Lotus Gets New Life

With the delivery of Lotus Notes and Domino 7, IBM appears to have pulled its fortunes in the collaboration market back a step or two from the abyss in the view of some solution providers and analysts.

Within the past two years, there was some real doubt among many industry observers whether IBM had critically bobbled the future of its flagship product, thereby opening the gates wide for Microsoft to charge through with Exchange and its raft of complementary server-based products.

"It was generally recognized that Lotus missed the boat [with Notes] in a number of areas, such as Internet-based application development, and there was a lot of talk the product was dead," says Dana Gardner, principal analyst with Interarbor Solutions. "But rolling out Notes/Domino 7 with this feature set now and not waiting for Lotusphere shows it to be a healthier business."

What may also fuel momentum of Notes/Domino 7 is its fortuitous timing. The new versions are arriving at a time when VARs and users are clamoring louder for a stronger marriage between collaboration and communications capabilities in workgroup products.

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"Notes/Domino, to an extent, is now resurgent because of this demand for integrated communications and collaboration because they see it more and more as the way to make users more productive and the business more responsive," says Peter O'Kelly, a senior analyst with The Burton Group in Midvale, Utah.

During the past three years, according to O'Kelly, IBM's Lotus division has redoubled its focus on Notes/Domino; some of the improvements included in Version 7, such as server consolidation and management, reflect that increased effort.

"But as importantly, they are indicating to the market that [Notes] has a future and will continue investing in it. If you go back three to five years ago, IBM was suggesting Notes didn't have much of a future, that it was a late-life product in harvest mode," O'Kelly says.

Besides the technical improvements made in the new versions, another reason some have a rosier outlook for the products is the improved technical support the company has offered VARs during the past year.

"Partners felt a little disenfranchised a couple of years ago because we were being ignored, but now...the technology support from [IBM] has been much better," says Henry Bestritsky, co-CEO of Binary Tree, a premier Lotus partner.

Bestritsky, also a Microsoft Gold partner, likes what IBM has done with integrating Notes and Domino tightly together. He believes IBM has a leg up on Microsoft in terms of delivering a smoothly integrated solution centered around Exchange, but believes Microsoft will get there eventually.

"If I want collaboration, messaging, back-end integration and workflow from the same interface, I go with Notes. Microsoft is working on that, but you need SharePoint, InfoPath, .Net, C#, Outlook and Exchange, and all those pieces are not truly integrated right now," Bestritsky says.

Making his public debut at the Notes/Domino press rollout earlier this month, Mike Rhodin, general manager of IBM's Workplace, Portal and Collaboration products, claimed his company had racked up 500 wins for Notes in the first half of this year and had double-digit growth rates in the first and second quarters of this year of 11 percent and 17 percent, respectively, for the Lotus brand.

"Business partners are a key aspect to helping us deliver consistent value to users, which is why we will focus on making Notes and Domino a profitable platform for them to generate business," Rhodin says.

Notes and Domino 7.0 are laced with heavy doses of collaboration features and productivity enhancements the company hopes will bolster the two products' competitive positioning against Microsoft's lineup. Notes 7, for instance, contains more than 100 new features largely designed to help users better manage growing volumes of data.

The new features include visual indicators to help users better organize and manage their inboxes and the ability to differentiate between group e-mails and messages that are intended for specific users.

The product has a new memory function that automatically saves and returns to open documents and applications upon shutdown and restart. Company officials contend this gives users more mobility without having to be concerned about losing data or experiencing downtime.

IBM also added to Domino Web-services capabilities, which are designed to help ISVs better carry out horizontal application integration and leverage existing Domino applications. The company is throwing in an optional capability for Domino users to integrate their applications with DB2.

"The optional integration for Domino 7 users allows them to post some of their applications natively on DB2, while preserving the Domino-based access control and Domino-based replication abilities. It also gives developers access to relational constructs to improve ad hoc querying and to use SQL commands," says Ken Bisconti, vice president of IBM's Workplace, Portal and Collaboration business.

Holland Company, a small Crete, Ill.-based railway-manufacturing company with 300 users, gives witness to the virtues of Notes/Domino 7. Company officials say they migrated from Microsoft's Exchange to Notes for a variety of reasons, including Microsoft's decision to end support for Exchange under Windows NT. They also wanted a product that allowed its remote workers to be productive offline.

"There are several critical apps we have extended out to work with Notes, and I didn't want a platform where every few years I would have to rewrite major pieces of them," says Jim Tieri, director of IT at Holland Company. "With Notes, I felt that would not be a problem."

Holland, now using Notes 6.5.3, is using a CRM application built by its local business partner--The PSC Group--and plans to move that application and others to Notes 7.0 quickly, Tieri says.

Both Lotus Notes and Domino 7 are available immediately with Domino Server pricing starting at $1,145 per processor and Notes software priced at $101 per client.