More than a Name Change: IBM Rebrands LotusLive as IBM SmartCloud for Social Business

Attending Lotusphere (or any other big vendor event) is kind of like getting soaked with a fire hose. So instead of providing overall highlights (here’s a 60-second video that does this quite well, FYI), I’m dialing the nozzle to focus on LotusLive news at Lotusphere 2012, and my perspective on it relative to the SMB market.

New Style

Perhaps the news that garnered the most attention is that IBM is renaming its cloud-based LotusLive collaboration suite to IBM SmartCloud for Social Business. The move is designed to give the offering, which provides business-grade file sharing, communities, Web meetings, instant messaging, mail and calendaring, some new cachet in the non-Lotus market. IBM is putting Smart Cloud for Social Business squarely under IBM’s SmartCloud umbrella. By making all of its cloud offerings available in one place, IBM intends to make it for clients and partners to find and use it’s open-standards based cloud services .

Fortunately, IBM SmartCloud for Social Business (which is 34 characters, or 25% of a tweet long!) is the category name for IBM’s cloud-based social solution family. IBM will offer more succinctly branded offerings, such as SmartCloud Engage, which replaces LotusLive Engage, and ala carte services such as SmartCloud Connections.

IBM also plans to debut a dramatically simplified web site to make it easier for visitors to zero in on the most relevant solutions and information.

More Substance

IBM’s announcements in this area went beyond style to also include significant substance, for instance;

  • IBM Docs, formerly IBM LotusLive Symphony, will be included in IBM SmartCloud for Social Business. Currently in public beta with availability planned for later this year, IBM Docs is akin to Google Docs. The cloud-based service enables people inside and outside an organization’s firewall, to simultaneously collaborate on word processing, spreadsheet and presentation documents. Users can store, co-edit and share documents in IBM SmartCloud for Social Business.
  • Social Business Toolkit for LotusLive, available now, which enables customers and business partners to integrate custom applications with LotusLive–now SmartCloud for Social Business–services. Using OpenSocial APIs, developers can access profile contacts, meetings, files and communities data.  Companies can add unique custom actions to their SmartCloud for Social Business experience, and deliver everything via a unified user interface that leverages IBM standards-based extension points, authentication and encryption APIs. And, customers will only need to pay one bill for all of their Smart Cloud for Social Business services.
  • An updated Partner Online Guided Selling Tool, a dashboard to help resellers and distributors create and manage sales quotes and orders is slated for availability in the first quarter on 2012.  It will give resellers and distributors an automated collaborative tool to build quotes, place special bids, place orders, track service activation, manage customer billing, etc. to create customer-ready sales quotes for cloud services.  For instance, using the tool, partners will be able to calculate ROI, meter usage, create flexible term lengths, or ramp up customers to the full offering on a predetermined schedule.
  • New partner incentives. For instance, partners can get at 15% to 20% boost when they get authorized for and sell social business solutions, including IBM Smart Cloud for Social Business, under IBM’s Software Value Initiative (SVI) program. IBM is also giving partners that sell small deals and/or cloud –under $50,000 an additional incentive of up to 20%.
  • A new click to buy button so customers can buy IBM Smart Cloud for Social business direct on IBM’s web site.

Perspective

First, let’s look at the style front:

Lotus Notes, the on-premise ancestor of LotusLive, dominated the email and collaboration market back in the day. But competition from the likes of Microsoft to Google have chipped away at the original Lotus franchise over the years. Even when IBM Lotus out-innovated rivals in this space (for example, with IBM aka Lotus Connections), the perception of Lotus as being dated was hard to shake in the non-Lotus market.

This shift away from the Lotus brand also underscores a cultural shift that has been underway for at least a couple of years–and evidenced by the integration of Lotusphere and IBM Connect conferences. Lotus and collaboration are still a solid, underlying foundation, but social capabilities that help businesses extend beyond internal collaboration and into business workflow are the new mantra–and one more likely to appeal to a new generation of business decision makers.

Meanwhile, the IBM brand has continued to rank as one of the strongest brands in the world. Even as it enters its 101st year, Big Blue continues to buff and polish its brand with a seemingly endless appetite for innovation–as evidenced recently by Watson, atom size chips, not to mention selling 1,000+ patents to Google.

The net is that while the rebranding may cause some hiccups in the short-term as people acclimate to it, it makes sense over the long haul. And, who can argue with a simpler, easier to navigate web site?!

Moving on to substance:

Although IBM is very late to the game with click to buy capabilities, and isn’t the first to market with real-time document collaboration, the market is still young–with plenty of headroom. And, as privacy and security practices from other players come under increasing scrutiny, IBM’s measures to build corporate-strength security and privacy measures into SmartCloud for Social Business should give it an edge among organizations that place a premium on these areas.

However, my take is that IBM Docs needs to offer some compelling differentiation vs. the competition to make heads turn. In addition, IBM must go further than a 60-day trial and new click to buy capabilities to smooth the adoption and buying process. To its credit, IBM SmartCloud for Social Business does let companies provide free guest accounts to people outside their organizations. But I think it should take even more friction out of the process to boost viral adoption among SMBs–and compete more effectively with the likes of Google Apps. To that end, IBM should offer SmartCloud for Social Business free to a limited number of users in an organization.

IBM’s new partner programs and incentives are spot on, underscoring its commitment its partners, and respect for the role its partners play, particularly in the SMB market.  Just as important, the roster of SmartCloud for Social Business partners has been growing steadily, with a focus on developer partners that add significant value by integrating with the solution I spoke with representatives from both Silanis and SugarCRM, who indicated strong customer growth for their integrated offerings. With the Social Business Toolkit, IBM makes it easier for developers to integrate with SmartCloud for Social Business and provide their joint customers with a unified, collaborative business process experience.

Many SMBs take a fairly ad hoc approach to collaboration and social business. But SMB Group’s 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communications Study and 2011 SMB Social Business Study show that SMBs that take a more strategic approach in these areas not only tend to invest more in relevant solutions, but are also more likely to anticipate revenue growth. To attract more of the types of partners that it needs to more deeply penetrate the SMB market, IBM needs to both educate SMBs about the business benefits a strategic social business approach. It also must help partners identify the more strategic sector of the SMB market that is likely to have more interest in IBM.

Overall, I believe that IBM is moving in the right direction, both in terms of style and substance. If it can create some strong brand awareness, take a bit more of the friction of the user consideration and adoption process, and fuel SMBs’ understanding of how collaboration and social business impact business results, it should make good headway in this market.

Highlights from the 2011 SMB Group Collaboration Study

The SMB Group and CRM Essentials recently completed the 2011 SMB Collaboration and Communications Study. We asked more than 800 SMB (small business is 1-99 employees; medium business is 100-999 employees) decision-makers and influencers how they collaborate, what tools they use and what their appetite is for integrated collaboration suites. In this Slideshare presentation, we share some key highlights from the study, including:

  • Top Business Challenges
  • Collaboration Culture
  • How Collaboration Culture Affects Corporate Performance
  • Reliance on and Satisfaction with Collaboration Tools
  • Collaboration Budgets
  • Adoption and Plans for Integrated Collaboration Platforms
  • Top 3 Collaboration Platforms Selected by SMBs
  • Top Reasons to Select a Specific Integrated Collaboration Solution
  • Top Reasons for No Plans to Use an Integrated Collaboration Platform
425px” id=”__ss_10389289″> 12 2011 highlights 2011 smb collaboration study

View more presentations from SMB Group

Click here for more information about the complete study results and how to order.

Salesforce’s Dimdim Acquisition–Adding to a String of Collaboration Pearls

The SMB Group has followed (and used!) Dimdim, which has provided innovative, easy to use Web conferencing services in a freemium model with very liberal terms of use, for a couple of years. In January, Salesforce.com acquired Dimdim for $31 million.

Immediately after the acquisition, Salesforce announced that while Dimdim would remain “fully operational during the transition,” it would “no longer be accepting new registrations.” Instead, Salesforce is focusing on bringing Chatter and Dimdim together to provide what it terms “Facebook for the enterprise.”

What’s Next

Last week, we had a follow up briefing with Salesforce’s Mike Micucci, VP Product Management, and Steve Chazin, Senior Director, Product Strategy, to learn more about these plans. Essentially:

  • Salesforce will peel off the Dimdim front end and reconstitute Dimdim’s real-time collaboration capabilities into Chatter. This will give Salesforce a way to provide Chatter users with real-time presence capabilities, so users can see who else on their team is online and their status via a button on their Chatter screens, and start “in context” meetings on the fly.
  • Salesforce will focus initially on connecting internal team members via Chatter, but over time, will broaden this to connect partners and customers as well, integrating them with its Activa acquisition. (Salesforce acquired Activa, an enterprise chat startup that provides on-demand live chat software for customer service, support and online sales interactions last September).
  • The vendor will also explore incorporating audio, screen sharing and video capabilities from Dimdim into Salesforce as well.

While Salesforce is currently deferring to standalone Web conferencing partners (they actually conducted their briefing with us via Citrix GoToMeeting!) in the realm of scheduled meetings, I believe that its only a matter of time before they turn this service on, as users will want it.

Quick Take

With over 1 million registered users, it’s safe to say that Dimdim’s service will be missed by many SMBs–including the SMB Group!

But Salesforce has set its sights on a much bigger picture–one in which it is building, acquiring and integrating the components it needs to become a major player in the collaboration space. As we discuss in Moving Beyond Email: The Era of SMB Online Collaboration Suites, Salesforce’s collaboration strategy is oriented towards social media, real-time activity streams and tight  integration with its CRM offering.

The Dimdim acquisition gives Salesforce the ability to aggregate and integrate real-time capabilities across the Salesforce cloud, via a single mechanism, with multi-device access. Combined with its own Chatter platform, and acquisitions of Activa and GroupSwim, which provides collaborative semantic analysis technology (a fancy way of saying that it has technology that allows people to automatically analyzes and tags content with keywords in a collaborative way to make for easier, more relevant searching), Salesforce is stringing together an impressive set of collaboration capabilities.

Salesforce indicates that more than 60,000 companies have already deployed Chatter, and the vendor recently unveiled Chatter Free, a freemium service to entice non-Salesforce customers to the Chatter fold. With viral routes into both installed base and off base customers now in place, look for Salesforce to give the existing collaboration powerhouses–Google, IBM Lotus and Microsoft–an interesting run for the money.

Are You Ready to Move Beyond Email? Warning Signs and Key Considerations

(Part 2 of a 3 part blog series “Are You Ready to Move Beyond Email?” which focuses on Online Collaboration Suites for SMBs. Click here for Part 1, which provides an overview of the online collaboration suite area.)

Effective collaboration can make the difference between business success and failure. While point collaboration solutions can help us bring order to the chaos, using and managing a hodge-podge of disconnected solutions can also result in a tangled mess that adds to the disorder instead of reducing it.

In the first part of this blog series, Are You Ready to Move Beyond Email? Assessing SMB Online Collaboration Suites, I discussed how today’s online collaboration suites give SMBs powerful and affordable options to streamline collaboration, boost productivity, save time, and cut down on mistakes and errors caused by poor collaboration. By integrating different pieces of the puzzle into a unified solution, these suites make it easier not only to find, share, manage, and use information but also to locate and connect with the right people at the right time.

But how can you tell if your company has outgrown point collaboration solutions, and would benefit from a more integrated approach? In this post, I’ll explore the warning signs that your business may be headed towards collaboration chaos, and discuss some key factors that will help to increase the odds of successfully selecting and implementing a collaboration suite in your company.

Does Your Business Need a Collaboration Makeover?

Sometimes, pulling together a few point solutions such as email, instant messaging, contact management, and a shared file space is all a business needs to stay on track. However, as businesses grow, they have more employees. They need to juggle more complex or varied projects, and have more customers and partners they need to work with. At a certain point, it becomes difficult and very manually intensive to keep everyone on track and on the same page, and working effectively to meet common goals. Some of the warning signs that your business needs to improve and streamline collaboration include:

  • Bottlenecks in finding information or resources needed to get a job done.
  • Email overload.
  • Version control issues—such as trying to figure out which document is the most recent one, or accidentally sending out the wrong version to a client.
  • Mistakes made because people are using incorrect or outdated information.
  • Inability to access and/or agree on what the “right” information is.
  • An overload of customer service calls.
  • Too much telephone tag—wasted time on missed phone calls, searching for missing phone numbers and locating people.
  • Inability to easily track, monitor and engage in relevant social media conversations.
  • Too many logons and passwords to keep track of for too many different collaboration tools, and time wasted because those tools don’t integrate or “talk to” each other.

These problems can cause large losses in time and productivity. More importantly, when mistakes are made, information is missing, or the right person isn’t in the loop, these collaboration issues can also result in a loss of credibility with clients, partners, and suppliers.

Key Considerations for a Successful Collaboration Makeover

As discussed in Part 1 of this series, and in detail in our report, Moving Beyond Email: The Era of SMB Online Collaboration Suites, there are many great online collaboration suites available to help SMBs solve and/or avoid these problems. But effective collaboration requires much more than a new software solution. Here are some steps you can take to increase the odds of successfully selecting and implementing a collaboration suite in your company:

  • Examine collaboration gaps, roadblocks and inefficiencies that exist in your company today, and the problems they are causing. Ask users and decision makers identify their top pain points and requirements early in the process. This assessment will help you to narrow the field and evaluate those vendors with capabilities that align most closely to your needs.
  • Take steps to reduce inertia. Inertia is a powerful force, and it can be tough to get people to switch gears and leave the point solutions they know—even if they are cumbersome and ineffective. Make it easy for users to see how a more integrated approach will not only help the business, but also help each individual to save time, achieve goals, save time, and reduce frustration. Get company influencers and thought leaders on board to help motivate others and smooth the process, and engage a broad cross-section of users in discussions, trials, pilots and feedback along the way.
  • Talk to people at companies that have similar collaboration goals and needs. Find out what’s worked for them, what hasn’t, and what you can learn and apply in your company.
  • Think about any special needs—such as integrating parts of a  collaboration suite with other business processes. Consult with internal IT staff (if available) and/or outside consultants or system integrators that can help advise them.
  • Keep in mind that a key benefit of an integrated collaboration suite is that it lets you take an incremental approach. Although integrated collaboration suites offer many capabilities, companies don’t need to—and shouldn’t try to—start using everything at once. Start by using the capabilities that address the biggest collaboration pain points, and build from there to incorporate new functionality as you need it and are ready to absorb it.

In the third and final post of this series, I’ll take a closer look at some of the key ways that online collaboration suite vendors are striving to add value and differentiate in the market, including social networking, document management and user interface.

In the meantime, if you are part of an SMB company that is actively considering whether to deploy an online collaboration suite, click on this link and I’ll send you a copy of the full study.

Are You Ready to Move Beyond Email? Assessing Online Collaboration Suites for SMBs

(Part 1 of a 3 part blog series “Are You Ready to Move Beyond Email?” which focuses on Online Collaboration Suites for SMBs Click here for Part 2,which provides tips for helping you determine if it’s time to make the move.)

Collaboration is probably the only activity that everyone in every company engages in every day. Whether a CEO or new hire, an accountant or a construction worker, everyone needs to share and manage information, ideas, resources, and connections to get their jobs done.

Until recently, most small and medium businesses (SMBs) could get along just fine by pulling together a few point solutions such as email, calendars, document sharing, and the good old telephone. But as the number of mobile and remote workers soar, requirements to collaborate with external partners, customers and suppliers intensify, and the information overload continues to mount you are not alone if you’re finding that tools are no longer up to the job. In fact, you are likely to be feeling that this hodge-podge of point solutions is leading to miscommunication and mistakes, which in turn, results in lost productivity and a loss of credibility with clients, partners and suppliers.

First, the good news if this is your situation: there are more integrated collaboration suites available than ever before. In addition, many of these are geared to SMB requirements, and offered in an online software-as-a-service (SaaS) model—which takes cost, complexity and risk out of deploying and using these solutions. The bad news is that there are so many of these, it can be extremely difficult to figure out which solution will be the best fit for your needs.

Assessing Online Collaboration Suites for SMBs

Because effective collaboration is so essential for any organization, and so many SMBs are searching for more integrated and streamlined collaboration tools, the SMB Group recently conducted in-depth study, Moving Beyond Email: The Era of SMB Online Collaboration Suites, to compare eight online collaboration suite vendors, including Google Apps for Business, HyperOffice, IBM LotusLive, Microsoft BPOS, OnePlace, Salesforce Chatter, VMWare Zimbra, and Zoho Business. Each of these vendors puts its own spin on the almost universally accepted benefits of the SaaS model including low up-front costs, anywhere, anytime, access, rapid deployment, ease-of-use, and more responsive support.

However, each also tunes its marketing, product, packaging, sales and service formulas differently to play on its own strengths and varying market requirements. Beyond the basics, we also see vendors distinguishing themselves by adding more value in four key areas: social networking, document management, web conferencing and user interface. For instance:

  • Google takes advantage of its ubiquitous web presence and market might to disrupt traditional email and collaboration paradigms with a refreshed look, feel and navigation–such as threaded emails. The vendor offers web-based files that can be shared and simultaneously edited by co-workers
  • HyperOffice focuses exclusively on SMB requirements. Integration enables users to continue to use legacy email, but in more convenient and powerful ways. It offers strong document management functionality, and features Hyperslide, which lets users create a virtual drive on their PC or Mac so they can manage, view and work on files stored on the web in HyperOffice as easily desktop files.
  • IBM LotusLive integrates strong social media capabilities with traditional document management and collaboration tools. Users can invite “guests” that don’t have a LotusLive account to participate in specific activities and projects, making the suite particularly well-suited to companies that frequently have projects that include external consultants and contractors as team members.
  • Microsoft BPOS emphasizes the benefits of the familiar Outlook and Windows look and feel in an online offering, and includes web conferencing as part of the standard service.
  • Salesforce Chatter features a social media orientation with a Facebook-like interface, and tight integration with Salesforce CRM so that application updates are automatically posted into feeds.

The SMB Readiness Grid (Figure 1) indicates our ranking of each vendor’s positioning in the SMB market, which we calculated from detailed vendor rating criteria and ratings that are included in the report. The sphere’s position on the X-axis represents the scope of solution functionality and breadth of products; while it’s position on the Y-axis represents our view of the “sweet spot” customer size segment for the solution.

SMB Readiness Grid for Online Collaboration Suites

Figure 1: SMB Readiness Grid for SMB Online Collaboration Suites

As indicated on the chart, today’s online collaboration suites provide SMBs with many powerful and affordable options to choose from. But, while all of the online collaboration suites we examined offer customers the benefits of a more streamlined and integrated collaboration approach, each vendor has a different view on what core functionality needs to be included in its offering, and in which areas they should invest to create additional value for SMB customers.

This means that  SMBs need to assess their own internal requirements and objectives first—and then explore the options that most closely fit their needs.

In my next post on this topic, I’ll discuss some of the warning signs that indicate a business has outgrown point collaboration solutions, and discuss the key considerations that SMBs should be thinking about as they go through this process.

In the meantime, if you are part of an SMB company that is actively considering whether to deploy an online collaboration suite, click on this link and I’ll send you a complementary copy of the study.

What is an Online Collaboration Suite, and Why Should You Care?

(Originally published on June 30, 2010 in Small Business Computing)

What is an Online Collaboration Suite?

An online collaboration suite provides businesses with an integrated set of tools that span a range of collaboration needs. While not every collaboration suite includes the same capabilities, they often feature tools such as business email, instant messaging, contact management, calendars, file sharing, document management, project management, portals, workspaces, web conferencing, and social media tools such as forums, and wikis.

Online collaboration suites are delivered as web-based, Internet delivered services, so you don’t need to buy, install or configure any hardware or software, or hire IT staff or consultants to get up and running. Users simply login via a Web browser to buy and use the service, which are typically sold through a monthly or annual per user subscription pricing model, with certain amount of email storage included as part of the standard subscription price. As with many online services, most online collaboration suite vendors offer free trials so you can try before you buy.

Why Should You Care?

Collaboration is probably the only activity that everyone in every company engages in everyday. Whether you’re the CEO or a new hire, an accountant or a construction worker, you need to share and manage information, ideas, resources and connections to get your job done. Effective collaboration tools help you to share knowledge, streamline processes, and keep everyone in the organization “on the same page”.

Until recently, most small businesses could get along just fine with a few tools, such as email, calendars, document sharing and the good old telephone. But in the last few years, the growth of digital information has been exponential. Newer collaboration tools, including portals, Web conferencing, instant messaging, social networks, wikis, bookmarks and tagging have become more prevalent as people seek out better ways to organize, share and access this information avalanche.  At the same time, the kinds of devices we use to collaborate–from desktops to notebooks to smart phones to iPads–has exploded.

New and better ways to collaborate can help make your business more efficient and productive. But, it can be very difficult to piece together different tools and services into an integrated whole. Online collaboration suites integrate many pieces of the collaboration puzzle into a unified solution that makes it easier to find, share, manage and use information, and to locate and connect with the people you need when you need them.

What to Consider

Is your business is suffering from collaboration chaos? Common warning signs include:

  • Too much telephone tag–wasted time on missed phone calls, searching for missing phone numbers and locating people with the know-how you need.
  • Bottlenecks in finding information or resources needed to get a job done.
  • Email overload and version control issues–such as trying to figure out which document is the most recent one.
  • Mistakes made because people are using incorrect or outdated information.
  • An overload of customer service calls.
  • Inability to easily track, monitor and engage in social media conversations relevant to your business.
  • It takes too long to make decisions because people can’t access and/or agree on what the “right” information is.

While many vendors offer online collaboration suites to help pull together people, tools, services and content to help bring order to the digital chaos, the devil is in the details. The SMB Group is currently conducting research and interviews to provide an in-depth comparison of eight vendors’ online collaboration suites (including Google Apps for Business, HyperOffice, IBM LotusLive Engage, Microsoft Business and Office Productivity Suite (BPOS), OnePlace, Salesforce.com, VMWare Zimbra and Zoho Business). Each vendor has bundled a different a different mix of capabilities into its suite.

For instance, several vendors include email, project management and/or web conferencing as part of the suite, but others don’t. Some focus heavily on social capabilities, while others have just started to add this type of functionality. Standard storage for email ranges from 5GB to 25GB, and each vendor offers different standard service and support capabilities and service level agreements. Some focus exclusively on the small and medium business (SMBs), while others target large enterprises as well as SMBs. Some offer freemium models, others don’t. Of course, pricing varies, as does the minimum contract length–from one month to one year. Some vendors offer pieces of their suite, such as instant messaging or Web conferencing, ala carte, and let you add new solutions as you need them in an integrated fashion. Some vendors sell direct, some through channel partners, and some do both.  And each offering has its own look and feel.

While each of these solutions has its pros and cons, some will be a better fit for your business than others, so it’s critical to take a step back and consider your business needs, priorities and goals before you start evaluating specific solutions. Your assessment doesn’t need to be complicated–it can be as simple as thinking about what’s working well for you now, and identifying collaboration roadblocks and gaps that hamper productivity and business results. Then look for an online collaboration suite that can help you to address these immediate needs quickly and easily, but also give you the option to use more of the suite’s functionality as your needs require and time permits.

My Top Takeaways from Lotusphere 2009

As always. IBM’s Lotusphere has been chock full of announcements about new products, upgrades and partnerships. At Lotusphere, “resonance” was the overarching theme, framing the benefits of having multiple applications work in harmony to amplify the benefits of individual solutions, and create better business outcomes (or something like that, I’m paraphrasing here!).

One level down from that, I see a few top takeaways that cut across individual announcements and point to where IBM Lotus (which I’ll abbreviate to Lotus for the rest of this blog) is heading. Here are the takeaways that bubbled to the top for me.

1.    Expect Lotus to take a bolder marketing stance. In the past, Lotus has been reluctant to go head to head with obvious rivals, particularly Microsoft. But in the opening keynote, Lotus executives came out swinging, declaring intentions to “drive the decline of the Office Suite”, “shatter Windows” and “change desktop economics” with Symphony, the free Lotus desktop suite. Likewise, Lotus is positioning Foundations, which bundles e-mail, file sharing, document management and backup in a turnkey server appliance, aggressively against Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS). While I don’t expect Lotus to get as edgy as Apple has done with its Mac versus PC ads, I think we will see a feistier IBM Lotus persona going forward.

2.    Substantial, long-term strategy and investment to broaden the Lotus market. Large enterprises have always been a Lotus stronghold. But, running Lotus on premise can chew up a lot of IT resources, putting it out of reach for most small and medium businesses (SMBs), and branch offices in larger firms.  After some past unsuccessful attempts to field solutions for these businesses, it looks like Lotus finally has a handle on creating easier, simpler and more affordable solutions. The vendor is taking a hybrid approach, with a mix of customer premise and cloud solutions. LotusLive (www.LotusLive.com, formerly codenamed Bluehouse) moves Lotus firmly in the cloud, offering  an easy software-as-a-service (SaaS) on ramp  for social networking and collaboration (with Web email coming soon via IBM’s planned acquisition of OutBlaze, www.outblaze.com). LotusLive  integrates solutions from cloud computing partners, and enables “click to cloud” integration with customer premise applications. Lotus Foundations comes at the market from the opposite direction, providing customers a plug and play on premise collaboration and email solution. While Lotus still has a lot of work to do to clearly position and market these solutions (along with several other appliance and cloud offerings within IBM’s broader portfolio) it’s on the right track to finally tap into this huge market opportunity.

3.    New momentum and vitality in the Lotus partner ecosystem. Partners have always been key to bringing complete solutions and added value to Lotus customers. But, while Lotus has enjoyed solid relationships with longtime partners, it’s often missed the mark in attracting fresh faces.  At Lotusphere, the vendor unveiled new and newly strengthened relationships that breath new life into the ecosystem. Not surprisingly, LotusLive and Foundations are fertile ground for many of these. Skype, LinkedIn and salesforce.com are working with LotusLive to create integrated collaborative capabilities. For instance, Skype will integrate voice and video to enable customers to directly connect to Skype contacts from LotusLive.  Meanwhile, Lotus Foundations is adding 80 new partners per quarter to its volume SMB channel, and working with ISVs to build turnkey industry solutions. For example, SRC Solutions (www.src-solutions.com) is building streamlined records and document management solutions for schools, healthcare, public sector and other verticals on top of Foundations. Lotus is also deepening relationships with more traditional partners, such as SAP, as well. The two announced joint development of Alloy, which will link collaborative and core business process applications more tightly for users. And Smart Market, a one-stop solutions shop for customers, gives partners a new vehicle to reach, sell and support customers.

4.    Going Mobile. Lotus and RIM announced new enhancements for the Lotus BlackBerry, adding new client capabilities for Sametime and Connections, and editing functionality for Symphony. The two also announced BlackBerry platform support for and Domino Designer for X Pages, so that developers can develop and deploy once for both Domino and Blackberry. While Lotus took some knocks for not moving quickly enough on other mobile devices—most notably the iPhone—it will almost certainly duplicate its BlackBerry initiatives with other mobile device leaders.

5.    Changing the conversation about collaboration and social software. Lotus will be doing this on several levels: extended collaboration, the value the openness brings to the collaboration equation, and the importance of using collaboration to optimize talent. LotusLive provides a great example of how Lotus is focusing on extending collaboration beyond the firewall with easy, secure on demand collaboration. Tying into the overarching resonance theme, the vendor will turn up the volume on the value of openness is maximizing the business value of an integrated portfolio and partnerships. Last but not least, I think that Lotus will turn more of the conversation to the fact that today, many businesses have already cut costs to the bare bone; the new challenge will be to grow the top line by enabling people to be  as productive as possible. Look for Lotus to progressively socialize (no pun intended!) the importance of using collaborative and social solutions to make collaboration more fluid and friction-free across the value chain.

On its 20th anniversary, Lotus is opening a new chapter in its story, offering up some new and convincing alternatives to the status quo, and extending its reach into new markets. By making these strategic investments now, in a turbulent economy, Lotus has time to get the kinks worked out, and get ahead of the game for when things turn around.

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