Al Zollar is general manager of IBMs Lotus Software division. Since being appointed to that position in January 2001, Zollar, an IBM veteran, has sought to integrate Lotus into the software development fabric of IBM, while expanding the scope of Lotus technological edge. He was interviewed at the recent Collaboration East conference in Boston by eWEEK Executive Editor Stan Gibson.
eWEEK: Can you describe specific synergies you are realizing with other parts of IBM?
Zollar: I think the portal technology that is behind the dynamic workplace concept is the best example. Starting with the WebSphere portal server middleware framework, we have created a solution that integrates all of the software group technologies.
The collaborative capabilities come from Lotus, the security technologies for fine-grained user access controls come from Tivoli, and the data management and searching algorithms come from DB2.
There are other examples. Notes 5 and Notes 6 have technologies from IBM Research. The IBM research group is made up of several labs, and theres specific expertise at each of them. Theres some stuff we get from Watson, some we get from Hawthorne, some we get from Almaden. The logging and transaction capability in Notes 5 and 6 came from Almaden.
We source from IBMs worldwide technology farm, if you will.
eWEEK: What has become of Iris Associates, the research unit that created Lotus Notes and other technologies?
Zollar: Iris Associates was a legal entity within Lotus that was dissolved in October of last year. But the team of people that builds Notes and Domino are still there [in Lotus].
eWEEK: CEO Sam Palmisano has said that there will be layoffs at IBM. Will some of those happen at Lotus?
Zollar: We began thinking how to structure Lotus right in 2001. We did have a series of layoffs at Lotus in 2001. That prepared us for the kind of economic environment were seeing now.
eWEEK: How many were laid off?
Zollar: We didnt disclose the number, but it was a fair number. A lot of people [were] in overhead positions in duplicate sales structures. It was significant rightsizing. As a part of IBM, we didnt announce them externally because it was not material news.
eWEEK: Do you see an upturn in the economy or in IT this year?
Zollar: Im not an economist. But I do believe we will come out of this with our customers priorities heavily focused on cost avoidance and return on investment, so were shaping our thinking along those lines.
The analyst firms say there will continue to be less IT spending. But they have revised their forecasts upward in e-meetings, instant messaging and real-time collaboration. Thats great for us. IDC says there will be over a billion dollars of annual spending for software in these categories in 2005.
Linux, Java plans
Linux, Java plans
eWEEK: How does Lotus fit into IBMs open source, Linux and Java strategies?
Zollar: Were very much a part of it. In fact we ported Domino to Linux in 1999. We didnt see an immediate uptick, because the Linux kernel lacked threading. So we created some threading technology that we gave back to the open source community. We improved the number of concurrent users by an order of magnitude.
Now were seeing a lot of interest in Domino on Linux. I probably get more customer e-mails on that subject than any other right now. Theres a lot of interest in the z-Series mainframe implementation of Linux. Its a cost of ownership, server consolidation play.
eWEEK: IBM Global Services is a strong spot for IBM, but IGS is supposedly vendor-agnostic. How does that work as far as Lotus is concerned?
Zollar: Theyre customer-focused. They focus on what customers have. We work closely with Global Services to make sure they can be successful in moving Lotus technologies ahead with customers.
Their e-business-on-demand direction has a lot of synergies with Lotus collaborative technologies. We have worked very closely with IBM learning services on our e-learning initiative. The “mind-expand” solution brings their consulting and content creation and Lotus learning technology together.
These are opportunities to leverage the worlds largest services company, and wed be foolish not to do that.
eWEEK: You talked about IBMs intranet in your speech. Is there anything you would add to the intranet?
Zollar: Oh yeah, theres always stuff to add. Automated expertise profiling and expertise location is one of the next big things were working on with the IBM internal team.
If we can crack that nut then all IBMers will be Sametime-enabled. If you conduct an expertise search, you can see if they are connected at that instant.
Last week I was in a Sametime session with colleagues in France, New York and Boston. We were on a Sametime e-meeting dealing with a customer problem.
Combining those capabilities with assisted expertise location is a huge deal in terms of improving the speed and responsiveness of a company.
eWEEK: How can it automatically know about you and your expertise?
Zollar: Today, an individual has to fill out a manual expertise profile. Thats where our discovery server comes into play. Our Lotus discovery server can look at things you author, mine that information for expertise and deliver to you a suggested expertise category. Then, if you want, you can veto that expertise category.
Were working to deliver it to the IBM intranet.
eWEEK: Is knowledge management still hot?
Zollar: The term “knowledge management” has faded, but the technologies are still hot. Expertise location is a knowledge management technology, and its being deployed by a lot of our customers. But the term has become a little too academic.
eWEEK: What is your strategy for hiring top software talent?
Zollar: We believe that talent exists in a lot of places, and we have to compete for talent with the same energy that we would compete for a customer.
We have a lot of great programs. One is called “Extreme Blue.” It takes top computer science students and puts them into very intense summer programs. Students have to write code, build prototypes and produce projects. Programs like that make us very effective in recruiting talent.
eWEEK: Does Linux help?
Zollar: Indeed it does.
Back in the early 90s, when I was responsible for the engineering of DB2, I would talk to engineers we were trying to hire, and some of them would have the reaction, “Gee, mainframe technology was what my dad worked on.”
I had a roundtable with some Extreme Blue students, and I asked them about Linux. I found a similar thing with Microsoft technologies, and a lot of these kids, they say, “Thats what my parents generation worked on. I want to work on Linux.”
eWEEK: What kind of technology announcements can we look for this year?
Zollar: We think the world is moving toward integration. How collaborative technologies can integrate into business processes like CRM — thats what people are calling contextual collaboration. For example: If you have a telephone contact center person who is pulling up a customer record, wouldnt it be nice to know if people who know the account are online at that minute? Thats an example of embedding collaboration into a business process.
eWEEK: How about supply chain?
Zollar: You may want to set up a collaborative place where RFP materials can be sent. Thats what our QuickPlace product provides.
In product lifecycle management, the engineering team may need to talk to the manufacturing team in a real-time collaborative setting to see if a wonderful idea being designed in a product can actually be built. Were working with hosters and portal providers to include these capabilities.
eWEEK: Can we expect partnership announcements with, say, SAP and PeopleSoft?
Zollar: You can certainly believe we are talking to those guys and that we want the result to be value that we can deliver to customers.
With the Web services standards that are evolving, its great to have relationships with these vendors. If the vendor is conforming to standards, then its much easier to integrate our software with their products.