Lotusphere: Different challenges define Sametime's opportunities

Lotus' Sametime product manager sizes up the enterprise instant messaging tool as the company braces for competition from another collaboration giant, Microsoft. Is the forthcoming Greenwich a big threat, and will enterprise IM systems ever play nicely with one another?

ORLANDO, Fla. -- By enterprise instant messaging standards, Lotus Sametime's three years on the market make it a senior citizen. Yet Lotus and its partners keep pumping new blood into the product. Earlier this week, mobile phone service provider AT&T Wireless announced a deal with Lotus to bring Sametime 3.0 capabilities to AT&T customers and extend support for wireless Sametime access to new devices. SearchDomino.com editors sat down with Jeremy Dies, Lotus' Sametime product manager, to figure out how Lotus plans to keep the instant messaging and Web conferencing tool ahead of a growing pack of competitors.

SearchDomino.com: Lotus was first to market with enterprise IM, but now other vendors are jumping on the bandwagon. Who do you see as your biggest threat?

Dies: It is Microsoft. Right now, we estimate that roughly 30% of the [enterprise] market has standardized on IM. I think I can count on one hand the number of competitive situations we've been in that I'd categorize as a dogfight, and some of those were against homegrown tools. [Microsoft] is not at market, so it's hard for me to consider them a competitor right now. Two of our biggest customers use Outlook and Exchange for e-mail. I think collaboration in general is coming down to a Microsoft and Lotus battle, and I don't see this playing out any other way.

SearchDomino.com: What does Microsoft's recent acquisition of Web conferencing vendor PlaceWare tell you about its intentions for this market?

Dies: For me, it doesn't provide any extra clarity on their strategy. As [Lotus general manager] Ambuj Goyal said, [PlaceWare] is a Java tool running on Unix servers. So I'm not sure how that fits in with the rest of [Microsoft's] stated strategy, and [it] adds a little bit of confusion as to how it fits in with what they're working on with Greenwich (Microsoft's enterprise IM tool). By the time they release their product, we will have beaten them to market by five years.

"By the time [Microsoft] releases their product, we will have beaten them to market by five years."
-- Lotus' Jeremy Dies

SearchDomino.com: Where is the instant messaging standard SIMPLE at in its development now?

Dies: It's young; it's new. But the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) has been working with it for years. It is the IETF chosen one. Recently, a protocol called SMTP, sponsored by Jabber, got a lot of small companies behind it, but it will fade away. As far as SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and SIMPLE go, we walk a fine line because, on the one hand, we say we don't care what the standard is, as long as it's a standard and other people are supporting it. So the IETF has chosen SIP/SIMPLE, and Microsoft and others have chosen to build on it, and we've helped to deliver it. So in and of itself, that's very good. But on the other hand … SIP/SIMPLE is very interesting because SIP has been around a long time and is used in telephony. That represents a really interesting opportunity because presence IM, video and telephony can all merge over the same protocol. So from a technical standpoint, that presents a very interesting opportunity. I don't want to speak for Microsoft, but I'm sure they realize the same thing.

SearchDomino.com: Does this mean instant messaging incompatibility is finally behind us?

Dies: From an enterprise standpoint, it is behind us. From a consumer standpoint, the AOL, MSN and Yahoos of the world have presented a service that's free of charge in exchange for advertising revenues. As you know, those advertising revenues are decreasing. So, imagine if AOL, MSN and Yahoo all were standardized. You'd no longer have the ability to sell advertising because you wouldn't know who was using which client. At that point they're no longer competing on the strength of their community, but on the strength of that client. And none of them want to get in on that game. But all the enterprise platforms are supporting SIMPLE, so it looks pretty rosy. And of all the customers we polled, every single one is planning to use the SIMPLE gateway.

SearchDomino.com: Sametime is being re-branded. Can you shed some light on the thinking behind that?

Dies: We did some branding studies and found that the word Lotus means collaboration and no longer automatically [is equated with] Notes. But Sametime and QuickPlace, although somewhat descriptive, could probably be a little more clear. So what we're doing is renaming them … IBM Lotus Web Conferencing, IBM Lotus Instant Messaging and IBM Lotus Team Workplace, which is consistent with what we've done with Lotus Discovery Server. We're going to roll that out gradually.

SearchDomino.com: When will Lotus come out with its next-generation Sametime server?

Dies: You will see something from us this year. We want to develop collaboration, and to deliver it in the past we had to develop a database and an app server. In reality, in our backyard we have the market-leading database and the market-leading Web app server that are getting millions of dollars in investment. Not from a 'we want people to only buy IBM standpoint,' but we can leverage their investments because that's what they do for a living. And we'll build collaboration on top of it. That means we'll turn around products faster and be able to add features. By the way, you're not going to be required to buy WebSphere and DB2. We'll give you what you need in the box. You'll be able to leverage J2EE development skills and have a consistent administrator model across all IBM products.

SearchDomino.com: For companies to leverage these next-generation capabilities, will they need Java skills?

Dies: We are moving to the J2EE standard. But we're rolling out Domino Designer for WebSphere Studio. IBM is looking at Lotus to continue to be the RAD (rapid application development) arm. And I think some tools from [the acquisition of] Rational Software will help. Strategically, I hope our customers understand we're still committed to RAD, and we're going to get better at it to bridge the two worlds from a development standpoint.


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