Lotusphere 2007: Users see promise in new collaboration apps, Lotus features

But it may be a while before firms upgrade

ORLANDO -- Placing an emphasis on more closely tying together existing information streams inside companies, IBM kicked off its Lotusphere 2007 conference today by offering some 7,000 IT users and professionals a wide range of first looks at its latest collaboration tools.

Pointing to the company's new Lotus Connections enterprise social networking application, a collaborative content-sharing program called Lotus Quickr, and a host of features in the upcoming Version 8 of Lotus Notes and Domino, Lotus executives said they're offering business users the tools needed to collaborate more efficiently.

Users on hand for Lotusphere generally agreed -- but said it might be a while before they take advantage of the various new tools.

Hugh Roddick, director of application development for Health Canada's client service center in Ottawa, said some of the new products will eventually offer his 13,600 in-house users -- many of them remotely-located health professionals who provide health care services in remote parts of Canada -- major usability improvements. Many of those users are forced to rely on paper-based forms of communication or "cobbled-together" electronic tools, he said.

Health Canada, which provides a wide range of government health services, has been beta-testing Notes and Domino 8 for several months, and he said the additional applications announced today -- including Connections and Quickr -- will be important future tools. Connections, for example, will allow Health Canada's in-house expertise to be catalogued in a central place where it will be searchable by all users. Meanwhile, Quickr will allow some 5,000 Notes workbook document storage repositories to be searchable by other in-house users.

"What's really nice is that we're going to be able to integrate it all together," Roddick said. "We need tools that can manage that information in a way that can make our employees more productive. One of the problems we're trying to solve is that there is too much information. You've got all this corporate information, but it's in little silos."

As for Lotus Connections, IBM officials said it will bring business-grade social networking to large organizations, supporting in-house corporate networks that are protected by secure systems, with full customization and seamless collaboration. Slated for a midyear release, Connections will feature five Web 2.0 pieces designed to allow users to collaborate on activities, communities, bookmarks, profiles and blogs, according to IBM.

Roddick praised the continuing integration of Notes, because it will allow users to run fewer applications at one time. "What it will do is make people work more efficiently," he said. "If we can get what [IBM] is talking about up and running, we will get really substantial efficiencies out of this."

An IT administrator with an East Coast utility company who asked to remain anonymous, said that while some of the features touted at Lotusphere look promising, his company and its 20,000 users probably won't see them for several years. The utility is still in the process of upgrading to Lotus Notes and Domino Version 7. "A lot of it is because we are very conservative," he said. "We move slowly. But you also can't be left in the dust."

One challenge for his company is that various business units use different applications and systems, he said. That problem could be improved through some of the new technologies used in Notes and Domino 8, as well as with Lotus Connections and Quickr. "This would be system-independent" and tied together with open standards used by the Lotus products, he said. "Users could access the information efficiently."

He said his initial reaction to Lotus Quickr, which is expected to be available in the first half of the year -- was that it is "pie in the sky" software. "But if you start to try to look down the road, it could be valuable," he said. "If you ask, 'Would we bring it in right now and would our company jump on it?' I would say no. But maybe two years from now."

Another user, Geert Van de Steen, a Notes/Domino consultant for Tech Team ANE in Brussels, was more subdued. For his customers, who hire him to help with their IT problems, the glitzy new features aren't necessary, he said. "If I suggested these new versions to them, they would laugh at me," Van de Steen said. Many of his customers are still using Notes and Domino 6 and are looking to make better use of those products, he said.

"We are professionals. We don't need these fancy things," he said of Quickr and Connections.

The problem with new features, he said, is that they are not always new, but are simply old features recycled and given new names. "Quickr is a repackaged [Lotus] Workplace," he said. "So far, it has been old gifts in new paper."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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