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Lights, camera, collaboration! Q&A with David Marshak

What's new with David Marshak? He took the big leap from industry watcher to industry proper earlier this year when he left The Patricia Seybold consultancy to join IBM Lotus Software as senior product manager for collaboration. With real-time and team collaboration as his beat, his goal is to make sure all of IBM's collaboration technologies find a fit in the market. Include instant messaging (IM), gateways between IM systems, Web conferencing, audio and video integration, and, perhaps most importantly, team space technologies such as Activity Explorer as his areas of concern. Marshak recently sat down with Associate Editor Peter Bochner to explain IBM's philosophy and strategy in real-time and team collaboration. Here is Part 1 of the interview.

What's new with David Marshak? He took the big leap from industry watcher to industry proper earlier this year when he left The Patricia Seybold consultancy to join IBM Lotus Software as senior product manager for collaboration. With real-time and team collaboration as his beat, his goal is to make sure all of IBM's collaboration technologies find a fit in the market. Include instant messaging (IM), gateways between IM systems, Web conferencing, audio and video integration, and, perhaps most importantly, team space technologies such as Activity Explorer as his areas of concern. Marshak recently sat down with Associate Editor Peter Bochner to explain IBM's philosophy and strategy in real-time and team collaboration. Here is the complete interview.

SearchDomino: Tell us how real-time collaboration is going to impact SearchDomino's readers – who are developers and administrators, for the most part.

Marshak: Real-time collaboration is the fastest and most effective way to add new value to your company. I think anybody who makes their living in technology has to be relevant. You can always make a living fixing old stuff and keeping it running, or you could be making new stuff, and adding more value to your company.

For administrators, real-time collaboration is going to affect them when they find that they need to do things like link communities of IM users through gateways. That's going to involve a lot of work through setting user policies and doing whatever they need to make the linkage go smooth.

Real-time collaboration will be stressful for administrators and developers. It's going to be a business and technical challenge for both groups. If they're too conservative, they can block some of the innovation. But the Domino community tends not to be a regressive force.

SearchDomino: When it comes to real-time collaboration, how much do Microsoft's and IBM's philosophies differ?

Marshak: They're totally different. Microsoft uses the term "communication" rather than collaboration. With Microsoft, it's all about personal productivity – how I manage all the stuff in my life -- and they have good products to do that. With IBM, it's about how I collaborate in a business environment. It's about organizational productivity. These differences are in the DNA of the two companies.

SearchDomino: Where is IBM's edge in real-time collaboration?

Marshak: The big advantage is that all the workplace collaborative services that IBM offers -- Lotus IM/Web conferencing [Sametime], Team Workplace [formerly Quickplace] -- are all part of a single family. Historically companies have had to buy all these different pieces from different companies. Now they can buy one set of services on the Domino platform. That's our strategy. A company cannot force collaboration platforms on its customers. Customers have to work over multiple platforms. You don't always get to go to the least common denominator of an HTML web browser.

SearchDomino: Give me an example of how collaboration will change our industry, not just the way we work.

Marshak: In terms of software development, it will mean customer requirements being put into products quicker so that the customer receives better business value. But that's not going to be easy. IBM has already gone to six-month product cycles, and you can't realistically get product cycles down much lower than that. But you can get individual capabilities delivered to customers faster. For instance, I think we should be able to add IM capabilities to new products without having to wait six months.

SearchDomino: You seem to have a very IM-centric view.

Marshak: IBM runs by IM. You cannot function here without it. What will be interesting to see is how many other large companies adopt it. One fourth of all IM is enterprise IM, and 74 percent of those companies are using unsanctioned public networks, for example, AIM [AOL Instant Messaging]. If IM is the lifeblood of your company, you don't want to leave it to an insecure, unmanaged app like AOL IM.

IM is extremely important for solving the problems of customers in real-time. Given who our customers are, that is essential to them. The IT manager at one of our customers told me, "We are a manufacturing company, and we live on SAP. If SAP goes down, no one notices. If IM goes down, I get the first call in a minute."

SearchDomino: What have you been focusing on since coming over to IBM?

Marshak: New models of collaboration, like activity-based computing, while supporting existing technologies like presence. A lot of current collaboration technologies have become highly commoditized. Like Web conferencing -- unless you add tight integration with audio, there's very little differentiation between the products that are out there.

Still, we can do a lot more with presence. Presence is not just for people but for objects and expertise. For instance, at IBM right now, if you have a question about collaboration, you don't have to know who to ask. You can simply find out everyone who has expertise in the area who's online at any given moment.

The next really big application is going to be mobile presence. But presence can be scary from a privacy perspective. For instance, two winters ago here in Massachusetts, the state's snow plow drivers threatened to strike because they were told they were going to have GPS systems in their vehicles. [Editor's note: In 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to try to use GPS technology to track its snowplow drivers. Many of the 2,200 private drivers disliked the idea of being tracked and threatened to strike. Nevertheless, the technology was implemented this past winter.] But there are positives to GPS too. Parents are giving GPS cell phones to their kids, and their teenage kids love them. Why? Because it's an alternative to them being called every hour.

SearchDomino: But the trend is definitely towards pervasive presence awareness, isn't it?

Marshak: My computer knows if I've been away from it because I've gone a certain amount of time without touching the keyboard. My Blackberry knows the last time I looked at it, and whether it's in the holster so it can't receive IM. Verizon knows whether I have the ring of my cell phone set to vibrate or be silent.

What we're not sure yet is how people are going to use this presence information. In today's world, all our messaging devices represent different personas to different people (i.e., phone, email, IM, etc.) who are trying to reach you in different ways. There are times we want to be available to one person and not another. In the old days, a secretary made that decision, to let people know if you were in or out. If it was your boss, you were available. If it was your wife, you were available. If it was someone else, maybe you weren't available.

We need a learning system that does this with all our devices and lets them know who can interrupt us. If you and I are going into a meeting at 3 pm and you call me at 2:30, there should be a learning system that can recognize the urgency of your contacting me based not so much on who you are but on the fact that we're going into a meeting.

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