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Less Lotusphere, more IBMsphere?

Angela Ashenden

Monday, February 7, 2011 by

Last week I visited the rather warmer climes of Orlando, Florida, for IBM Lotus’ annual customer and partner event, Lotusphere. After two and a half days of sessions and 1-to-1’s, when pulling together my thoughts about the key messages from the event (both those actively presented and those implicitly received), my overriding impression was that the event is embarking on a new phase in terms of its focus. Where once it was very much about Notes and Domino and their overwhelmingly loyal developer and customer base, this year the focus not only included the broader Lotus portfolio, but also various other groups within IBM such as Rational and Cognos. Of course the developer fanbase was still in heavy attendance, demanding (as usual) demos rather than slides from the IBM execs, but from a presentation perspective it would seem that the Lotus division is finally beginning to gain some serious kudos within the organisation as a whole, breaking out of its slightly oddball positioning among the broader IBM portfolio.

The Lotus brand itself is also showing signs of taking a back seat; we have already seen Lotus Connections become IBM Connections, and the new Customer Experience Suite (which includes much of the Lotus portfolio as well as some non-Lotus products) is also branded under the broader IBM banner. Over time, I expect this trend to continue with the other Lotus products, as the value of the IBM brand gains traction in this space and the integration and overlapping between the Lotus products and other IBM products continues further. The exception may be Notes/Domino which of course has much stronger ties to the Lotus brand, although as the products continue to evolve under the Project Vulcan strategy, this too may become less relevant.

The general theme for the conference was Social Business – with the slogan “Get social. Do Business.” – and while this is not the first year that we have seen social play a prominent role in the event (in fact it has played a major role every year since the launch of Connections in 2007), this year it was about more than just the Connections product, with evidence of the “social everywhere” strategy (introduced at last year’s Lotusphere) starting to have a significant impact on Lotus as well as non-Lotus products. “Social everywhere” is focused on enabling social collaboration to become more than a standalone platform, by embedding it in a contextual way in other business applications. We saw examples of Connections integration with Rational Team Concert, with Cognos business intelligence and analytics products, and with IBM Advanced Case Management, and what was particularly interesting was the positive response that these integrations received from the audience – especially the integration with Cognos.

The company also used the event to communicate its Web Experience/Work Experience positioning, although this was not emphasised as much as I would have expected. In general I think these strategies (which stem from the Project Northstar initiative announced in mid-2010) provide a strong platform for positioning the overall portfolio (including non-Lotus as well as Lotus products) in terms of how they can enable an organisation to deliver a next generation B2C or B2E online experience, but given the audience’s focus on individual products, it is perhaps understandable that they were not emphasised more heavily.

We were given some insights into the “next” versions of the various Lotus portfolio products, with Connections, Lotus Sametime, and Lotus Notes all expecting updates in 2011, plus the forthcoming release of IBM’s collaborative editing tool, LotusLive Symphony. The event also included some excellent customer stories, with the most memorable for me being Signature Mortgage’s use of LotusLive which enabled them to dramatically speed up their loan processing activities, and in turn enabled them to expand their business and compete effectively with much larger competitors .

So while there was no one big newsflash from the event, Lotusphere 2011 was overall a very positive reflection on where IBM Lotus is at and where it’s going, and it will be interesting to see how the evolution continues next year. Certainly they’ll have a job on their hands to top this year’s excellent headline guests in the form of Kevin Spacey and Andrew McAfee…

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