IBM GM: Lotus Seeks to Advance Productivity

Q&A: IBM's Mike Rhodin promises productivity improvements for end users in the next versions of the company's messaging and collaborative software and shares his perspective of the market.

Since Mike Rhodin succeeded Ambuj Goyal as IBMs general manager of IBM Workplace, collaboration and portal software this summer, he has helped steer the 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 starting with the next version of Lotus Notes/Domino, dubbed "Hannover," and the J2EE-based Lotus Workplace messaging and collaboration platform.

What is your overall strategy and vision going forward? What would you like to accomplish as GM?

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 [ERP] systems is one, customer relationship management [CRM] is another, supply chain management [SCM] is another. One of 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 allows 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. The work were doing is how people connect into that infrastructure and how when things need to be surfaced to people, theyre surfaced in a natural, efficient way in an organization.

As GM, what are you going to do thats different from your predecessors, Al Zollar and Ambush 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 Ambush 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. But we also have to help them understand how its going to move forward, how they can get new benefits, new business insights, out of these collaboration technologies. Were trying to create technology to allow people to work smarter, and maybe less hours, or to help them get more intelligent use of the hours theyre putting in.

Lets talk about "Hannover" and some of the client improvements we can expect.

"Hannover" represents a major overhaul of the UI. There hasnt been a major overhaul of the UI since Version 5 really. It had been more incremental revisions really of the design, and "Hannover" is a major departure from that design. "Hannover" is very focused on the end-user experience, not just the look and feel, but around what can we do to make end users more productive, how can we change their work environment to make it more natural for the kind of work they do, and thats where the introduction of both the composite applications and the activity-centric computing really come into play.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about the latest version of Notes and Domino.

One of the dangers we all recognize is the e-mail mentality where you live in your in-box. There is more to life than e-mail, 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 allows people to work more naturally around what they actually do.

In-boxes, by nature, tend to be last-in, first-out, so if you get flooded with e-mail, something important may be on page two or page three, but you tend to see whats on page one. I tend to work in a more project-oriented way, so being able to organize things around project or activity seems like a more natural way to me to drive value out of the organization.

But we want to make sure the user experience is flexible to support whatever mode people want to work in ... whether IM is their primary communication vehicle or whether e-mail is their primary vehicle.

Were doing work so they can do a lot of work in the mode that is most natural and productive for them, but were extending the use of the tools so they can leverage their particular focus area, whether they want to focus on e-mail or IM or Web conferencing, and so they can see on the periphery other things that are going on and then react to those things as that occurs, whether its the form of an RSS feed feeding information to some peripheral component or a buddy list having IM pop up. Different modes of interaction are appropriate for different styles of work, and also different people work differently.

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.

Next Page: "Hannover" and Java.