IBM KM Plan Looks Beyond Lotus Raven

While questions abound as to whether Lotus Development Corp.'s forthcoming Raven knowledge management offering will fly in the enterprise, technology buyers need look no further than Lotus' parent company, IBM, for answers.

While questions abound as to whether Lotus Development Corp.s forthcoming Raven knowledge management offering will fly in the enterprise, technology buyers need look no further than Lotus parent company, IBM, for answers.

IBM Global Services last week announced that it is entering the KM game with a Corporate Portal Offering of its own that will be a direct competitor of Raven and will utilize technology from two of Lotus main rivals in the corporate portal and KM markets.

The new release is a combination of IBM software and consulting services as well as products from a host of other companies, including Lotus, portal player Plumtree Software Inc. and KM developer Tacit Knowledge Systems Inc. Other companies involved in the bundle include Autonomy Corp., Documentum Inc., Interwoven Inc., Verity Inc. and Vignette Corp.

The timing and structure of the announcement are curious, however, in that IBM subsidiary Lotus, of Cambridge, Mass., is planning to launch Raven next month at its annual Lotusphere user conference.

Some in the industry viewed IBMs new portal offering as a sign that the Armonk, N.Y., company did not expect Raven to have a wide following outside the current base of Lotus Notes and Domino groupware users.

However, Raven was never meant to be limited only to Lotus users. It was engineered for use with Microsoft Corp. Exchange and other systems as well, Lotus officials said.

And despite IBM comments to the contrary, the IBM Corporate Portal Offering, especially the Tacit KnowledgeMail component, and Raven are similar. For example, both search unstructured data for information on a given topic and add it to a profile of the author of the document or message. In this way, a roster of experts is established, which users can then search and consult.

Raven, however, conducts that search on a database of collected documents. KnowledgeMail, on the other hand, sifts through and indexes e-mail messages as they are created and adds them to the authors profile.

But IBM executives said there was no conflict with Raven or Lotus. "Weve been implementing some early Raven code for over a year with some of our customers, so its certainly a part of this. Its one component," said Scott Smith, global executive for knowledge and content management services at IBM.

Still, the IBM Global Service bundle struck some Lotus customers as odd.

"IBMs announcement seems kind of bizarre in light of Raven about to come out," said Dan Musa, vice president of application development at Gartner Group Inc., a Stamford, Conn., company that uses Notes. "IBMs product seems to directly compete with Lotus Raven."

Lotus officials, while acknowledging that Raven is not the first KM product, promised that Ravens features will set it apart from the competition.

"My preference would be that everyone would choose [Raven], but the reality is, on Day 1, thats not going to be the case," said John Caffrey, interim general manager of Lotus KM business unit. "But when it is available, it will have functionality that these other products dont."

Indeed, Raven does have several features that set it apart from those of IBMs partners. Most notably, Lotus has integrated its Sametime instant messaging technology into Raven, enabling users to see if the author of a particular document is online and available to talk.

In addition, the company plans to extend Ravens capabilities to wireless devices, a strategy that Lotus CEO Al Zollar calls "knowledge transparency" (see story, above).

This is a smart move on IBMs part, said analyst Greg Dyer of International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass. "This offering allows them to meet a lot of customers needs without having to rely on Raven. But it doesnt send a good message about Raven."