Live Long And Prosper? Lotus Unveils 'Vulcan' Integration Plan

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The effort, called Project Vulcan, was unveiled Monday by IBM Lotus' new general manager, Alistair Rennie, in his Lotusphere keynote speech. Rennie, who emphasized that Vulcan is "a concept for Lotus, not a new product," called the announcement "a sneak peak at our vision for the evolution of collaboration."

"Project Vulcan is our technology roadmap," he said. "It's our lens for the future. It's also pretty sexy."

The Vulcan development work will be conducted by Lotus developers and IBM Research.

The first deliverable component of Vulcan will come in the second half of this year when Lotus provides development partners with a set of development tools for building applications that work with the Vulcan specifications. Lotus will make the development technology available through LotusLive Labs, a set of online application development services that IBM also announced Monday.

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Details about Project Vulcan are scarce, but the idea is to develop technology that creates a unified collaborative environment -- both among Lotus's own software and with software from other vendors. The environment would encompass such disparate systems as on-premise and cloud applications, business software and social networks, and devices with different user interfaces.

During a presentation Monday Kevin Cavanaugh, vice president of messaging and collaboration, said new versions of Notes and Domino after the 8.5.2 release that's due this summer would adhere to Vulcan specifications. Other Lotus products, including Connections, Quickr and WebSphere Portal, also will include Vulcan capabilities. Cavanaugh said Vulcan would even encompass "whatever Microsoft products survive."

Vulcan's ambitious goals must be accomplished in such a way that businesses can retain the IT they have already invested in and aren't forced to adopt proprietary technology. Rennie said Lotus isn't proposing a plan that would "get your business in proprietary cement. That would be illogical," he said, in a joking reference to the Star Trek character Mr. Spock who hailed from the planet Vulcan. Rennie said Vulcan also would provide development opportunities for Lotus business partners, including resellers and ISVs. "Project Vulcan sets the stage for a new generation of ground-breaking [collaborative] applications," he said, providing "unparalleled opportunities to differentiate your offerings based on Lotus technologies."

Providing demonstrations of how Vulcan would work, Lotus execs, on stage during the opening session, showed how information from multiple Lotus and third-party applications could be pulled into a Notes home page, and how the GPS function on a mobile device could be used to filter incoming information based on the user's location.

Lotus is also launching a development initiative called the "Collaboration Agenda" to identify ways workers in specific vertical industries use collaboration and communications technology and work with business partners to develop industry-specific applications that improve that usage.

The development work will be performed by industry-specific teams of employees from IBM's software laboratories, Global Business Services and Global Technology Services operations. The effort will initially focus on four industries: banking, insurance, health care and government.

One goal of the Collaboration Agenda effort is to help channel partners sell Lotus products in a more consultative role, said Timothy Kounadis, Lotus director of worldwide channel and industry, in an interview. He cites the example of a German channel partner that turned a portal project valued at 50,000 Euros into additional sales and services valued at 350,000 Euros by selling beyond IT management to line-of-business managers at the customer.

LotusLive, the vendor's line of cloud-computing personal productivity applications unveiled at Lotusphere 2009, now has some 18 million users, Rennie said. Monday the company said it is adding the LotusLive Labs services, a development proving ground for on-demand collaboration applications.

Slated to be available to business partners in the second quarter, LotusLive Labs will include a service that records and instantly transcribes meeting presentations and audio/video, and the ability to create mashups between LotusLive services.

Also on the Lotus new-product schedule is Project Concord, a new Web-based document editor. A preview of that product will be available on LotusLive Labs by mid year. A new release of Lotus Connections, the company's social networking software, will be available in the second half of 2010 with new compliance and auditing, and social analytics capabilities.

Symphony 3.0, the next release of the free Lotus suite of personal productivity applications, will be in beta next month and available by mid-year. And a new release of WebSphere Portal also will ship by the middle of 2010 with improved external site hosting, integration between social content and application mashups, and simplified deployment.