A year into Ambuj Goyals tenure as general manager of IBMs Lotus Software division, customers and partners have mostly praise for the job hes done at keeping the developers Notes and Domino messaging and collaboration platform relevant.
Goyal and Lotus continue to face questions over the direction of the software as Lotus last year launched a Java-based messaging and collaboration platform built on IBMs WebSphere application server.
Goyal took over the top spot at Lotus last January with a mandate to bring the Cambridge, Mass., companys messaging and collaboration products deeper into the IBM fold, a vision that won mostly scorn from Lotus customers who feared that Lotus core Domino and Notes products would be marginalized in favor of IBM technologies such as WebSphere and the DB2 database.
“Theres still some uncertainty out there, but the most recent white papers and announcements from Lotus have gone a long way toward reassuring the marketplace about what Workplace really is and about the future of Notes and Domino,” said Richard Schwartz, a Domino developer and president of RHS Consulting Inc., a Lotus business partner, in Nashua, N.H. “People who follow Lotus news closely have been reassured.”
In 2002, Lotus executives frequently spoke of the future of collaboration as collaborative components to be used within business applications, what they called “contextual collaboration.” Many Lotus developers felt their skills in building stand-alone messaging and collaboration applications in Domino would no longer be needed.
“The rhetoric about the contextual collaboration vision has softened, which I believe is also a result of Dr. Goyal bringing things more into line with reality,” said Schwartz, who said Lotus had overhyped a technology thats still largely on the drawing board.
Andrew Pollack, a Domino developer and president of Northern Collaborative Technologies, in Cumberland, Maine, said that just in the past few months, IBM has begun to recognize that the core Lotus technologies still hold a great deal of value. Pollack credited Goyal with leading that shift.
“Goyal is one of the few people who seem to be able to argue for a change in direction at IBM based on his understanding of a product and how it fits together with the strategy,” said Pollack, who added that he was impressed with both the business skills and technical skills of the Lotus GM.
Pollack said Goyal saw the value in Notes and Domino and resisted IBMs mandate to “steamroll” the products.
“In the last year, weve gone from a firm set of expectations that a migration was in our future to a firm commitment in print to both Version 7 and Version 8 of the Notes client,” Pollack said. “Thats a longer commitment to the product than has ever been made by Lotus or IBM that I can recall.”
Goyal dismissed assertions that hes changed anything in IBMs strategy for Lotus over the past year.
“There has been a paranoia in the market that we might abandon the people who really love Notes, and my answer to them was there are 100 million users of Notes and millions of developers,” Goyal said. “It would be foolish for us to abandon that.”
Goyal said continuing releases of Notes and Domino throughout last year, culminating in the release of Version 6.5 of the platform in October, helped convince customers that the commitment to Notes and Domino would not end.
“I think its just the paranoia is starting to come down rather than any change of strategy,” Goyal said.
Goyal said Lotus has no intention of replacing Notes and Domino, even as it focuses on the fledgling Workplace platform. Instead, hes more interested in bringing Notes and Domino into the open-standards world.
“Im not the rip-and-replace kind of a person,” said Goyal. “Its about open standards and extending the reach, and thats what we are trying to get done with Domino and Notes.”
Still, much of the focus at Lotus is on the new Workplace platform, which debuted last May. Lotus released four collaborative applications built on Workplace last year and plans to announce a new developer tool called Workplace Builder at its Lotusphere conference later this month.
That release will begin to fulfill a goal Goyal has stated in the past: to allow nondevelopers to develop collaborative applications by simply dragging and dropping collaborative components. These application “builders,” as Goyal refers to them, will be able to use Workplace Builder to create people-oriented workflows, integrated with business processes, he said.
Lotus users may not be in revolt as they were at Lotusphere in 2002, but Goyals fence-straddling between Notes/Domino and Workplace is still causing confusion.
“I havent seen a clear road map of IBMs vision for the product line,” said Scott Melendez, principal IS engineer and project manager for enterprise messaging for the city and county of San Francisco. “I hear a whole lot about ideas and concepts that sound great in principle but which I think would be difficult to execute in todays economic climate.”
Instead of Workplace, Melendez said he wants better integration between Exchange and Domino. His office uses both and isnt looking to standardize on either.
“I appreciate IBMs efforts to compete with Microsoft [Corp.] on feature parity, but the reality of the world is that [Microsofts] Exchange/ Outlook [collaboration platform is] here to stay, and IBM needs to recognize that and devote the resources required to make the two more interoperable,” Melendez said.