IBM's Lotus in the cloud

With the launch of its LotusLive platform this week at its annual Lotusphere conference, IBM Corp. is making its play for the online, enterprise-class social collaboration market, keeping an eye on rival Microsoft Corp. and its more SMB-focused Office Live play.

LotusLive is a cloud-based integrated portfolio of social networking and collaboration services tailored for business that will be offered in a hosted, software-as-a-service model. Sean Poulley, vice-president of IBM's online collaboration services, said LotusLive includes tools for networking, e-mail, file sharing and Web conferencing.

"This is about extending the existing investments that our customer base has already made, and we see it as complimentary to what they're already doing," said Poulley, noting plug-ins will integrate LotusLive services with on-premise Lotus tools for businesses that want to run both.

Organizations already have fairly rich sets of collaboration tools, said Poulley. The challenge is that these tools are largely confined to the business, while the challenge today is how businesses can connect externally, whether it's with customers, partners, or their supply chain. "So all that rich collaboration capability you have inside your business doesn't work outside your business, and that's really the genesis of LotusLive," said Poulley.

Various versions and bundles of LotusLive services will be rolled-out during 2009, tailored to specific verticals and markets. The first offering, expecting to ship in March, is dubbed Engage and includes Web meeting, network, instant messaging, file-sharing, charts, forms and activities tools.

IBM acknowledges LotusLive and the SaaS model won't be a fit for every business. While large organizations will be better served by optimizing their existing on-premise implementations, Poulley said IBM sees LotusLive being a money-saver for organizations in the 100 to 10,000 seat range, and organizations with so-called "boundary workers" that are often mobile or located remotely from the main office. For these business cases, Poulley said LotusLive can deliver the benefits of a large-scale implementation with the cost-savings of the SaaS model.

One member of the early adopter program for LotusLive is Toronto's Nortel Networks Corp., which recently filed for protection from its creditors. Tom Kivell, business development manager for small and medium business with Nortel, said it was the conferencing capability of LotusLive that appealed to him, and the Lotus Notes Sametime integration.

Kivell leads a disparate product development team that relies on regular conference presentations to keep everyone moving and on track. With their old conferencing system, however, Kivell said the process was continually getting in the way of the product. The first 15 minutes of a call would be spent ensuring everyone had the right version of the document and getting late arrivers caught-up, and network lags often meant not everyone was seeing the same presentation page at the same time.

"Sometimes you could feel the tension on the conference call," said Kivell. What attracted him to LotusLive, he said, was that, no matter what tools different team members may use, this was a common platform to unite them. Presentations could reside on the platform and be edited by all and shared with the team.

"We use the collaborative tools as a productivity enhancer and a time-saver, and for our team it helped bring our product to market sooner," said Kivell, who added it also made for a more pleasant working experience. "All the tension on the calls was gone, and we were suddenly dealing as professionals with real time information."

While Microsoft is a major rival to IBM's Lotus in the on-premise category and is making its own SaaS play as well with offerings such as Office Live, LotusLive isn't necessarily a response to Microsoft despite the similar names, said David Tebbutt, an analyst with Freeform Dynamics in New Milton, U.K.

"It's just IBM deciding what needs to be done and getting on with doing it," said Tebbutt. "IBM has been looking at this social stuff for years, at least since they bought Lotus Notes. It's not alien territory to IBM, it's not a catch-up game. It's a getting it right game."

And he said one area where IBM has a leg-up on its competitors in the space, particularly the pure-play SaaS vendors, is its corporate reputation for longevity, stability, and security.

"If Google says we've got these social apps and they're secure, people will ask, 'Do we really trust these guys with our business? Are they really secure?'" said Tebbutt. "However, if IBM says they do, then for most people it's a given, you feel a lot safer with them."

This story, "IBM's Lotus in the cloud" was originally published by ITBusiness.ca.

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