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Can IBM's social approach at Lotusphere jumpstart a Lotus Notes comeback?

Heading into the 19th year for Lotusphere, the odds are stacked against Lotus Notes, prompting a new approach from IBM.

By , Network World
January 11, 2012 02:51 PM ET

Network World - Now in its 19th year, Lotusphere will once again attempt to make up the ground Lotus Notes lost as a result of shifts in strategy at IBM and changes in the market in the past few years. But with Lotus Notes facing an uphill battle, five days at "the happiest place on Earth" will have to go a long way.

The event will once again be held at Walt Disney World's Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando. And from Jan. 15-19, IBM will once again showcase its best practices for Lotus Notes alongside a parade of case studies, business partners, strategists, product experts, engineers and developers.

However, the difference this year will be IBM's more intense focus on the social business aspect introduced at last year's event. IBM is going so far as to launch an all-new conference alongside Lotusphere called IBM Connect at the same location Jan. 16-17 (see related story). 

IBM's social business ventures will involve the use of tools normally reserved to social networking sites - such as instant messages, wikis, crowdsourcing and microblogs - within internal enterprise collaboration software. Many of these tools are found in IBM Connections, a collaboration suite designed to facilitate communications across an enterprise. At this year's conference, IBM will be launching an initiative to help customers and business partners integrate social tools into their current communications infrastructure.

Sandy Carter, Vice President, Social Business and Collaboration Solutions Sales and Evangelism, IBM, says IBM's next step into the social business field begins with Lotusphere.

"This year, now that the definition of a social business is set, we're focused a lot more on how you become a social business," Carter says. "This is really about helping our partners and our customers understand what the steps to becoming a social business are. How you would get started, what the things are that you want to look at, both on the business side and on the IT side, to become successful."

But even with the help of the Connect conference, some in the industry are concerned that Lotusphere '12 may be too little, too late.

A study of email behavior conducted by Australian software company CampaignMonitor, which aggregated data on the number of messages sent from specific email clients, showed that Lotus Notes lost 84.7% of its share of the number of messages analyzed in the study from 2009 to 2011. Meanwhile, cloud-based competitor Gmail grew 22.3%, gaining a substantial head start in the race toward enterprise email dominance.

The shift in opinion surrounding Lotus Notes has been felt far beyond the numbers. Lotus Notes user frustration has been well documented in the past few years, mounting to the point that page-one results for a simple Google search for "Lotus Notes" highlight an unmistakably clear domain name: Described as a website dedicated to the creator's "fellow sufferers who day in day out are forced to use Lotus Notes, causing them to struggle with email communications, squirm at the thought of planning another day and generally fighting for their will to live," it's just a sign of the many challenges IBM has been trying to overcome.

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