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Workplace keeps going vertical

IBM Lotus is coming out with another industry-specific edition of its J2EE-based Workplace line. And executives say this is only the beginning.

IBM reinforced its vertical push today, announcing that it will release a second industry-specific version of its J2EE-based Lotus Workplace line in January.

Lotus Workplace for Consumer Products Customer Management will include prebuilt portlets for accessing SAP AG, PeopleSoft Inc. and Siebel Systems Inc. applications from within WebSphere portal, which is Workplace's foundation. The software also gives business users a portlet builder for easily integrating modules of their choice.

IBM Lotus also partnered with SkillSoft PLC, a Nashua, N.H.-based learning-software vendor, to include training features unique to the consumer products market in Lotus Workplace Collaborative Learning, a Workplace component.

Customers may choose to deploy Workplace's other components, Web-based e-mail, content management and collaboration tools like instant messaging, though that software hasn't been tailored for the consumer products industry.

All Workplace components are built on a J2EE foundation and feature a central administration panel, single user sign-on and a common look and feel across modules.

IBM Lotus has already issued a retail-specific version of Workplace. The vertical offerings are priced the same as generic versions.

Larry Bowden, IBM's vice president of portal and Lotus products, said that plans call for dozens of vertical iterations of Workplace, including multiple offerings within individual markets. For instance, the automotive industry may get Workplace flavors designed specifically for warranty or parts management capabilities.

"We have seen a shift in the way customers want to obtain their software," Bowden said. "Businesses are acquiring software that addresses their particular business issue and aren't wanting to go through the steps of figuring it all out themselves."

To that end, IBM recently announced a new, company-wide vertical push. Plans include dividing the Big Blue sales force into 12 industry-specific teams, as well as inking new partnerships with ISVs in individual markets.

Sara Radicati, president and CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.-based messaging research firm Radicati Group, isn't bullish about the vertical Workplace offerings or the software strategy.

"IBM has been having a bit of a problem figuring out where its products fit in," she said. "I'm skeptical from past experience. Things always sound easier than they are."


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