I have attended Lotusphere for many years so it is very interesting to watch the transition. When Lotus Notes was first introduced in the late 1980s, it was a seminal moment in the evolution of collaborative computing. During those first few years, Lotus was able to establish a rich ecosystem of partners and really define the market for collaborative computing — before the general market even had time to think about the necessity for such a platform. But a lot has changed. Fast forward to 2011. Today the ideas of collaboration platforms is now the norm. Individuals, virtual teams, and big corporations depend on collaboration platforms to get business done. For many years it was clear that Microsoft with its office franchise and SharePoint had captured the market. However, with the advent of cloud computing and Google’s push into Google Apps that the market dynamics were changing. Now, add social networking on top of that with services like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn and the world gets a lot more interesting.
So, what does this have to do with Lotus? Actually a lot. Companies that I have been talking to are frantically looking for ways to combine the spontaneity of social networking platforms with structured collaboration with customers, partners, and prospects. They are looking for new ways to expand their business flexibility and opportunities. This is where Lotus has an interesting opportunity. Lotus has traditionally sold Notes and Domino to the high end of the Mid-market and the enterprise market primarily as a communications platform — i.e. electronic mail. That is what the typical user sees. But under that interface is complex applications that capture a lot of company intellectual property. Over time, IBM has added a lot of sophisticated offerings for collaboration such as Quickr and Connections. Now add LotusLive, IBM’s cloud collaboration platform into the mix and things get interesting. In addition to this new generation platform that brings together the traditional Notes environment with more dynamic collaboration and cloud computing, IBM is enabling analytics on the platform with tools from Cognos.
At the same time, IBM is being realistic this time around. It knows that it cannot displace Microsoft Sharepoint so it is enabling customers to make Sharepoint a component in an IBM driven collaboration environment. Likewise, it is allowing integration with various wireless smartphone environments as well.
But if I were to put a bet on one product that I think will have the greatest potential to bring IBM into the mainstream of social networking — or more specifically social business is LotusLive. LotusLive in combination with the underlying sophistication of the Notes and Domino platforms, productivity solutions (Symphony), and partnerships and linkages with third party SaaS platforms will drive IBM’s place in the collaboration market.
IBM clearly has challenges getting existing customers comfortable with change and helping them to move their valuable assets to the new world. But the components are in place. There are also important innovations coming out of the labs that will propel the environment forward. IBM will have to gather a lot more partners and more adoption from customers who aren’t currently customers. But the opportunity is waiting.