Lotus Is Catching the Wireless Bug

CEO Zollar talks about tapping 'knowledge transparency' and popularity of instant messaging.

Al Zollar has been on the job as CEO of Lotus Development Corp. for nearly a year, and the period has been an unusually quiet one for the Cambridge, Mass., company. But as it readies for the annual Lotusphere user conference next month, Lotus is gearing up to launch its long-awaited Raven knowledge management product. Zollar sat down with eWeek Editor John Dodge and Staff Writer Dennis Fisher last week to talk about Raven, as well as about how Lotus plans to take advantage of the wireless revolution and the popularity of instant messaging.

eWeek: Can you give us a sneak preview of what the big buzz is going to be at Lotusphere?

Zollar: Well show how these technologies that help organizations leverage their know-how [such as the Raven knowledge management product] marry with the wireless Internet.

Theres a really big idea that were working on that I call "knowledge transparency." It involves taking information, capturing it on a server and extending it to the Internet and wireless Internet, literally to any point on the planet.

eWeek: Instant messaging, or IM, is becoming hugely popular, not just for consumers, but in business as well. What is Lotus doing to capitalize on that?

Zollar: Some of the ideas that have been popularized around chat in the consumer market, with things like [America Online Inc.s] AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo [Inc.s Messenger], have a lot of applicability in the business market, but you have to worry about providing security. The real value we see is the ability to have the awareness of people ... on the network and act upon that awareness in a timely fashion.

So, were extending [Lotus] Sametime [IM client] in that fashion. Were integrating it with our existing applications and are also extending it to the world of the wireless Internet.

We have a prototype Sametime client on WAP [Wireless Application Protocol] phones, so that people can begin to have true awareness of colleagues on the network, regardless of where they are.

eWeek: It seems like every company these days is trotting out a wireless strategy, whether theres any real strategy involved or not.

Zollar: Well, for us its core because its a huge part of our messaging and collaboration infrastructure. Every one of these customers I think will be interested in extending this infrastructure to the wireless Internet. Weve focused on the WAP platform, but were working to get other standards involved.

eWeek: Is there anything you can tell us about the next version of Notes?

Zollar: Its under development, were working on it, but were not specific about the dates.

eWeek: What do you think of the peer-to-peer products, like those from Groove Networks Inc., that are hitting the market?

Zollar: Its not clear how its going to play out in the business market. Its kind of interesting to see Ray [Ozzie, founder of Groove and the creator of Lotus Notes] go forward with an approach that tries to bring peer-to-peer to an enterprise market. The kind of collaboration that we offer is proven in a server model ... so well see if their model turns out to be one of interest.

I think, ultimately, theyll have to connect to servers, and they have a vision as to how to do that. The question is, what model will enterprises really adopt? Its hard for me to imagine that major organizations are going to run everything they do on peer-to-peer. I dont think its scalable.