IBM hopes to bring Lotus Notes to the "deskless" masses by releasing its first low-cost, next-generation messaging product, perhaps as early as next month. The company will target what it calls "low-needs" users -- hard hats, bank tellers and others who are traditionally kept out of the Notes loop by budget-conscious IT administrators.
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On its Workplace Messaging homepage, Lotus promises to integrate "traditionally un-served communities" into "key processes to increase productivity and add value to the organization."
"Airline cabin crews using Workplace Messaging will be able to read corporate announcements and view their pay stubs at airport and hotel e-mail kiosks," said IBM/Lotus messaging vice president Ken Bisconti. (Cabin crews working for Singapore Airlines already use iNotes to access their e-mail, he noted.) Factory and construction workers and retail salespeople will also be able to access Notes through existing or new, inexpensive computer hardware.
But for now, the only thing IBM can show Notes and Domino users is a name: IBM Lotus Workplace Messaging. The product is currently in beta testing "with a few private, design-level partners," Bisconti said. Most of the capacity testing is happening in IBM's high-performance Web site environment.
Workplace Messaging, which is the first Lotus product to run exclusively on IBM WebSphere and DB2, will use LDAP to access the Domino directory catalogue, "enabling organizations to use a common directory across both e-mail platforms," said Meta Group analyst Matt Cain, who has been briefed on the new product. The primary client for Workplace Messaging will be a bare-bones browser with POP and IMAP support for messaging and attachments only, he said.
Bisconti said IBM is still gauging the "concept receptiveness" of its existing customers in banking, manufacturing and construction, whom he thinks will benefit from additional Notes seats. "Almost every customer this quarter has been concerned with the total cost of ownership of its messaging structure," Bisconti said. "They want to be able to fine-tune their Notes TCO."
In other words, Notes Domino shops will only add new Workplace Messaging seats if they can get them at rock-bottom prices. So-called commodity e-mail services are already available for as little as 50 cents per seat from companies such as Mill Valley, Calif.-based Stalker Software Inc., Cain said. "And we believe IBM will price [Workplace Messaging] for around $20 per seat per month," he added.
Bisconti said he hopes to bring the TCO for Workplace Messaging, including hardware and support, to less than $10 per month.
To companies like Cleveland-based KeyBank, a Notes Domino shop that has 4,000 employees without e-mail, that may be too much money. "But if [Lotus] can keep its promise of delivering a viable corporate e-mail solution with an extremely low TCO, we may be interested," said Brett Young, KeyBank's vice president for workplace automation technology.
The largest single group of non-Notes users at KeyBank are tellers, who still use IBM Office Vision, a DOS-based mainframe e-mail system that is incompatible with Notes. KeyBank also has 1,000 truly "deskless" employees, who work as sorters, machine operators and encoders in the bank's operations centers.
Commodity e-mail would help KeyBank communicate more quickly, directly and personally with its low-end users. But the benefits, which Young sees as a more motivated workforce and increased morale, can be hard to justify.
Some of Workplace Messaging's savings will be easier to quantify. "Deskless" workers will be able to access KeyBank's corporate intranet through PCs already in place at the operations centers. And since the next-gen product is browser-based, KeyBank's IT people will not have to deploy any new software. "It would just be a matter of purchasing licenses, deploying e-mail servers, training new users and providing ongoing support," Young said.
IBM sees additional concrete opportunities for savings from Workplace Messaging. "Companies can realize millions in savings by eliminating the paper and printing costs associated with paper memos and pay stubs," Bisconti said.
IBM will also encourage its developer business partners to add calendaring and instant messaging capabilities to Workplace Messaging. For example, retail salespeople would be able to use an IM client from a third-party developer at a kiosk to check inventories at nearby stores and, ultimately, close more sales.
Meta's Cain says he still expects only a limited uptake of Workplace Messaging during the next three years. But as IBM adds support for more business functions -- Cain predicts rudimentary calendar support by the end of this year -- Workplace Messaging "will become the preferred upgrade path for Domino users faithfully following the next-gen strategy," he said.
A more broad-based client, even for low-end users, seems essential to the success of Workplace Messaging. "The important point here is that e-mail is moving from being the focal point for collaboration services to being one of many communication services which will [be] exposed in a variety of applications," Bisconti said.
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