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Lotusphere 2007 Impressions: IBM Versus Microsoft

IBM’s 14th annual Lotusphere conference was held in Orlando this week.  This post is the first in a series that provides an overview of key themes from Lotusphere 2007, along with some projections about how IBM’s revised strategy is likely to change the competitive landscape.  As Research Director for Burton Group’s Collaboration and Content Strategies service, my primary focus is on how related technologies influence the enterprise infrastructure market, but I’ve also included some observations about how the news from Lotusphere 2007 may influence more consumer-oriented offerings from vendors such as Google.  For some historical context-setting, you may also want to skim my Collaboration Loop posts following Lotusphere 2006. 

Heading into Lotusphere 2007, IBM Lotus faced some significant challenges.  Specifically, IBM needed to:

1.    Demonstrate clear and compelling progress on Notes/Domino 8.0 (formerly code-named “Hannover”) and WebSphere Portal, its primary offerings for enterprise collaboration domains.

2.    Advance its unified communication/collaboration strategy, facing, for example, the expected release of Microsoft Office Communications Server during the first half of 2007.

3.    Explain the future course for customers of relatively less popular IBM Lotus products, including QuickPlace, Domino Document Manager, and, perhaps most significantly, the IBM Lotus Workplace family of products that was central to the IBM Lotus strategy prior to the introduction of the Lotus Hannover strategy during mid-2005.

4.    Address growing competitive pressures, especially from Microsoft (Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007) and “Web 2.0”-oriented alternatives including blogs, wikis, and assorted “social software” services such as Flickr and Facebook.  Google is also a potential competitive threat to IBM Lotus, with assorted communication/collaboration offerings such as Blogger, Gmail, Google Talk, Google Apps for Your Domain, and future offerings based on acquisitions including JotSpot.

Perhaps surprisingly to regular Lotusphere attendees and Microsoft competitors that had grown accustomed to mixed messages at Lotusphere sessions during recent years, Lotusphere 2007 was very successful at addressing all of the above.  At the event, IBM was able to:

1.    Generate significant Notes/Domino user and application developer enthusiasm with detailed demonstrations of Notes/Domino 8.0 (nearing public beta and expected to ship during mid-2007).  Notes 8.0, for instance, is the first release of Notes that’s likely to generate significant user demand since Notes 4.0 was introduced more than a decade ago, and the new Eclipse-based foundation for Notes 8.0 makes it a platform for a wide range of composite applications as well as traditional Notes domains.  IBM also greatly clarified the future for WebSphere Portal, explaining that many of the features introduced in the ill-fated Workplace product line have been subsumed into WebSphere Portal 6.0.

2.    Clearly explain how Sametime has become a compelling real-time communications platform, including substantive partnerships with leading vendors such as Avaya, Cisco, Nortel, and Siemens.  For more on the Sametime part of the story, see this post from my Burton Group colleague Mike Gotta.

3.    Redirect, revise, and rebrand other IBM Lotus products such as QuickPlace and Domino Document Manager to create IBM Lotus Quickr, a new offering that will compete with facets of Microsoft’s SharePoint product family.

4.    Introduce a new product aimed at making social software more productive for businesses.  Lotus Connections, based in part on services that have been productively applied within IBM for several years, will include profiles, communities, blogs, bookmarks (tagging/folksonomy), and activities.  The activities component is a significant advance based in part on IBM’s earlier Activity Explorer, which was a market failure but apparently also a very useful learning vehicle for IBM architects.

The first chapter of collaboration competition between IBM and Microsoft was dominated by Lotus Notes/Domino.  While enterprise messaging competition was much more intense, Microsoft wasn’t able to effectively respond to Notes/Domino for collaboration until it delivered recent releases of SharePoint.  IBM Lotus also benefitted Microsoft by confusing the market about its strategy for Notes, Domino, Sametime, and Workplace during the first half of this decade, leading many to wonder if Microsoft would leapfrog IBM for enterprise collaboration as well as enterprise messaging.  With the success of Lotusphere 2007, however, IBM Lotus has started the second chapter, with a product strategy and family that successfully exploit historical strengths such as Notes/Domino and WebSphere Portal while also introducing new offerings that are likely to make IBM Lotus a leader in emerging as well as traditional enterprise collaboration contexts.

In my next few posts, I’ll share some impressions about how IBM’s new offerings and simplified strategy are likely to reshape the competitive landscape, especially between IBM and Microsoft. 

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