration Servers

This "wait and see" attitude about messaging and collaboration has also fostered some interesting comments and projects by open source software vendors.

Red Hat, Inc. has been rumored to be considering the development of an open source alternative to the Microsoft Exchange Server and the Lotus Domino Server.

You may remember that Red Hat purchased the assets of Netscape from America Online's Netscape division last year. It has since rebranded the Netscape Directory Server and Netscape Certificate Management System as the "Red Hat Directory Server" and the "Red Hat Certificate System." It's currently in the process of releasing the source code for the directory server to the open source community. Red Hat says it also plans to release the directory server code to open source. But that's not all.

Open Source Domino/Exchange Server Competitors

When Red Hat bought Netscape, it also picked up the Netscape Messaging Server and the Web, calendar, and collaboration servers. These elements could, theoretically, become the basis of a new open standards, open source collaboration server. How likely is that?

In an IDC interview at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco, Red Hat's Director of Identity and Security Solutions, Mike Ferris, had this to say regarding an open source collaboration server: "It's something we see as a viable technology. The question is, 'Is the market ready for it?' "

The Crowded Future Market for Collaboration

Still, though Red Hat may see the potential, with IBM and Microsoft so far in the lead with market share, it's difficult to judge how they might be successful against those proprietary giants in the messaging and collaboration arena. Most analysts believe it would be easier for Red Hat to focus on its relationship with IBM and let IBM continue to promote Lotus Workplace as the alternative to Exchange.

Moreover, the whole realm of collaboration is shifting with new peer-to-peer ASP file-sharing services, including GrooveNetworks' Groove Virtual Office, which was recently acquired by Microsoft.

Meanwhile, last February, Novell announced the formation of Hula, a new community project to create its own open source collaboration server. Novell says the server will provide calendar and mail functionality, based on code taken from Novell's NetMail collaboration server product--a product with a pre-established installed base of more than four million users.

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt

All of these factors have left many IT managers with a significant amount of fear, uncertainty, and doubt--especially when the cost of building the collaboration infrastructure continues to rise and there is no clear long-term direction in the marketplace. Companies may be convinced that the future belongs to collaboration, but which future product, based upon what underlying technology, is still confusing.

Until the smoke clears, these customers are holding back, investing incrementally, or looking to trim costs to basic email and minimal collaboration services. And though IBM and Microsoft may have succeeded in charting a clear course for their respective technologies and products, their customers still need more than a map and a timetable to embrace the new strategies. What they are looking for is a real GPS that will show them where they will end up, who else will be there, and what in this new domain was worth spending so much money on.

Thomas M. Stockwell is Editor in Chief of MC Press Online.

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