IBM Lotus made good on its next-generation strategy today with the release of four products in its Workplace line, the company's open-standards platform, first detailed at this year's Lotusphere.
IBM Lotus Workplace 1.1 now features components for e-mail, collaboration, content management and learning. The applications are built on a common J2EE-based infrastructure, allowing organizations to easily add functionality or embed it within existing software or business processes.
The benefits to companies deploying Workplace include a central administration panel for all components, single user sign-on, a common look and feel across the modules, and a single point of access through the WebSphere portal.
"This isn't about creating the 'killer app,'" said Larry Bowden, IBM vice president of Lotus products. Instead, he said, the aim is to help organizations save the 40% of project budgets that IBM estimates is spent on integration.
IBM Lotus also made it clear that the Workplace line would appeal largely to new customers and existing customers choosing to expand their deployments. Executives said they are committed to maintaining a separate, though converging, road map for the users of Domino and the 110 million users of the Notes client.
"The Domino application server will be around for the next decade," Bowden said.
The additions to Workplace include the latest iteration of the first product delivered in the line. Workplace Messaging 1.1, a Web-based e-mail system built on WebSphere that uses DB2 as its data store and is targeted at the "underserved" user, now includes calendaring features and delivers the inbox as a portlet.
One early adopter, life insurance and wealth management firm Manulife Japan, was able to get Workplace Messaging up and running in just six weeks. It used the LDAP directory attached to its existing portal to instantly provision new users.
"We didn't need an expensive, fat e-mail client because we knew this wasn't going to be used extensively," said Guy Mills, assistant vice president of information systems at Manulife.
IBM Lotus Workplace Team Collaboration 1.1 features integrated instant messaging, Web conferencing and team workspaces. Executives stressed the simplicity of setting up an e-meeting, likening it to a "browser-based, broadcast kind of approach."
Using the roles-based IBM Lotus Workplace Web Content Management 1.1, non-technical users can publish material within the Workplace environment, on a portal or on an application server. The application is the result of this summer's acquisitions of Australian content-management provider Aptrix.
IBM Lotus Workplace Collaborative Learning 1.1 offers self-managed employee training and supports scheduling for both classroom-based and e-learning programs.
In a product demonstration, executives showed how functionality from each of the modules can easily be embedded within others. For example, users can see which colleagues are online from e-mail, use a "people finder" to access information about colleagues from the corporate directory, send an instant message, enter a collaborative workspace to trade documents and search for learning materials. Executives said target users include contact center workers who often need to solve customer problems by collaborating with colleagues.
Workplace will also support a variety of clients, including Notes, Microsoft Outlook, and a Web browser, as well as future support for mobile devices and a new rich client.
One existing customer is intrigued. Waltham, Mass.-based Tufts Health Plan is currently running 3,000 Notes clients. Yet it is also investigating a possible Workplace Messaging rollout, though it needs to finish its ND6 upgrade first.
"This is really new to us and doesn't play into our immediate future," said Jason Trabucco, a Notes administrator.
Analyst Michael Osterman of Osterman Research in Black Diamond, Wash., thinks embedded instant messaging capabilities offer the biggest value in Workplace. He said studies he's conducted show Lotus Instant Messsaging (formerly Sametime) losing ground to Microsoft among companies standardizing on an enterprise IM platform. Microsoft is applying added pressure with the integration of its Office suite with its new Live Communication Server.
"The front-edge [companies] are looking at ways to expand that IM envelope," he said.
Today's Workplace announcement is part of an aggressive road map for the next year that features a Workplace Version 2.0 release, which will include collaborative document management, a connected rich e-mail client and new development tools for business users. Plans also call for the ability to embed third-party business applications within the client. (See sidebar.)
IBM Lotus general manager Ambuj Goyal credited the common, open standards environment with giving his developers more time to dedicate to new products instead of constantly reproducing infrastructure constructs.
These latest offerings culminate a busy product cycle for IBM Lotus, which has been criticized in the past for letting too much time elapse between releases. In recent months, it has issued ND 6.5, Domino Express for SMBs and WebSphere Portal 5.
Workplace 1.1 will be available Nov. 24. The messaging offering costs $29 per user, collaboration is $89 per user, collaborative learning is $35 per user and the content-management system is priced at $49,999 per processor. The products run on the Windows, AIX and Linux platforms.
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