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Front-End Focus: It's Key To Strategy

Communication and workgroup technology is a valuable cash cow for IBM. For instance, there are 120 million Lotus Domino licenses in the market worldwide.
Communication and workgroup technology is a valuable cash cow for IBM. For instance, there are 120 million Lotus Domino licenses in the market worldwide. But IBM's front-end products have generally been viewed as standalone offerings within IBM's software portfolio. Going forward, these products will be a key part of the company's Web-services strategy, says Ken Bisconti, IBM's VP for workplace, portal, and collaboration products.

IBM is using its middleware technology to reinvigorate its end-user offerings. That includes making its Lotus Domino offerings a window for sophisticated collaborative functions that will be delivered through a WebSphere-based backbone. "The assumption was that IBM was going to milk the Notes-Domino franchise and then let it retire," says Bisconti, noting that the products have seen little growth in recent years. To the contrary, IBM will invest $1 billion over the next three years to develop the product line, adding new portal, collaboration, and search technologies. In some cases, it will deliver these additions using its in-house WebSphere Information Integrator OmniFind Edition (enterprise middleware that searches across a range of data sources, including Web sites, content-management systems, databases, and newsgroups), or through a recently disclosed partnership with Google Inc.

Such efforts, Bisconti says, are crucial if IBM is to maintain its share of the emerging integrated office market. "We will be in a knock-down, drag-out fight with Microsoft" and its Exchange and Outlook products, he says. IBM claims it converted 300 Exchange customers to Notes last year.

Among the companies already taking advantage of IBM's renewed focus on front-end products is Calgary-based WestJet Airlines, which recently began using IBM Workplace for Business Controls and Reporting to help keep up with Canada's version of Sarbanes-Oxley financial-reporting requirements.

The software lets an enterprise risk manager, for example, track internal reporting requirements and their completion. Corey Wells, WestJet's director of audit and advisory services, says he chose IBM's software because it appeared easier to use than the competition and was available as a hosted offering. He also likes that IBM provides a customer council through which he can provide input into the product's evolution. One feature he'd like to see: the ability to electronically send and receive self-assessment questionnaires to process control owners within WestJet. "I expect we'll be seeing that," says Wells, confident that IBM is listening.

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