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Lotus: the next generation

So, here I am at Lotusphere. Whoever invested Disneyworld should be sent for many years of therapy. It is not a happy place. But I digress. Lotus is at a interesting transition in its history. I have a warm feeling for Lotus. I was first introduced to Lotus Notes in 1988 quite by accident. My daughter was in day care with Irene Greif’s son. She told me about a cool new platform that Lotus was working on and urged me to come see it. It had interesting potential but it was very early. The rest is history. The first couple of generations of Lotus Notes was big, complicated, and server centric. Now the focus has changed — Lotus is about dynamic collaboration across corporate boundaries for a new generation of customers.

The theme for the meeting was “emergence” — it is a definitely better theme than innovation which is slightly over used these days (that was a joke…right). What does emergence mean? Mike Rhodin, GM of Lotus expanded it as providing you with the ability to respond by using your information to your advantage. I think it might have a second meaning: could this be the emergence of Lotus — finally as a ubiquitous platform that matters? It is not a simple question to answer but here is my take.

Lotus continuing its dramatic transformation to a true collaborate ecosystem. Much of the transition is taking place behind the scenes. I think there are four points of emergence that are important:

1. Lotus begins to move into Software as a Service (SaaS) with a hybrid model. This model will include a packaged appliance as well as SaaS offerings such as Bluehouse and the previously announced Symphony office software. I expect that IBM will offer combinations of some SaaS combined with some on premise software.

2. A new platform called Bluehouse goes into beta with an interesting focus on next generation collaboration with a people centric view of the world. I have had three demos of Bluehouse so far and plan to participate in the forthcoming beta. It is early to be sure. But the idea of creating a platform that allows virtual organizations and teams to collaborate is intriguing. I think there is more here than meets the eye.

3. An ambitious acquisition strategy to help IBM move beyond its legacy platforms. IBM had made some interesting acquisitions that support a collaboration strategy including Unyte for web conferencing and Net Integration Technologies for packaging Lotus into an appliance for the mid market.

4. A different model of packaging and partnering. Lotus is leveraging emerging standard interfaces and the new collaborative platforms to rethink packaging and partnering within both the mid market and the enterprise. This model will be based on rethinking the economics of creating customer and partner ecosystems. The Symphony product suite, based on open office, provides a free platform for ISVs to integrate office capabilities into their environment. This could have dramatic implications for ISVs who sell into the mid-market where margins and prices are low.

IBM has the opportunity to leverage its enterprise focused assets as its moves down and across customer virtual ecosystems. How about security offerings or management software modularized as a set of business services that can be added to a basic application as needs mature. The potential for IBM to leverage everything from its extensive work in service oriented architectures to its knowledge based on working with customers on innovation and people management are quite fascinating. It is indeed early but I think the signs of something significant is emerging here. IBM would be wise to follow its instincts and move boldly into this new generation and really emerge.

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