IBM Lotus Readies New Workspace Software

Its Team Collaboration product combines elements of instant messaging, online meeting software, and virtual workspaces.
IBM Lotus next week will unveil the next generation of its Workplace software, including a Web-based collaboration product dubbed Team Collaboration that combines elements of instant messaging, online meeting software, and virtual workspaces.

First introduced earlier this year, Workplace is essentially a platform of Java 2 Enterprise Edition-based collaboration components that businesses can embed and integrate with their own applications and business processes. IBM Lotus uses the components to build its own take on integrated collaboration solutions and delivers them as a service.

The initial Workplace product, Workplace Messaging, debuted in May, and was touted by IBM Lotus as a low-cost, Web-based alternative to traditional desktop client-to-server E-mail.

Among the new offerings IBM will roll out on Nov. 5 are Team Collaboration, one of several Workplace 1.1 solutions, said Mike Loria, director of advanced collaboration products at IBM.

Team Collaboration will combine elements of Lotus Instant Messaging--once dubbed Sametime--with others from Quickplace, IBM Lotus' Web workspace and collaboration platform. The service, which will be Web-based, will feature tools ranging from built-in presence-awareness and buddy lists to discussion threads, document sharing, consolidated team workspaces, and on-the-fly online meetings.

"It's the next logical step for this market," Loria said. "The trend is toward a combination of synchronous and asynchronous communication, with collaboration and real-time tools coming closer and closer together. We're bringing both these environments together in Team Collaboration."

IBM's move certainly isn't the first. Increasingly, collaboration and instant messaging have been blended by vendors, including Microsoft, WebEx, and to some degree, Oracle.

IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle, which released its Collaboration Suite 2.0 earlier this year and in 2004 will integrate instant messaging into that software--are playing to their own strengths in the collaboration arena, said Maurene Caplan Grey, a Gartner research director.

"Think of the collaboration environment as a puzzle," Grey said. "Each company has its pieces--IBM has its, Microsoft has others, Oracle too-- that they're trying to fit together to give enterprises the picture."

But although IBM Lotus will offer Team Collaboration as a Web-based service--as it did with Workplace Messaging--its strategy actually hinges more on offering the components to businesses, which can then plug them into their own applications, or business processes such as call centers or partner supply chains, according to Loria.

"We really have a kind of schizophrenic strategy," he said. "On one hand, we're creating a platform for greater integration of technologies. On the other, we're breaking apart the technologies into separate components so businesses can build applications on top of Workplace.

It's the latter, Loria said, that has the most potential in the enterprise. "Team Workplace, for instance, obliterates the traditional boundaries between, say, a document management system and a collaborative meeting system. Now that it's a set of components, you can put them together any way you want."

Crucial to this strategy, he said, is the fact that Workplace's components, including the instant-messaging and meeting tools within Team Collaboration, are written in J2EE and don't require writing to a set of APIs, the route that enterprises can take to integrate Microsoft's IM and collaboration technologies into existing apps.

But in Grey's eyes, neither IBM's approach to blending collaboration and instant messaging, nor Microsoft's--which relies in large part on adding such tools to its Office productivity apps--is better than the other.

"They're doing the same thing, but they're taking different paths," she said.

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