Price and simplicity were the selling points for Manulife Financial when the insurance and financial giant decided to roll out Lotus Workplace Messaging as its e-mail platform for 3,500 sales agents in Japan.

The Workplace

line of software — including Messaging, Team Collaboration, Collaborative Learning and Content Management — is an integrated suite of “”light”” applications with a common user interface and navigation features. It allows companies to extend enterprise e-mail to mobile users and others who don’t need the horsepower of a fat e-mail client.

Lotus Workspace users will experience a common navigation across the e-mail messages they compose, the team spaces in which they collaborate or the Web conference they attend, says Akiba Saeedi, senior marketing manager for portals and eWorkspace solutions at IBM Canada.

“”From an administration perspective, the suite will offer one installation and management area instead of one for four different products, each of which required separate rules and configurations around deployment.””

Before June of this year, Manulife’s Japanese agents didn’t have e-mail, and the company, a Lotus Domino shop since 1996, was looking for a lightweight messaging platform that wouldn’t break the bank, says Guy Mills, the company’s assistant vice-president of information technology.

“”The agents were not necessarily on our infrastructure most of the time,”” explains Mills, who is based in Toronto. “”Most of them are working from the road, or from home.

The ease of administration with Workplace Messaging was also appealing, says Mills.

“”Messaging was browser-based and didn’t require installing anything on agents laptops,”” he says. “”It’s also inexpensive to support because it’s centralized. When you have several thousands agents, security admin can chew up a lot of resources.””

By leveraging an existing infrastructure, Manulife was able to equip its field with the tools they needed, says Saeedi.

“”They’re a Domino shop — they had an e-mail infrastructure and this plugged right into it.””

Then there’s the licensing cost for Messaging, which Mills says is about 10 per cent that of Lotus Notes.

Manulife has a standardized desktop of Lotus Notes and Microsoft Office throughout Canada and the U.S., which comprise the bulk of its 33,000 employees.

“”We were attracted by the groupware functionality in Notes,”” says Mills. “”At that time, there wasn’t anything competing with it.””

Mills says it’s about time vendors started delivering “”on-demand”” types of products and services.

“”On the software side, Lotus has done that — not just with the cost of the licences, but with the security admin and support as well. Now we just need to figure out how to get the same flexibility on the hardware side.

In the overall collaboration market in North America, IBM and Microsoft have almost equal marketshare, according to Warren Shiau, software analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto. Based on vendor licence and maintenance revenue, Microsoft sits at 46 per cent, while IBM’s Notes accounts for 44 per cent of the market.

Will Lotus’s introduction of Workplace change that landscape? Shiau doesn’t think so.

“”Lotus users are tied to Lotus, Microsoft users are tied to Microsoft,”” he explains.

“”There’s very little opportunity for one to win over the other’s installed base unless something ghastly happens. The issue is who can win the most business from outside the existing installed base? This is an issue centred on driving business out of mid-market and smaller users — market segments where Microsoft has advantages over IBM/Lotus.””

On a worldwide basis, the figures change dramatically. According to Ferris Research in San Francisco, Calif., Microsoft has a 53 per cent share of the business e-mail market, IBM/Lotus has a 27 per cent share, and other vendors share the balance.

Mills says he and his team have been trying to find other areas where Workplace can be deployed at Manulife.

“”There’s a role for lightweight, low functionality and some of the other components of Workplace such as the knowledge management tools,”” he says.

Manulife have seasonal and call centre staff who don’t need the features of a full e-mail client. Mills says when you think about picking and choosing Microsoft components, “”you run into trouble.””

“”The way Microsoft licences its products to large organizations such as ours, they make it difficult to not take the full offering; just licensing the operating system and not Office isn’t necessarily going to save money.””

—with files from Shane Schick

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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