IBM's Web 2.0 scuffle will dwarf clashes against Microsoft

It's all about integration, social software and unified communications.

IBM's Lotus Development Corp. unit has shifted its integration, social software and unified communications story into high gear as it prepares for a Web 2.0 scuffle that likely will dwarf its past e-mail clashes against Microsoft Corp.

The Web 2.0 battle will encompass many foes beyond Microsoft, including Cisco Systems Inc., and traditional telephony vendors and online giants such as Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. It will also produce product and vendor options that are sure to test the strategic investment skills of IT executives who told Network World in 2007 that they view collaboration technologies as "important" or "somewhat important" to their future productivity goals.

At its annual Lotusphere show, IBM hammered away at the way it will integrate its product portfolio that includes messaging, real-time communication, and new social software and rapid application-development tools.

But compared with past editions of the conference, in which Lotus seemed to be steering the course of collaboration evolution, the company now seems to be playing from behind in many areas, including messaging, Web conferencing, unified communications and software-as-a-service, while Microsoft, Cisco and others are grabbing headlines.

But IBM has its gems as well.

The company's move last year into social software with Lotus Connections and this year's expansion of the platform give it perhaps the strongest set of tools built for corporate users in comparison with those of competitors that are working with adaptations of consumer products.

In addition, the delivery with Notes 8 of the company's open-client framework built on Lotus Expeditor and Eclipse, a container for executing XML-based application components, provides client integration. This is designed for users who want to buy and run only the components they need, dictate the pace of their adoption, and retain options to fill in any gaps with homegrown software.

In addition to Notes 8, the framework is the front end for Sametime 8 and Lotus Symphony productivity applications. It will eventually front every back-end server and service so users can get functionality a la carte while maintaining a single interface.

In addition, IBM said that integrating those same servers with other clients, such as Microsoft Outlook and partner software such as Carestream Health Inc.'s imaging tools, won't lock users into the Lotus platform and will expand its range of potential sales.

Lotus last week also announced partnerships with SocialText Inc. and Atlassian Software Systems Pty. to integrate wiki technology from each vendor into Lotus Connections.

"The most beneficial part for customers is the integration," said Dwight Davis, an analyst at Ovum. "It's the fact I don't know that I am using Quickr [content management]; it's just a plug-in to my client."

In the Carestream example, radiologists don't know their instant messaging and voice capabilities are Sametime; they just see new functionality in a familiar application.

It's a message that IBM will build on, Davis said. He said the company needs to accelerate the discussion away from the "product-centric fire-hose flow of information" and direct it to "looking at customer goals and showing [Lotus] can address them with integrated products."

Showing the breadth of its tools and integration across its software is key if Lotus wants to stand out from the pack.

The setup has begun and Lotus Connections is a prime example.

"The social software is where they can claim they are first with an enterprise comprehensive solution, and that is why they are pounding at it, " said Mark Levitt, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based market research company IDC. "You are seeing a lot more integration with things like Quickr, Sametime, Symphony."

Experts said the integration story is being driven in part by Microsoft's success with Sharepoint Server 2007, which is one of the foundation elements of Microsoft's collaboration and real-time communications strategy, as well as an entry point into social networking tools such as blogs and wikis.

"SharePoint Server 2007 is sweeping through the industry like no other software product that I've seen since the early heydays of Lotus Notes," wrote Burton Group Inc. analyst Mike Gotta on his blog.

"IBM is taking it on the chin right now."

He said that IBM should use its arguably superior social networking tools to switch the focus away from Sharepoint.

"IBM can use Connections to compete with Microsoft by changing the focus to social computing rather than collaboration and content," Gotta said. "IBM has to do superior and native integration between Connections and Microsoft productivity tools and integrate with SharePoint as well."

Later this year, Lotus will add replication to Connections, a feature that was always described as the crown jewel of Notes.

But Lotus's challenges are a multiheaded monster.

The introduction at Lotusphere of Foundations, appliances bundled with software to support small and midsize business, and Bluehouse, a set of services available over the Internet, shows that Lotus is playing catch-up to Microsoft and its strategy of software plus services, which includes Microsoft Small Business Server coupled with Windows Live services.

Also, the company has to find a way to make Sametime stand out. This year, it will release two new versions, including a telephony version slated to ship in the second half of 2008. However, both have a list of features and functionalities comparable to those of the other players including Cisco and Microsoft, which are quickly rising to the top of the unified communications discussion. In addition, some new partnerships with Cisco and Nortel Networks Corp. unveiled at Lotusphere are identical to those Microsoft has made.

"This has become a very competitive space," IDC's Levitt said. "And IBM is looking for places where it can claim leads."

This story, "IBM's Web 2.0 scuffle will dwarf clashes against Microsoft" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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