Since my fellow blogger Jonathan Spira did a good job of summing up the news out of Lotusphere, and IBM has all the releases on its Web site for anyone needing more detail, I thought I’d weigh in with a small collection of related but random thoughts on the show.
The vendor made a slew of announcements, which position it to deliver not just a complete unified communications platform in 2008, but also one that offers leading-edge collaboration capabilities. I’m always surprised when I hear industry players and observers (read: analysts and journalists) questioning IBM’s ability to succeed in the UC space, especially, they say, in the face of Microsoft’s late-2007 release of Office Communications Server. The Lotus product suite is more robust and mature, and it speaks to enterprise IT’s need for scalability and security. Furthermore, IBM is clearly not trying to marginalize, let alone replace, telephony vendors, which is what most customers want to hear. (No one wants to rip and replace a PBX before its time, but most people I speak with have doubts about abandoning the concept of PBXs even when they’re ready for an upgrade.)
And since it seems increasingly clear that companies will choose their primary UC applications from traditional applications vendors, then integrate the telephony component from traditional telephony vendors, both IBM and Microsoft stand to gain—each have an installed e-mail base of around 130-140 million seats, depending on whose numbers you choose. Why anyone would think IBM will have trouble selling the majority of its (typically loyal) Notes customers on Sametime as opposed to OCS is beyond me. And by mid-2008, with its release of IBM Lotus Unified Telephony, only IBM will have an open middleware platform that will let companies integrate PBXs from a variety of telephony vendors.
It’s also worth noting that IBM estimates that nearly one third of new Lotus Sametime customers in 2007 are Microsoft Exchange shops (the company released Sametime Entry late last year to appeal to these very users). Although it’s unlikely IBM will convert more than a few of those organizations to Notes, it may well be able to hold onto many of them on its UC platform, even as OCS matures; advantage lies, as is often the case, with the incumbent.
Like all UC vendors, IBM must deliver real-world examples of positive and significant ROI, especially in the next two years. By 2010, many elements of UC will simply be table stakes for companies that need to support dispersed employees. Until then, IBM has some of the most compelling customer stories out there. During the show, IBM showcased nearly a dozen customers, many of which are using Sametime and Connections to drive business processes. Companies like Bank of NY Mellon, Celina Insurance, Colgate Palmolive, HSBC and Prudential UK are making Lotus Sametime the foundation of their unified communications, and plan to deliver users integrated communications including telephony and audio and video conferencing. Completely integrated unified communications are still months or years away even for many of these organizations, but they are further along than most.
As usual, the work going on in Lotus’ Labs ranges from compelling to curious, but much of it looks promising for the enterprise. I was especially fond of Beehive, a social networking site along the lines of Facebook or MySpace that’s intended to bring employees together in a social setting; Cattail, for secure, Web-based file sharing; Project Jumbo, which is remarkable at translating to text two-way voice conversations on the fly (it’s designed to help deaf people, but I see content management, compliance and archiving value as well); and OrgMaps, which visualizes the information about people in an organization, then highlights the relationships among them.
On a gut-feel level, there was lots of energy at the show, and it was clear that Lotus users are excited about what they see coming down the pike. But when one presenter asked an audience in a UC session whether they planned to integrated telephony with more traditional Sametime capabilities, only about 1%-2% raised their hands. Most of them, it seems, are just trying to get their hands on Sametime Standard and Sametime Advanced. As I’ve been cautioning for a while now, true UC is still many years away for most organizations.
And changing culture can be really, really hard: An IT guy at a very large, global company told me that LOB admins still manually stick the company’s stock price on the company’s executives’ doors every afternoon. Are they kidding?
Finally, although Bob Costas did a fine job as the special-guest keynoter, no one from outside the US seemed to know who he is. Which is a great example of how cultural barriers will continue to exist in this increasingly global world—in real life, and in the virtual one. (Go Pats!)
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