Lotus updates Workplace apps and Notes roadmap

Today IBM Lotus announced upcoming versions of WebSphere Portal, Workplace Services Express and its Web Conferencing Service, and also confirmed the future blending of the Notes and Workplace clients.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- IBM Lotus has announced a slate of new and updated Workplace software offerings that advance the company's network-centric collaboration strategy, and also revealed how the Notes and Workplace clients will merge in the not-too-distant future.

During a press conference Tuesday at Lotus headquarters, Lotus general manager Ambuj Goyal and other executives previewed several product updates, most notably IBM WebSphere Portal version 5.1, Workplace Services Express version 2.0 and an expansion of its Lotus Web Conferencing Service.

WebSphere Portal 5.1 is the first version of IBM's application integration interface that will support "virtual portals," enabling an organization to customize user interaction elements -- including security, appearance and application access -- for any number of groups, such as departments, employees with similar job functions or external customers or partners.

Version 5.1 also promises a common task portlet for launching multiple applications related to a business process, and integrated Web content management technology from Aptrix, a firm IBM acquired last year.

Workplace Services Express 2.0, designed for small and mid-sized organizations and enterprise departments, utilizes a number of IBM technologies to offer the document management, collaborative team spaces and instant messaging features available in the enterprise version of Workplace, as well as access to existing e-mail, calendaring and address books task lists and portal service.

However, Ken Bisconti, Lotus' vice president of messaging, said those features are bundled into a single platform that can be delivered over the network, making it easier to install than previous editions.

Bisconti said Workplace Services Express 2.0 utilizes a new archive installer feature that simplifies the code used during the installation process, cutting install time from days or weeks to under an hour. He added that the archive installer will be incorporated with the upcoming Workplace 2.5 enterprise edition as well.

Additionally, IBM announced that the Lotus Web Conferencing Service will be available not only as a licensed on-premise application, but also on demand through pay-per-use and subscription usage plans.

Bisconti also touched on the Notes and Domino product roadmap in relation to Workplace. He confirmed that the Notes 8 client, which is still on the drawing board and likely more than a year away from release, will be blended with the Workplace client.

Lotus' goal for some time, Bisconti said, has been to steer Notes and Domino toward a standards-based architecture. He said future versions will enable Domino shops to utilize existing applications and features such as rapid application development, templates, security and easy user access, and offer the more advanced functionality that's only available today in Workplace.

Goyal said the announcements are part of Lotus' continuing effort to redesign front-end computing so that workers can more easily share information and increase productivity, but without the time and expense that typically accompanies new desktop application rollouts.

Goyal said the Workplace platform has enjoyed "tremendous growth," surpassing the million-user mark in September. He said that while growth is important, Lotus is more concerned with delivering business value to users.

Jonathan Spira, CEO and chief analyst with New York-based collaboration research firm Basex Inc., said Lotus has made progress in its effort to unite all the pieces of the Lotus family. He said Lotus' Workplace Express 2.0 strategy and its plan to combine Notes and the Workplace client in the version 8 release reflect a well-thought-out strategy.

"I think today's announcements show [Lotus] is very sensitive to the needs of the emerging knowledge work force, and they've been very consistent about their message in this area for many years," Spira said. "There's a very strong bloodline between these announcements and things they told us about four or five years ago, so you can see their vision coming to pass."

IBM Lotus also made two related Workplace announcements:

  • It debuted IBM Workplace for Branch Banking, a role-based framework for Workplace to help retail banks apply IBM Workplace technology to increase sales, improve customer service and make workers more productive. It gives tellers easier access to customer information and integrated marketing programs, and helps managers keep track of and improve employee performance.
  • It announced IBM Workplace for Business Controls and Reporting version 2.5, a role-based framework to help companies manage assets and internal business controls. New features help organizations deal with large-scale business changes, simplify auditing and refresh data. IBM Lotus now offers 17 industry-specific packages, encompassing more than 30 job functions.

All of the products will be available in approximately 30 days or less. Pricing details will be offered at the time of release.

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