Lotusphere: Hey, Maybe IBM is a Software Company

I didn't make it this year to IBM's Lotusphere conference in Orlando. The freakishly frosty winter Mother Nature and her Niño have visited upon us here in the Golden State has made that lapse in my conference schedule shiveringly disappointing. However, I did catch up with Alan Lepofsky, senior manager of strategy for IBM's Lotus Software group, who called me on Friday from his hotel just after the closing conference session. His fevered enthusiasm for the event and the technology it supports warmed me right up.

''I'm walking around the hallways this week and people are telling me, you nailed it, we're thrilled with what you're telling us,'' Lepofsky told me. ''Everyone feels like a rock star.''

This year's event drew an estimated 7,000 attendees, which I think is a double-digit increase over last year (which had more attendees than the year before that). The reason: ''Partners trust us again,'' Lepofsky said. ''We're delivering what they're asking for.''

Hmm… Give the customers what they… ask for? That could catch on.

My sarcasm aside, these guys are definitely doing something right. IBM announced growth for the Lotus group in 2006 that included a 30 percent increase of shipments of the core Notes/Domino product over 2005.

One of the most interesting products unveiled at this show was Lotus Connections, the company's first integrated bundle of social networking tools. Scheduled to ship sometime later this year, Connections aims to provide the enterprise with business-ready tools for blogging, bookmark sharing, user profiles, and software to track activities and build online communities. '

'We've established ourselves with the things people know and the products people use, while introducing Lotus as, once again, the leading provider of software for people,'' Lepofsky enthused. ''We did it a long time ago with cc:Mail. We did it again with Groupware and Notes. We repeated that with enterprise-level instant messaging. We didn't invent email or IM; we brought it into the enterprise. We're doing it again with social software. We didn't invent it, but we're making it real for companies to use internally.''

Tanisha Kuckreja, Melbourne-based analyst for Ovum, sent me a note about the show. He saw in this year's event ''a new sense of optimism at Lotus with the fog finally clearing on IBM’s delivery of the new-look Lotus platform.'' He passed along some analysis from Ovum's public sector research director, Steve Hodgkinson, who attended the event. Hodgkinson observed that Lotus General Manager Mike Rhodin ''has transformed Lotus and given it a new sense of purpose since he took over... four years ago.''

''Rhodin has presided over a significant competitive repositioning of Lotus and a total redevelopment of the core software products,'' Hodgkinson writes. ''The positioning is open, platform independent, extensible and backward compatible. No rip-and-replace upgrades required. The products are engineered for the evolving work practices of knowledge workers , built using the open source Eclipse development language, and fully compliant with open document standards.''

In fact, Domino/Notes 8, Quickr (the new content-sharing and management tool), the new Connections bundle, and Sametime 7.51 all were built on Eclipse with the company's Expeditor tool. ''We're using Eclipse to develop our own products,'' Lepofsky said. ''That opens up a world of possibilities for developers that's unheard of. Application developers were a monumentally huge part of this week.''

Gartner analysts saw the announcements and activities at the event as evidence that IBM is beginning to ''reinvent itself.''

''Significant updates to Lotus Notes and Quickplace, as well as the introduction of some compelling new products, were the reason that IBM's Lotusphere 2007 was buzzing with positive feedback from IBM customers and partners,'' Jeffrey Mann, Tom Austin, David W. Cearley wrote in a post-conference report.

But these analysts also worried about the ''murky'' relationship the Quickr product to others, such as Domino Document Manager, DB2 Content Manager and new document-oriented clients. They also feel that, though the social software has promise, ''the lack of consumer-focused or Web 2.0 software-as-a-service offerings limits penetration.''

One element of this year's show added some real weight to the event, imbued it with a new relevance, a gravitas—a coolness, if you will—that bodes well for the Lotus group: Google had a booth.

''When Google sets up a booth at your show,'' Lepofsky said, ''you're hip again.''

'Nuf said.

A webcast of the opening session is available online. You also might check out Adam Gartenberg's blog on this event. (He's the manager for unified communications in IBM's collaborative software unit.) And for Lotus tips and talk, be sure to check out Alan Lepofsky's blog

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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