About this years Lotusphere

On board of DL78 from New York to Berlin it is time for me to review Lotusphere 2007. First of all: With all that Web 2.0 buzz it seemed to be more of a Blogosphere than a Lotusphere. People were so excited about social software arriving in the business world – and about the Web 2.0 like new cool tools from Lotus.

But what is realy new looking at all the announcements from a few thousand miles away? Some assorted thoughts:

1. IBM refocuses its Lotus brand. And thats the best message they can send out to the customers and the community. The Workplace trial period is over, it failed, they kicked it off the portfolio. Lesson learned. Not only customers and partners celebrated the end of Workplace, even the IBMers seemed to be very happy about the end of the “two ways to the future story”. For my company this is not realy bad. We spent a lot of time in Workplace trainings, we offered trials and “Workplace Installation Parties”, but thank god nobody purchased that stuff. I would be in trouble now. Anyway. With the Websphere Portal 6 and its Express product line there is still a great offering in the portal market.

2. Refocusing the Lotus Brand means: Lotus Notes and Domino are (and ever have been) the core product in the Lotus brand. Messaging and Collaboration are based on Notes technology. With the official branding of “Hannover” as “Lotus Notes 8” IBM made that very clear again.

3. Lotus Notes 8 might be the most important release since Notes 4. The Eclipse based so called “Standard Client” is a major improvement. The user interface is a quantum leap, and I can see no reason why anybody should prefer MS Outlook over Lotus Notes 8 because of the UI. And in fact there never had been any other reason to prefer MS Outlook. As I work now in my daily work with the Notes 8 Beta 1 I can say: This is surpringly robust code, and the performance is much better then I expected it to be. There are so many improvements that made life so much easier with Lotus Notes 8. But this should be a separat blog entry.

3. And then we have all that Web 2.0 stuff. Lotus Connections is – I mentioned it before – what I have been looking for since two years. Finally Lotus delivers its approach to activity centric collaboration. At Lotusphere I had the chance to play around with “Activities”, and because Lotus Connection went live as a Beta platform for all Lotusphere attendees I could integrate it into my Notes 8 sidebar. It works as intended, even if there are lots of strange behaviors in the web frontend. It is beta code, but I can´t wait to set up our own Lotus Connections server. But Lotus Connections is not only about activity management. There is a powerfull profiling engine in it (I could not find out which technology is behind it, I remember some Raven stuff which did the same), it contains a bookmark engine which IBM calls dogear and is in fact a inhouse clone of del.icio.us.

With Lotus Connections IBM adopts many of the well known Web 2.0 technologies, including blogs and wiki templates. What is in for my customers? Well, the activity centric approach is key for me, and I already started evangelizing my customers about that. Blogs, Wiki, Bookmark server? OK, its nice to have. Even if I am very familiar with these technologies and I know predictions like “in 2020 everybody will have a Blog like everybody today has an email adress”, but I am a little bit scepticall about this.

I know Microsoft is offering Sharepoint now with blog and wiki templates, too. They try to be cool, too. From my point of view Microsofts customer community will take much less advantages of these capabilities then Lotus customers. But anyway, on both sides it is still a small target group.

Looking at Lotus Quickr, the next big announcement at Lotusphere, there is another “cool toolset”. Basically its a Quickplace update that comes with a document management template and – yes, you name it – blog and wiki templates. The Quickplace components evolves from two sides: The classical Domino based Quickplace will be enhanced with the Document Management features, and IBM tries to make the old Workplace Teamspace look like Quickplace and enhanced this with the Workplace Documents DMS features. So customers who come from Quickplace will get an easy upgrade and stay with the Domino platform, even if the DMS functionality is not as rich as in the Workplace/Websphere Portal environment. The goal is to support both codestreams in the backend but integrate in the frontend. The frontend with its MS Office and Explorer-Integration will be the same for both codestreams using a common web services interface. This is a good idea, and in the labs I had a short look on Sametime integration in the future: Lotus Sametime will take your Lotus Quickr collaboration teamroom live with one mouseclick – switching between synchronous and asynchronous collborative work will be easy as never before.

Again: What makes me excited is the Lotus Quickplace plus Workplace Documents enhancement, not the “cool” blog and wiki stuff. Looking at the Blog capabilities I learned that each new product has its own blogging engine. They don´t share the code. Domino comes with an own template since Domino 7, Lotus Connections uses an open source blog engine, and Lotus Quickr comes with an own Blog template, too. Maybe this will change when IBM releases all that new stuff, but the question is still: Is there real business value for my customers? I don´t see it yet.

I don´t want to sound to sceptical about social software entering the business world. It is in fact a major step forward for Lotus and IBM. And in an IBM ecosystem with hundreds of thousands employees tools like blogs, wikis, profile applications a la MySpace or openBC and bookmark servers a la del.icio.us might have an enormous effect on organizational development. It will change the world in large ecosystems like it changes the world right now in the world of freelancers and entrepreneurs in the Web 2.0. But in the SMB world, where IBM wants us as their business partners to make business, these tools are nice to have – today.

But maybe tomorrow these tools will become a kind of common standard like email is in these days or instant messaging is about to become. Like Mike Rhodin quoted his daughter: “email is for my grandfather”. And these young people will enter our business world very soon.

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