Lotus beefs up products to compete with Microsoft on collaboration

IBM said Monday it is opening up its Lotus tools to include a greater emphasis on open standards, a continuation of Big Blue’s SOA strategy and more support for other products its customers use, like SAP and Apple tools.

The company also announced a new version of Lotus Sametime, its instant messaging product, as well as IM access agreements with Yahoo! Messenger, AOL AIM Clearinghouse and Google Talk. IBM’s corporate messaging system will have hooks into the popular public messaging tools later his year. Conspicuous by its absence from that list was Microsoft.

Mike Rhodin, general manager of IBM’s Workplace, Portal and Collaboration software, said he was taking on Microsoft and other key competition by addressing standards and interoperability. Rhodin made his comments at IBM’s annual Lotusphere conference being held this week in Orlando.

“We’ve been fighting an e-mail battle against the competition for a while,” he said. “It’s not about e-mail anymore . . . it’s about collaboration.”

IBM’s Lotus Note’s Suite for SAP Solutions will address the missing pieces and put the two companies in synch, said Rhodin, adding integration into calendaring, time tracking, contact management, report generation, approval workflows and other business tasks.

“It was that last five per cent” that was missing from the relationship, said Rhodin. “Microsoft is investing a lot of money to get this stuff done. It kind of made us realize we should take this the rest of the way.”

IBM’s commitment to Apple users includes expanded Mac OS X support for Lotus Notes 7 and Domino Web Access, including Apple’s latest Intel-based Macs.

The largest Apple corporate customer in the world, Broward County Public Schools District, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., applauded the move.

“It was really exciting to hear that IBM sees Apple as a big player (but) I think there’s lots more to come still,” said Vijay Sonty, the district’s CIO, who spoke as part of a Lotusphere presentation.

In particular, Sonty said he is waiting for IBM to support Mac browser Safari 2.02 and expects Big Blue to come through by March. Sonty is launching a portal project to help connect various applications used by 275,000 students and 19,000 teachers, including HR, CRM, self-service and collaboration tools. The mixture of Microsoft, Hyperion and SAP software will be held together by IBM integration technology.

“Like other organizations, we have a hodge-podge of different systems,” said Sonty, “some proprietary, some on open systems. We wanted to bring our people together.”

Sonty said he has already licensed various pieces of IBM software, including WebSphere application server, Workplace Collaboration services and Managed Client, Tivoli identity and access management and directory integrator, and Bowstreet portlet factory. (IBM bought Bowstreet a month ago for an undisclosed sum.)

Sonty said he plans to extend the school portal, dubbed Nexus, to a capacity of 400,000 users. Broward currently uses Open Text for its e-mail with 40,000 concurrent users, making it one of the Waterloo-based firm’s largest customers.

Four years ago, Opentext was “hands down” the winner, with IBM a close second in an RFP, said Sonty. But, he added, he may look at IBM Workplace and Lotus Domino as part of an e-mail refresh during a later stage of the Nexus project.

IBM gave Lotusphere attendees a glimpse of the next version of Lotus Notes, code-named Hannover, which will be available as a public beta later this year, according to Rhodin. New major release versions of Notes and Domino will ship in 2007.

Lotusphere continues until Thursday.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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