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Observers praise Lotus for keeping Lotusphere promises

Observers say Lotus has built a modest reputation for keeping promises made during past Lotuspheres. However, Lotus has been criticized for delaying the release of Rnext and its knowledge management products.

Lotusphere 2002 may be for some Notes/Domino professionals just another poolside booze -- and conference room snooze -- fest.

Though if Lotusphere 2001 is any indication, attendees will also get a close look at Lotus Software's strategy for 2002.

"IBM/Lotus usually saves up its big 'theme'-based products and strategy statements for Lotusphere," said IDC analyst Robert Mahowald, "and that gives us a strong idea of which way they will lean with new and existing products."

Lotus watchers acknowledge that the company is building a modest reputation for delivering on its promises.

"Lotus is good about following through on the promises it makes at Lotusphere, but it is also very careful about how it words those promises," said Woburn, Mass.-based Notes/Domino consultant Chuck Connell.

Lotus said last year it would emphasize collaboration and knowledge management in its products and services.

Gartner analyst Simon Hayward rates Lotus' performance in the KM market as "solid but unspectacular. The challenge for IBM/Lotus in knowledge management has been in sales and implementation, not product technology."

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Some Lotus business partners seem satisfied with Lotus' collaboration and KM efforts to-date.

"Strategically, they're dead on course," said Ian Altman, CEO of Rockville, Md.-based ITM Associates Inc. "Their message may change a little bit, but Lotus and IBM are definitely at the forefront [of KM] and of supporting mobile and wireless people."

Prior to Lotusphere 2001, Lotus took a drubbing in the press for repeatedly delaying the release of its knowledge management product, Discovery Server.

Now the company is less precise about release dates for new products like Rnext, which is the code name for the next major release of Notes/Domino. Rnext is now due during the second half of 2002.

Lotus also made deals to port Notes to Research in Motion, Ltd.'s Blackberry handheld and other SMS and WAP devices.

"Lotus has done as well as anyone else," said Gartner's Hayward, "given that the take up of mobile access devices has been slower than was suggested by all of the hype last year."

Hayward said AvantGo, Inc.'s decision to ship a Notes access product, Pylon, also shows that Lotus "is gaining traction in that area."

Lotus also promised last January to improve relations with its business partners, many of whom complained bitterly that the company wasn't helping them sort out compatibility problems.

Computerworld on January 25, 2001 recorded complaints from Lars Johansen, former CEO of Copenhagen, Denmark-based IT Factory A/S, who claimed Lotus' systems for coordinating software development and support were insufficient.

Larger vendors wanted more joint sales discussions with Lotus, while smaller vendors were crying out for more support. But ITM's Altman said many of last year's complaints amount to little more than sour grapes from poor market performers.

"Business partners are as responsible as Lotus for making the relationships work," Altman said, "and if you looked at the companies that were complaining, many weren't able to make the case that their products were going to be profitable."

Indeed, IT Factory, once a prominent Lotus business partner, ran out of money last December. The company shuttered its North American operations, and Johansen stepped down as CEO.

Lotus' business partners may also feel abandoned as Lotus aligns its corporate structure with that of its parent company, IBM.

"Merging the Lotus partner program under the IBM umbrella may offer partners better and broader support," Hayward said, "but now the business partners face the challenge of building new relationships."


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