From the Lotusphere…

In a surprisingly chilly Orlando, a surprisingly lively Lotusphere is going on this week.  IBM claims attendance is up 2% over a well attended event last year and in an environment when travel to events like this one is down.  That’s a good thing for IBM and the Lotus group, though Lotus loyalists are a fervent bunch and Lotusphere is an annual ritual for many (buttons like the one below, many with numbers much higher than this one, are worn proudly).

A perennial question for IBM is how to grow the market for the Lotus brand outside of this loyal group.  I agree with Mike Gotta from the Burton Group when he says in his pre-Lotusphere post this year:

“IBM needs a message that resonates beyond the “Notes faithful” that attend Lotusphere each year.”

Did I hear that message at Lotusphere?  I think it’s most accurate to say I heard some good attempts, some of which may well pan out but it’s too early to tell.

The most notable of these were IBM’s announcements around LotusLive (formerly known as Project Bluehouse).  LotusLive is a SaaS offering combining the web conferencing capabilities IBM got when it acquired WebDialogs in 2007 with file sharing and some of the social networking capabilities in Lotus Connections.  There’s also the inlusion of “hosted Notes” but the email components of LotusLive are likely to change and expand (especially given IBM’s acquisition of email provider Outblaze last week).

The main problem with LotusLive is that IBM is attempting to position it for two markets simultaneously, a tricky proposition.  On the one hand, it wants LotusLive to appeal to the SMB market, a sector that is definitely “beyond the Notes faithful” and a new market for Lotus.  But it is also positioning LotusLive as an extended collaboration environment for existing enterprise customers that want to collaborate with partners and clients in a secure, private, external environment.  Now these are both real and valid market opportunities, but they are different markets with different requirements and different competitors.  We’ve commented before on the difficulty of selling social software for both internal and external use cases and this will be compounded by the fact that Lotus is not a well established brand in the SMB market.

IBM has also continued to claim traction in the social software market and Lotus Connections is a strong product. The announced 2.5 release will add more capabilities, most notably the wiki that has been lacking to date, and Lotus clearly leads Microsoft in this area.   So far though, Connections seems to be having the biggest impact in the Notes installed base — that’s a good thing, as it’s one more reason for that Notes base to stay on Notes, but it doesn’t necessarily do much to attract new customers to Lotus.  We consistently hear that Lotus Connections is a strong competitor in Notes shops, but seen little elsewhere.

There could be some opportunity to sell Connections coupled with WebSphere Portal for use cases other than classic internal collaboration.  IBM claims adoption outside of the Notes installed base when Connections is tied to Portal but as noted earlier, external “social media” or community software is a fairly different market and one that IBM doesn’t seem to be after all that aggressively at the moment.

Also of note were demos of the latest enhancements to Lotus SameTime, showing that IBM continues to do a good job innovating in the area of on-premise software for real-time communications, another way that it can capture new customers.

The other major announcements at Lotusphere — Alloy, the jointly-developed SAP-Notes integration and extended integration with RIM’s BlackBerry devices — are mostly targeted at that loyal installed base of large customers.  Again, good in terms of keeping that installed base on board and happy, not to mention upselling them additional software but not exactly targeted at bringing new customers to the Lotus brand.

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