Lotus, eRoom duke it out over collaboration apps

It may not hold the same intensity as the relationship between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets, but the battle to dominate the digital workplace is leading to a new cross-town rivalry.

Upstart eRoom Technology, Inc. is quickly claiming a share of the Internet team software market, while fellow Cambridge, Mass.-based Lotus Development Corp. is racing to keep pace by introducing a new version of QuickPlace, released June 15.

Each is competing for its stake in this rapidly growing software niche. Companies use products like eRoom or QuickPlace as a virtual meeting place, where employees all across the globe can collaborate on group projects, share documents, discuss objectives and, in some cases, cast ballots on a variety of easily and securely.

Despite similarities, eRoom senior product manager Lance Shaw downplayed the Lotus rivalry.

"So far, QuickPlace hasn't been competition," Shaw said. "In some ways, they [Lotus] might say that they also target large markets, but generally their approach has been toward smaller, somewhat less demanding teams.

"[QuickPlace] had a heavy focus on content style, where they [companies] have things related to themes, but it has not been geared toward a more collaborative team. They were significant competition, but when push came to shove, we've shown [ourselves] to be more robust. But we don't run into them all the time."

However, QuickPlace brand manager Brennan O'Hara is not as hesitant about admitting the competition that exists between the two applications.

"I think they're in direct competition [with us] when it comes to specific product management capabilities," O'Hara said. "If a team is looking to come together on long-term project management, certainly QuickPlace can plan that and eRoom can plan that. If a team wants to come together today, in a very ad hoc nature, eRoom does not extend itself to that type of solution."

Pricing and marketing

With its hefty price tag ($10,000 for the server and $199 for each user license), eRoom is banking on large corporations in need of a low-maintenance collaborative environment with a shared database.

"We've been doing large deals with companies like Ford [Motor Company, Inc.] and HP [Hewlett-Packard Company, Inc.]... companies looking for ways to better collaborate on the Web," Shaw said.

"Despite their size," he said, "they have never really been bitten by the collaboration bug. They've been using e-mail for so long, they're not used to the concept of collaboration. Or they were trying to build it themselves."

Even though Lotus is offering one-year user licenses for QuickPlace 2.0 for $39, including server use, Shaw said he is not intimidated by the price difference between QuickPlace and eRoom.

"When it comes down to the benefits, we've found that the cost has not been prohibitive at all," Shaw said.

eRoom benefits

The eRoom application may gain favor for its initial ease of use. Collaborators can come together using Web browsers without security worries. No installation on a client is required, and according to Shaw, users can create an eRoom and objects in it without an administrator's help.

"When it comes to collaboration, teams on a Domino server tend to fall short," Shaw said. "People like not having to go out and learn how to administer a Domino server for the first time."

Shaw said versatility would be something eRoom users will enjoy.

"There's the ability to post any kind of document that you wish to share and manipulate... from an Excel spreadsheet to a Word document to a Freelance presentation," said Shaw. "I can post a budget proposal, for example, and if I want I can get feedback from three people, I can. Then the next person can come along and see what changed."

Currently eRoom Technology is developing eRoom.net, its hosted version of eRoom.

"We've had a variety of users who love eRoom but are looking to outsource as many products as possible. It's really an application hosting environment to reduce IT staff or reduce the drain on IT staff," Shaw said."

QuickPlace benefits

QuickPlace 2.0, officially released to the public on June 15, offers several enhancements over its predecessor, including the ability to pull information from any Domino name and address groups or any Windows NT domain.

QuickPlace now offers a smooth method of maintaining organization among collaborators, according to O'Hara.

"We've added a very nice high-level layer of task management, from automatic e-mail notification, being able to view [tasks] by days and/or weeks, to tracking your individual to-do's," O'Hara said.

By utilizing the complete integration with Microsoft Office 2000, O'Hara said users can author content natively from any of those applications and publish documents seamlessly to HTML and then customize them within QuickPlace.

Using the theme creation method, the user interface can be altered to suit the needs of the individual or the team.

"As a user, you're very empowered to modify your user experience, changing fonts and colors, to create a unique user experience that is adapted to an initiative," O'Hara said.

Finally, at the end of a project, the modified QuickPlace can be retained for later use.

"If we've been working on a project [uing QuickPlace] and we've been at it for two months, and we've defined a very unique structure, and we want to save that, it can be warehoused on a QuickPlace server," said O'Hara.

He added that while it is similar to the concept of a document template, it holds much more potential.

"Templates are fairly anemic in nature. They're an empty shell waiting to be filled with content. This can contain pre-defined tasks, and pre-defined user experiences. If you are an organization that applies a specific method, you can launch this custom QuickPlace for yourself."

This was first published in June 2000
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