IBM replaces Zollar on eve of Lotusphere

Al Zollar is out and IBM's former solutions and strategy general manager is in. Industry insiders weigh in on the curious timing of the executive shuffle at Lotus and what it may mean for users.

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IBM has decided to replace Al Zollar as general manager of its Lotus Software group less than three weeks before Lotus kicks off its annual user conference.

A Lotus spokesman said that Zollar will appear at Lotusphere 2003, as will his replacement, veteran IBM executive Ambuj Goyal. Zollar will stay with IBM and head up the company's iSeries server group.

Goyal, who has been general manager of IBM's solutions and strategy division, was responsible for WebSphere business integration, setting software strategy and delivering industry-specific offerings based on IBM middleware. He joined IBM in 1982.

Goyal addressed Lotus employees at their Cambridge, Mass., headquarters Thursday. However, it's unclear how quickly he will take the reins at Lotus, and a spokesman said IBM was not immediately making Goyal available for interviews.

Those familiar with IBM's strategy are hardly surprised that Big Blue tapped an executive closely aligned with WebSphere to lead Lotus, given the growing alignment between the Web-enabling tool and Domino, as well as IBM's overall e-business push.

In 2000, IBM first released a WebSphere/Domino bundle that made it faster and simpler for organizations to build collaborative Web solutions. However, some Domino developers have worried that closer ties to WebSphere would force them to abandon their Domino scripting and learn a new set of Java skills.

Debbie Lynd, director of content for the Domino technical journal The View, thinks the executive switch makes "perfect sense," given what she's heard about Goyal's WebSphere background. She expects his arrival at Lotus will naturally mean "more assimilation with WebSphere."

Dana Gardner, research director at Boston-based Aberdeen Group, acknowledges the WebSphere link but speculates the move may somehow be related to Lotus' decision to change several of its product names to better reflect what they do.

While he's still unsure how the events may fit together, Gardner said the timing raises some eyebrows. He feels there could be "a connection to moving this whole Lotus solution set closer to being an IBM solution set."

A Lotus spokesman says the forthcoming name changes are "independent" of the change in leadership.

Regardless, Gardner expects the change will have competitors like Microsoft revving up their press release mills, although he thinks Lotus' leader -- regardless of who it is -- has little impact on the day-to-day responsibilities for the average Domino administrator or developer.

At least one Notes application specialist welcomed the change, even if it signals a blurring of the lines between WebSphere and Domino.

"New blood brings new directions and fresh ideas," said Earline Gilley, a principal CLP for R5. "But change is good. I say, 'Bring it on!'"

Curious timing

Most surprising to many, however, is the fact that the announcement came so close to Lotusphere. The conference begins in Orlando, Fla., on Jan. 26.

"That's not the tone or atmosphere you want to create [at the show]," Gardner said. "Generally, the atmosphere is 'aren't we excited to learn more about this new release or that product?' Now the reaction will be about why Zollar left."

Oddly, Zollar's predecessor, Jeff Papows, resigned his post in January 2000, also just a few weeks before the annual user conference. Papows left unceremoniously after being dogged by a sexual discrimination complaint and allegations that he embellished his educational and military accomplishments.

A few weeks after announcing he'd leave, Papows took the stage to kick off Lotusphere 2000, then ceded the spotlight to Zollar at the end of the show.

Zollar, who is a 26-year IBM veteran, spent the last three years as Lotus general manager. During his tenure, Lotus rolled out Domino and Notes 6 and a new knowledge management platform, but Zollar will probably be best remembered for easing Lotus into the IBM fold.

In fact, early results from a newly posted SearchDomino.com poll show that 41% of respondents think Zollar's greatest legacy will be integrating Lotus into IBM culture.

The View's Lynd called Zollar a successful "political player" who knew how to make "the Lotus camp feel good about itself." She said he made some internal changes easier for Lotus' 5,500 employees to swallow.

"[Zollar] was given a really tough job at a tough time," Gardner said. He grades Zollar's performance at Lotus a "B" for guiding a difficult transition during a tough economic time.

In his new role, Zollar will serve as general manager for IBM's iSeries, taking over for Buell Duncan, an executive popular with the midrange server's user base.

Pete Elliot, director of marketing for Key Information Systems, a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based IBM Business Partner, said IBM may have replaced Duncan to get a stronger channel advocate.

"Zollar is probably more channel-focused," Elliot said. "It's time to move things around, time for some new blood. The more channel-focused they are, the more they can get that last-mile marker in marketing. Maybe Zollar can do that."

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