Lotus chief defines imminent battle plan

Lotus’ Bob Picciano to spell out how new collaboration tools will battle Microsoft’s Office SharePoint Server

Integration of traditional on-premises Notes-based collaboration, new unified communications tools, Symphony productivity applications, content management, Web-based services and the potential to mash it all together with new-fangled development tools and social networking innovations pouring out of IBM's research labs are just a few of the challenges facing IBM's Lotus Software division chief, Bob Picciano.

Integration of traditional on-premises Notes-based collaboration, new unified communications tools,  Symphony productivity applications, content management, Web-based services and the potential to mash it all together with new-fangled development tools and social networking innovations pouring out of IBM's research labs are just a few of the challenges facing IBM's Lotus Software division chief, Bob Picciano.

Seven months into his new job, the 21-year IBM veteran, who started in research and spent time as a technical assistant to former CEO Lou Gerstner, will take his integration pitch to the people in January when he stands up for the first time at Lotusphere as the leader of IBM's Lotus software division. In a year with no new major Notes release to show off, Picciano needs to sell users on integrating pieces of the Lotus portfolio and catching the Web and Enterprise 2.0 wave.

"It seems like this is one of those occasions where things are finally coming together," says Picciano. "We are the collaboration innovator because we have been preparing," he says, acknowledging Lotus' efforts back to the days when groupware was king.

First up is delivering just ahead of Lotusphere the 8.5 version of Notes and its new compression technology, Notes ID file management, developer tools and integration with Lotus Connections social networking software.

Profile of Bob Picciano

Picciano will highlight the importance of the "Notes 8 portal client,"  built on top of Lotus Expeditor and Eclipse, which provides the interface for Web-based services, mashups, and applications such as Sametime and Quickr.

Also on tap for 2009 is a new version of Sametime (IM/Web conferencing) that uses Web 2.0 interfaces to expose unified communication (UC) services.

Lotus also plans to flesh out Lotus Connections 2.0 and Lotus Mashups, an IT tool for combining widgets into applications.

Picciano also said he will show off XPages, a feature of Domino Designer that ships with 8.5 and will radically change the way Notes applications are built and will usher those apps into the Web 2.0 era. In addition, XPages will help developers convert existing applications to the Web 2.0 model.

"We don't have all the answers there yet, but we see it as key to the opportunity," says Picciano.

He will need all those weapons to face what is likely his greatest competitive challenge -- Microsoft's Office SharePoint Server, which has become a billion-dollar juggernaut, a development platform much like Notes and a middleware destination for IT.

A Forrester report published  this month lines up Notes against SharePoint and concludes that Microsoft finally has a development platform to rival Lotus.

"Notes has this basic collaboration, basic content management, this application development environment that includes a user-accessible application environment, and those things have made Notes unique for some time," says Rob Koplowitz, the Forrester analyst who wrote the report. "But now there is another player in town with SharePoint."

Some experts say with Quickr, Connections and Sametime, Lotus has a formidable trio of new tools to go along with old gems like Notes replication that SharePoint cannot yet match.

"If a customer says they don't want Notes, IBM can still come in and say this trio can do things that are market leading," says Peter O'Kelly, principal analyst for O'Kelly Consulting. "You have Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 kinds of collaboration, and market leading real-time communication tools. And it works on Notes/Domino, WebSphere, Java, DB2, Oracle and they fit with Microsoft tools such as Exchange. And another advantage is that it works across a variety of platforms; Linux, Unix, Solaris, Windows."

Industry experts say the dramatic adoption of SharePoint and its positioning as Microsoft's collaboration hub could lead users to add other Microsoft software such as Exchange and Office Communications Server at the expense of Lotus.

In addition, IBM is seeing many new competitors, including Oracle and Cisco, who want a piece of the collaboration and social networking pie.

Microsoft went on record in July as saying it wants to get Lotus customers to convert five million seats of Notes to Microsoft's collaboration tools between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009.

Picciano doesn't see that happening.

"We are leaving others like Microsoft in the rear-view mirror because they are more caught up in protecting franchises and not focused on liberating workforces and getting people to democratically share information and link together in a business context," he said. "The golden egg Microsoft is laying [with SharePoint] is coming from the chicken they have, which is a monopoly desktop environment."

Picciano has presided over a number of attacks on Microsoft.

He cites the coup Lotus scored earlier this year at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, trumping SharePoint by many analyst accounts with the array of social networking tools in Connections.

In May, the company took aim directly at SharePoint by releasing Lotus Quickr Content Integrator, a tool for moving content in mass to Quickr from SharePoint sites and Microsoft Exchange folders, as well as, IBM-based repositories.

In September, the company opened the IBM Center for Social Software in Cambridge, Mass., that will tap IBM staff, clients, partners, students and others to research, develop and test Web 2.0 tools.

And in October, Lotus introduced a hosted Notes option, which begins to blend its software with online services much like Microsoft is trying to do under the guidance of Notes creator and now Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie.

Lotus is also adding a focus on small and midsized businesses with its Bluehouse online services and Foundation appliances  for collaboration

"We think this is a massively underserved environment," says Picciano.

His optimism is fueled by the fact that Lotus has recorded 16 consecutive quarters of revenue growth, including a 10% increase reported in October with IBM's 2008 fiscal third-quarter earnings.

On top of that, the company says a yet-to-be-named Asian firm is adding 300,000 Notes seats and other Lotus software in 2009 and that it's "biggest client win ever in North America" will bring another 150,000 seats including Notes, Sametime, Connections and Quickr. Last month, the Global Hyatt Corp. committed to a Notes 8 infrastructure including unified communications software.

The sales speak to the integration possibilities Picciano is trumpeting.

He says he will tie everything together for the Lotus customer base in January.

"I want them to know I am here to help them, that I have passion and vision in the technology and business space, and that we have a great [product] portfolio."

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