CEO Describes the Lotus Position

CIO Canada spoke with Lotus CEO Jeff Papows during his recent visit to Toronto, and asked him about the past, present and future issues facing his company.

CIO:Lotus has stated that much of its future effort will be centred on knowledge management and distance-learning — why is that?

Papows: We first used the term knowledge management at Lotusphere two years ago. At the time, Microsoft somewhat genuinely criticized us as having invented another word to replace groupware, because knowledge management was then, and to some degree is still today, kind of an amorphous term.

What we’ve been doing for the past several years is laying this infrastructure in place in companies where their Web topology is about second-generation message and scheduling systems intersecting with their Web application capability as a platform. And that’s replacing host- and file sharing-based mail systems. But at the end of the day, it’s pretty expensive mail. The real ROI comes as you go up the value chain on that topology.

So the vision from the very early point in time was that document management, enterprise workflow planning, expertise location, more extensible sources for discovery capabilities and then ultimately on-line learning or distributed learning would be the killer applications that we build on top of this Web-based mail and application topology.

Now, a couple years later, the term knowledge management has a lot more resonance than it did then. I think at the end of the day what we’re dealing with is basically technology that’s designed to make companies more competitively responsible. That’s really all it’s done. It’s knowing what you know in a timely enough way to be advantageous.

CIO:Looking back, what are your thoughts about the delays that dogged the release of Notes Release 5 (R5)?

Papows: R5 was one of these holy-grail releases where we got our eyes a little bigger than our stomach and we were about 120 days late getting that to market, which in the context of our industry is not all that protracted but for us it was a mess that you hope you learn from.

I was quite open about it because I was determined to wait until we had a quality product. I think our industry’s got itself a black eye at times by shipping sort of quality software and unwittingly or deliberately subjecting our customer base to that product-laboratory process. And it’s not an intelligent thing to do on the scale when we’re shipping products in the tens of millions of units.

Remember, at Lotusphere last year I said, ‘This is unpopular but I need another three or four weeks.’ In reality I needed another six to eight weeks. So not only was it unpopular, it was inaccurate, which I really regretted. But it was very honest and it was the right thing to do.

CIO:Given that, what’s the status of the next release of Notes, R-Next?

Papows: It remains to be seen what the timeline looks like. The big question is whether you put out a 5.x release immediately following the Windows Platinum releases for both technical and competitive reasons and follow that with an R6, or whether you can rush [R6] and not go through the potential of productivity loss that comes with a 5.x release before R6. And that decision is yet to be made. It’s completely possible we’ll put out a 5.4 release or a 5.5 release.

But R-Next is going to deal with optimization for Windows 2000 because we’re very Microsoft-centric, and we have to be. So because Windows 2000 has been a bit of a moving target, there’s a lot of work going on there.

Beyond that, there will be a continued focus on scalability and reliability. We have customers who measure their Notes installations in hundreds of thousands of units. It’s a bit like being a hamster on a wheel — we’re perennially running to stay ahead of the scalability and reliability concerns of our customers with ever-increasingly large deployments, whether it’s Daimler-Benz or IBM or General Motors that are anywhere between 300,000 to 400,000 units apiece.

CIO:What’s your biggest headache these days?

Papows: My biggest worry is the pending explosion in this pervasive computing model I think we’re going to be dealing with. In the Web era, in this age of e-commerce where your IT infrastructure is your direct contact with your customer, as the plethora of handheld computing devices adds to the volume of PCs, if we take our eye off the ball from either a standard’s perspective or from a reliability or scalability standpoint, we could slow this whole Web-based phenomenon down.

My fear is we’re going to get lost in our own hype, read too many of our own press releases, forget about all the block-and-tackling hard work required to keep pace with the explosions of the volumes of information that we’re going to have to manage in a more complex typology with a range of computing devices.