The <i>VARBusiness</i> Interview: Al Zollar

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After a lengthy dormant period, Lotus Software has finally emerged from the shadows with a vengeance, unleashing several new products, including Notes/Domino 6, and new e-learning and instant-messaging technology. Lotus has undergone nearly two years of internal restructuring under parent company IBM, which brought changes to its professional-services division and partner program. Now the company is back and hoping to reclaim past glory as a crucial part of the growing IBM Software Group. Lotus general manager Al Zollar explains to VARBusiness why his company is better than ever.

VB: How has being integrated more closely with IBM affected Lotus?
Zollar: The changes have to do with IBM's overall software business. We want to present a coherent set of value propositions around collaboration, data management, systems management, transactions and integration. We've selected four brands to present that. Our branding, go-to-market programs, sales activities and technical integration are more closely tied to IBM, and really present a much more coherent [picture for the market and our customers.

VB: Lotus also melded its partner program with IBM's mammoth PartnerWorld organization. How was that change received by partners?
Zollar: Like all changes, people don't always react positively and have difficulties with transitions. This was no different. But we've been able to show our partners that they make more money when they diversify themselves across the IBM brands. A partner that works with just one brand will have less revenue and less margin than partners that work with more of our brands. That's really what PartnerWorld is designed to do,make it easy for our partners to work with all the different brands.

VB: Has the number of Lotus partners changed since moving to PartnerWorld?
Zollar: The number of partners has held steady since the change, and we're not interested in growing that number. We're much more interested in the quality of the partners, rather than the quantity.

VB: Lotus just launched a slew of long-awaited products. What took so long?
Zollar: Certainly, people have been anticipating Notes and Domino 6 for some time. We committed ourselves to do a better job of getting early customer usage before we made the products available, so that's a big reason why it took a bit longer.

VB: Instant messaging has exploded at the business level. Lotus seems well-positioned to take advantage of that boom with the new Sametime 3 release.
Zollar: Yes, and some people would say it was luck. But I remind people that we wrote an internal document in May 1997, called the "Sametime Manifesto," that correctly predicted this explosion and allowed us to get ahead of the curve and build a business product that's right at the inflection point of the market. We're getting about 10 [percent to 15 percent of our customers using Sametime IM, and it's taking off like a rocket.

VB: Lotus is competing heavily against Microsoft in the e-mail and messaging market, and some research indicates that Microsoft Exchange has increased its seat count over Domino. Is Microsoft more,or less,of a threat?
Zollar: The seat counts are so yesterday's news. If a customer runs Domino on a Windows server and supports 1,000 users, then Microsoft counts that as 1,000 licenses for Exchange. The way Microsoft counts seats is so fraught with funny business that it's meaningless. The competition level is about the same as it has been. We've continued to build out features and functions that stand up well to Microsoft and surpass them in many areas. We'll benchmark-test Microsoft any day of the week, in any city. All they have to do is call, and we'll be there,and [we'll beat them.

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