IBM Aims to Boost Productivity

GM talks about moving Lotus forward with new Notes version.

Since Mike Rhodin succeeded Ambuj Goyal as general manager of IBMs Workplace, Collaboration and Portal software this summer, he has helped steer the Armonk, N.Y., companys Lotus Software division to its third consecutive quarter of double-digit revenue growth. But despite these encouraging results, industry researchers continue to churn out figures showing that Lotus is losing market share to Microsoft Corp.s Exchange. Rhodin sat down recently with eWEEK Staff Writer Shelley Solheim to share his view of the market and outline how he is moving Lotus forward.

What is your overall strategy and vision going forward?

I think were at an inflection point right now. When you look at the evolution of this space—with personal productivity, team productivity and organizational productivity—there are different levels and different areas of automation. Enterprise resource planning systems is one; customer relationship management is another; supply chain management is another.

One of the things were focusing on doing is starting to horizontally integrate across those silos ... to find the white space that exists between the silos and create tools that allow users to connect people into various processes. As we look at things like service-oriented architectures [SOAs], they become an infrastructure in that integration story.

As general manager, what are you going to do different from your predecessors, Al Zollar and Ambuj Goyal? What new challenges do you face that they didnt?

At the time when Al came on board, Lotus was still a wholly owned subsidiary, so there was a lot that had to be done on the integration of Lotus and IBM, and Al did a great job of [that]. When Ambuj and I came over, our focus was really on whats next. ... Thats when we started thinking through this Workplace concept. ... I think the challenges were very different at the different points in time. Al joined at the height of the massive rollout of Notes at corporations across the world, whereas were at the point right now where were helping customers get benefit and value out of those investments theyve made.

Lets talk about "Hannover" [the next version of Notes] and some of the client improvements we can expect.

Hannover represents a major overhaul of the UI [user interface]. There hasnt been a major overhaul of the UI since Version 5, really. ... Hannover is very focused on the end-user experience: not just the look and feel but around what [we can do] to make end users more productive. ... One of the dangers we all recognize is the e-mail mentality where you live in your in-box. ... And what weve been studying for the last couple years in research is focusing in on how people work in organizations—how do they work, what do they work on, how do they organize their work—and we think this activity-centric model really starts to capture how people do work in organizations and starts to introduce new tools and organizing principles in the UI that allow people to work more naturally around what they actually do.

My view is that we need to deliver tools in a more natural way, based on who people are in an organization, the role they play in an organization and the role theyre playing at that particular time.

Will Hannover be a J2EE [Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition] framework with components of Notes or vice versa?

It [depends on] which side of the window youre looking at it from. There will be elements of Workplace technologies and Java around the Hannover client, and there will be elements of Notes. All Notes applications will run in Hannover, but it will be augmented with new services from Workplace as well, especially as we bring forward some of the ideas around composite applications and some of the ideas around activity-centric computing. Those are going to come from the Workplace world and augment the capabilities of Notes.

Will there be a version of Notes without the Workplace add-ins?

Sure. The whole concept of Workplace client technology, which is an underpinning of this whole strategy, is that everything is componentized, so therefore you can use as much or as little of the technology as you want. So for someone who just wants the basic capabilities they have with Notes today—with the applications, mail, calendar, etc.—and they want to take those forward to Hannover, therell be a natural step for them to do that. But from the services on the back end, which are all built around this concept of an SOA, well have a policy control mechanism that will allow you to enable users to get access to more and more services progressively as you want to make them available to end users.

Youre really driving Java; what about PHP or other scripting languages?

Youll see more and more introduction of open technologies into our product line moving forward—things like RSS feeds, blogs, wikis—all of those things are elements of the collaborative platform and are emerging elements in the platform.

PHP is something were looking at, just like weve looked at all of the technologies coming out. Scripting has always been an important element of the collaborative world from an application development environment. The new Workplace Designer tools support JavaScript as an environment, which is still one of the popular scripting environments.