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.
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.
Hannover and Java
Will “Hannover” be a J2EE framework with components of Notes or vice versa?
Its 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. The design weve come up with will look like a natural step forward for Notes users, and it will also look like an innovative, compelling place for non-Notes users.
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,” theyll 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?
Any vendor who doesnt have their eye on whats going on in open standards, open source and open communities really has their head in the sand. 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.
You may have seen that we added blog support for Workspace, sample blog components in our Workplace Designer tool product, so people can take a sample and customize it, and it can look and feel any way they want and they can deploy it into a portal.
I dont want to dwell on the market share for too long, but most analyst firms are now reporting that Notes/Domino has been slipping in the past two years.
I think what you see is that the different market share studies are all showing different numbers.
Yes, but overall theyre all showing now that Microsoft went up a little bit while …
Yes, I think during that time period and during some of the confusion, there was a couple of point shifts, but were talking about a couple point shifts in two companies that have in the mid-40s [percentage market share], and four years ago there was a couple points the other way. I think with our intent with “Hannover” and Notes 7 were going to see it go back the other way. We dont see it as a long-term trend; we see it as a temporary blip. I cant help what other people put in the press and what other people put in the rumor mills, but I can prove them wrong. Id rather show up with code, any day of the week.
/Workplace Confusion”> You mentioned confusion out there in the market around Notes/Domino and Workplace.
Yes, I think there were a lot of misconceptions out there early that Workplace was a replacement for Notes/Domino. Thats not quite true. I think as you look at Workplace as an integration platform for connecting people to business processes, one of those existing things that has to be integrated is Notes/Domino.
As you look at new offerings, like the “Hannover” client for Notes, its actually a merger of technology from the two sides into a unified client that will be a natural next step for Notes customers but will also start to provide some of the Workplace value proposition into that space. I think that was widely misunderstood, and I think some of that was on us from an articulation viewpoint. Some of it I think was when you start to line up large installed bases, new technologies, and there are open standards wars between J2EE and .Net, and with all of these different things going on its somewhat confusing to understand what all these different announcements mean.
One of the best validations weve had over the last 12 months is seeing analysts all start to write about this convergence, not what were doing, but about this inflection point Im talking about. Some of them are calling it information workplaces, some are calling it smart enterprise suites, others are calling it enterprise application suites. There are a lot of names for it, but what they describe is very much the same, very much the same thing weve been trying to get people to understand thats what Workplace is all about.
I just saw that Surjit Chana [IBMs vice president of Workplace Client Technology Business] was quoted saying that a lot of Exchange customers are moving over to Notes.
Yes, the key element here is about open platform support. One of things weve seen huge demand for is Linux servers. In our last quarter, we saw a huge percentage of our revenue come from the Linux base. We think Linux is a great platform for Domino, and in fact in 7 there are astronomical improvements in the server capability on Domino 7.
We think were going to continue to see Linux growing, and so for companies making that switch to open platforms were the No. 1 answer because our competitor is choosing not to go there.
So, how many are you seeing coming from Exchange?
We feel pretty confident that in the first half of the year weve had 400 or 500 customers move from Exchange to Domino, and Im sure Microsoft has a list thats about as big. I think were on the margins trading percentage points back and forth. But when youve got installed bases as large as either one of us, youre going to see that kind of movement, for lots of different reasons.
-Mail and Security”> What are you doing on the e-mail security front? Microsoft has made a couple acquisitions recently in that space, and I know youre doing a lot of work in the Hawthorne labs around spam, but youre also working with partners. Will we see more coming from the labs or via partners?
We do both. We still have a very strong partner network, and we still value that partner network very much. We think its part of the ecosystem that is Notes, and we think our customers value those partners very much. So we want to continue to evolve that network and nurture those partners. But we are going to work on the security in all of our products … we recognize the market share and the openness of the market and make sure our products integrate with more than one platform, something that is different from what were doing from Microsoft.
And will we see some of the e-mail security work, such as around spam, from the IBM labs trickle into future products?
Yes, there is a technology called SpamGuru, and the easiest way to explain that technology is that it is an orchestrator. It orchestrates different formulas for dealing with spam, and it kind of balances them. Some of that technology is in our Workplace messaging capabilities today, so, yes, more of that work will filter its way into the products.
How do you view Google, friend or foe?
Google is an interesting phenomenon. Its an advertising company, an advertising company that made money because it had a good search engine. So its an advertising company based on a technology, which is a very interesting model in and of itself, and theyre using the capital theyre accumulating with that to branch into new areas. Its really a fascinating area to watch from an innovation viewpoint because theyre coming out with a lot of cool stuff. But that cool stuff isnt really new business models yet. Its really cool stuff funded by capital theyve built up through their core business, so Im not sure where its going to end up yet.
We recently announced integration with Notes and Google on the desktop, and its a great capability. I have it on my desktop. It allows me to find stuff, thats what Googles always been good at. Do I view them as a competitor today in my business? Do I view them as a future possible competitor? Probably, depending on where they decide to go.
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