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ASP Arctic adventurers tap Lotus tools

In its latest effort to convince the IT world that software as a service is no passing fad, Lotus Development Corp. has teamed up with one of its ASP partners as part of a collaborative learning program for schools across North America.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based IBM subsidiary is working with Connectria of St. Louis, Mo., to provide students participating in the Arctic Blast 2001 dog sled expedition with access to Lotus Sametime moderated chats and Lotus QuickPlace collaboration environments.

Arctic Blast 2001 is an educational opportunity designed to give pupils a feel for Arctic exploration. Students and arctic explorers alike communicate remotely using Lotus Sametime moderated chats and Lotus QuickPlace online collaboration environments.

While the program allows students to learn about life as a dogsledding arctic explorer in addition to environmental responsibility and cultural understanding, make no mistake. Lotus wants enterprise customers to learn as well.

"Certainly we want people to know we are a leader in collaborative technology, that we are serious about software as a service, and our technology can be used in that environment," said Scott Alan, senior product marketing manager for Lotus Hosted Solutions.

Alan said the value of Lotus collaborative applications to both students and enterprises is in the online places where participants can meet to digest and exchange knowledge.

Though it's not unusual for collaboration on a joint effort to take place over a simple conference call in the enterprise world, Alan said events featuring audio or video alone sometimes limit productivity.

"[QuickPlace] is a structured, easy to use, intuitive interface, rather than kind of a one-shot event where you might go and listen to the audio and not have a very graphical colorful structure where you can continue to go and learn," he said.

Alan also said QuickPlace and Sametime work well in the classroom because the applications' intuitive, browser-based interface necessitates little or no training. In schools it could mean fewer impatient students, but in the corporate world it could mean real savings of time and money.

"Let's say you're working on a project where you've hired some consultants, and they're in other parts of the country, or you might have some employees that are constantly traveling," said Alan. Everyone involved in the project could use any Web browser to meet online and share ideas without facing a steep learning curve.

Richard Truex, vice president of messaging and collaboration for ASP Connectria, which is hosting and managing the applications in the Arctic Blast 2001 program, said Lotus collaboration tools are easy for an enterprise to integrate into an existing Web infrastructure.

"A lot of companies have Web content, and it might be well designed and have good information," Truex said, but there is often little or no opportunity for collaboration or interaction with customers. He said Lotus applications, and even a full migration to a Notes environment, can make a sizable impact on a company's Web presence.

To support the Arctic Blast 2001 program, which will include approximately 3,000 individual classrooms, Connectria is using two QuickPlace NT servers, one Sametime server featuring customized code from Lotus and a Domino server that sits in front of the environment and hosts the Web site data and other related features.

Lotus and Connectria will offer the Arctic Blast 2001 program free of charge to participating schools for the next four months. From then on a fee-based service will be implemented.

Enterprise pricing for Lotus groupware applications and hosting is determined on an individual basis by each service provider. Customers can also purchase software licenses directly from Lotus.

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