Lotus ponders KM future

Seeking to bolster its position in the deflated KM (knowledge management) segment, IBM Corp.’s Lotus Software is going back to its collaboration roots.

At a time when Microsoft Corp. is touting the forthcoming collaboration capabilities of .Net and its deepening ties to Groove Networks Inc., Lotus is feeling the pressure to weave a cohesive KM and collaboration story and exploit IBM’s Web services framework throughout its product stack.

With Notes/Domino 6.0 expected to ship next month after a long public beta cycle, Lotus is looking to emphasize its dominance of the enterprise knowledge life cycle process, from creation and organization, to distribution through portals, messaging, and e-learning.

“We find a lot of customers losing interest in [knowledge management] as a term, [but] the fact of the matter is we’ve still been building the same technologies,” said Lotus CEO Al Zollar.

Despite the confusion about definitions, Zollar claimed that Lotus Discovery Server’s ability to spider content from all over the Web is delivering the type of content management customers are seeking.

Attempting to re-invigorate its offerings, Lotus this year released new versions of Discovery Server, Extended Search, and its Domino.Doc document management and workflow product.

Lack of corporate interest in KM had seen IBM break up what was known as the Lotus Discovery System, combining the K-Station portal with IBM’s WebSphere Portal, and refocusing the Discovery Server on its core search and taxonomy capabilities.

Today, Lotus executives report the company plans to create more linkages between its stand-alone KM lineup and its Lotus Notes platform, its e-meetings software, and IBM’s stack of offerings including its database and portal.

Also on the horizon are plans to release an upgrade to Lotus’ SameTime Instant Messaging platform. Although timing details have not been confirmed, Zollar said upgrades will include better group administration of buddy lists.

At the same time, Zollar said Lotus is driving to embed collaboration as an API inside enterprise applications.

“Online awareness and e-meetings [will] be consumed inside of CRM applications, taking advantage of the latest Web technologies as well as Web services,” Zollar said.

The Domino.Doc 3.5 release began the path toward this type of application collaboration with email integration capabilities designed to allow Notes or Microsoft Outlook users to drag and drop email attachments into the document management system.

Down the road, Lotus plans to offer KM functions, such as locating an expert, as Web services in WebSphere Portal.

“Where we are finding more successful adoption of KM is where people can relate it to business process and leverage capabilities as part of that,” said Antony Satyadas, knowledge discovery business leader at Lotus. “Where does an individual spend most of their time? In a portal, or a QuickPlace, or e-mail. We want to create a balance between those.”

To that end, Lotus and other vendors in the space are pushing their KM technologies in step with more tangible functions, such as collaboration and search.

“In KM, we’ve seen a big movement toward collaboration. If you can’t get people to work together you can’t get them to share what they know,” said Dan Rasmus, vice-president and research leader at Giga Information Group Inc. in Aliso Viejo, Calif.

Furthermore, corporations are no longer talking about using end-to-end enterprise KM, Rasmus continued. “What they do talk about is getting products to market faster, and [buying] collaboration and search to help with that.”

In fact, Lotus’ KM strengths could be a boon for the Lotus/IBM Web services play, as context and specific knowledge of users and devices becomes more critical, according to Guy Creese, research director at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston.

“Part of the trick of Web services is getting smarter about what you pass around, and that means having more intelligence about users, devices, and content,” Creese said. “Web services implies context, and that requires people to get more savvy at knowing who the content is for, the [person’s] preferences, and what device [he or she is using].”

A KM application could determine where a user is and sends the right information at the right time, Creese said. “It is able to parcel out the information more appropriately.”

– With files from Mark Jones and Steve Gillmor, IGD News Service