Recap of Lotusphere – What it Means for Unified Communications
I was fortunate enough to attend Lotusphere in Orlando, and to hear from not only the IBM/Lotus folks, but from many of their customers. Here’s a rundown of some of the announcements and news from Lotusphere.
IBM’s Software Group of 50,000 employees reorganized into 2 groups. The Software Middleware Group will report to Robert LeBlanc and the Software Solutions Group will report to Mike Rhodin. As many of you know, Mike Rhodin was previously the GM, Lotus software, so it’s great to have him back at the helm. The Software Solutions Group will include several products and divisions, including Business analytics (Cognos and SPSS), Lotus, FileNet, and Industry Solutions.
I had several one-on-one discussions with Mike, and when asked about the Software Solutions Group he said that it is still in the early planning stages. IBM knows that customers are looking for solutions specific to their industry's business issues, and IBM believes that it can best address these issues with specialists that understand the customers’ vertical industry and market. I think this has the potential to be very big for IBM. Enterprises are looking for ways to improve business processes, and consultative selling in vertical markets is the best way to show customers you have a solution that meets their needs.
Another part of the reorg is that Alistair Rennie was named general manager for Lotus software and Websphere Portal, while Bob Picciano has been promoted to general manager of Worldwide Software Sales, taking direction from both Rhodin and LeBlanc.
The Software Group reorganization isn't the only example of more industry specificity. IBM also introduced its Collaboration Agenda, an initiative to help customers outline a roadmap to using collaboration technologies for better efficiency, both internal and external to the business. Through consultative workshops, customers will have available to them industry expertise, tools, best practices and industry-specific return on investment metrics to help them best implement their collaboration strategies and to achieve their collaboration goals. The Collaboration Agenda will initially focus on the healthcare, banking, government and insurance sectors, with more verticals to follow.
Lotusphere is known for having big names kick off the event, and the specific individual is always a well-kept secret. For years, people have been wondering when Captain Kirk, a.k.a. William Shatner, would be the guest speaker, and this was finally the year. Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed with his presentation. It wasn’t until IBM introduced a new initiative called “Project Vulcan” that some people understood why it was somewhat appropriate that Shatner was this year’s speaker (although his trekkie costar would have made more sense). IBM describes Project Vulcan as “a blueprint for the future of collaboration.” Project Vulcan aims to reduce “the growing problem of personal information overload.”
Project Vulcan capabilities are expected to be released in future versions of all the key Lotus portfolio offerings, including LotusLive, Notes, Domino, Sametime, Connections, Quickr and WebSphere Portal, enabling developers to be able to use Vulcan’s capabilities to create new collaborative applications. Project Vulcan is designed to exploit the convergence of cloud and on-premise systems; collaborative services business applications and social networks; and desktops, netbooks and mobile devices, to enable flexible, personalized collaboration. This is not a brand-new effort, and Project Vulcan builds on IBM Lotus’ existing capabilities, and represents the future versions of the IBM Lotus product portfolio -- including Notes.
A key of Project Vulcan is social analytics and business analytics combined and applied to industry-specific scenarios -- making collaboration more focused and relevant. The vision of Project Vulcan is to: deliver collaboration across company boundaries; make it easy to deploy the technology; and include developer-friendly services and APIs.
Unified Communications & Collaboration (UC2)
What impresses me most about IBM’s UC2 solutions are the breadth and depth of the product offerings. Most of IBM’s UC products have evolved over 10 years, with continual added functionality. Many of the demos at Lotusphere showed how easy it is to add functionality to an application, such as adding a Quickr component into a Sametime app.
It also struck me that while the apps are very easy to use and customize, there is a learning curve when it comes to customizing the apps. It is like any other user-friendly app – a few people may take the time to learn how to get the most out of every app, but it is more likely that it will be the IT organization that takes on the role of customizing applications.
While waiting for the Sametime 8.5 demo I assumed that it couldn’t be a big deal – not with a .5 release. Well, I was wrong. IBM Lotus really beefed up the collaboration capabilities with a new online meeting experience, new mobility support, and a social views capability that makes it easier to find people you collaborate with the most. Another surprise was the improved integration with Microsoft Outlook and Office.IBM Lotus also made it easier for partners to integrate with its UCC platform. Of special interest to me is the SIP-based audio/video interoperability, which brings me to Sametime Unified Telephony (SUT). There were several demos and customer discussions about Sametime working with IP and legacy PBXs. Two things that piqued my interest:
1. Several customers had integrated Sametime into a multi-vendor PBX environment using SUT. This is a really big deal. Customers told me that they were able to combine the value of Sametime with telephony and video capabilities without replacing their existing phone systems.
2. IBM Lotus really has no intention of entering the call control business. I drilled several senior level people involved in SUT development and they convinced me that they’re just not going to go that route. While SUT can support basic call control features, IBM Lotus has no intention of adding critical features required in a PBX – such as 911 and branch office capabilities, not to mention the many enhanced call control features needed by most enterprises. This makes IBM a friendly partner for the IP PBX vendors.
Mobility is a key part of any UC story, and IBM is also doing a lot in the mobility space, providing what I believe is a far richer set of tools and services than its competitors. At Lotusphere, IBM announced secure delivery of enterprise mail for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone and Nokia Symbian devices. In addition, IBM and RIM announced they are bringing new social networking applications -- BlackBerry clients for IBM's Quickr and Sametime -- to market through IBM. Both NEC and ShoreTel announced and demonstrated integration of their respective products with IBM Lotus Foundations Reach, an all-in-one small business server that leverages Sametime as its UC software platform (similar announcements are coming soon from Mitel and others).
Foundations Reach also provides:
- Real-time disaster recoverability
- Integrated Firewall, Anti-Virus & Anti-Spam
- Secure Remote Access
- Automated System Updates
- Office Productivity Tools Suite
- Email, Calendar, and Contacts
- Central File & Print Management
What made the biggest impression on me from Lotusphere is the large number of customers who got on stage to talk about their Lotus implementations and applications. Almost every announcement and product introduction included customer testimonials. What’s more, many of these customers were or are Microsoft shops using Exchange and SharePoint. IBM went out of its way to explain its desire to provide customers with choices – even when it means supporting a competitive product. Speaking of customers, some of the most impressive customer demos were presented by the CTO from General Motors, who discussed how the company uses UC to meet its various objectives. GM wants to make it easier for disparate groups to communicate and collaborate - and Sametime is the solution. In addition, GM wants to give mobile workers more access to information, and Quickr for mobile devices delivers this capability.
Throughout the conference I kept wondering – why does it appear that Microsoft is beating IBM in a market that IBM has been in longer and previously dominated (notably email)? Is it because the Demo Gods like to throw gremlins at Bruce Morse’s presentations? (Those of you at Lotusphere and/or VoiceCon San Francisco will understand.) Or is it because Microsoft has more feet on the street selling OCS? Or perhaps enterprise customers still mistakenly believe that IBM’s flagship UC2 product, Sametime, is aimed at Notes shops only, while in fact it also supports Exchange. Is it that the Lotus brand isn’t as strong at the Microsoft brand and it’s just about marketing? Whatever the reason, I know that based on what I witnessed at Lotusphere, IBM Lotus continues to have a great vision for UC and collaboration – as well as lots of passionate and loyal customers.
This paper is sponsored by IBM.