Lotus ships knowledge discovery system

After nearly a year of delays, Lotus Development Corp. began shipping its Lotus Discovery Server worldwide on Wednesday. The server is the linchpin in Lotus’ knowledge management strategy.

The Discovery Server is intended to uncover links between people, content, and documents throughout an organization. It works in tandem with Lotus K-station, an enterprise portal builder and unified-communications interface. Together, the pair of applications form the Lotus Knowledge Discovery System, which had been code-named “Raven.” Lotus and its parent company, IBM Corp., hope to position the system as the definitive knowledge management product suite.

Research firm International Data Corp. (IDC) estimates that the worldwide knowledge management market will grow from US$1.4 billion in 1999 to $5.4 billion in 2004, with revenue from the software segment of the market eclipsing infrastructure revenue in 2002. International Data Group Inc. the parent company of the IDG News Service owns IDC.

The Discovery Server has been in beta testing for about 18 months, and was originally slated to ship in mid-2000. The project’s scale, complexity, and ever-expanding feature set contributed to the delays, said Scott Cooper, senior vice-president and general manager of Lotus’ knowledge management unit. Lotus’ decision in the middle of last year to split the Knowledge Discovery System into two separate applications, the Discovery Server and K-station, also pushed back the Discovery Server’s launch date.

While K-station works as a stand-alone product and has been available globally since December 2000, the Discovery Server is the system’s core. Akin to a search engine such as Google Inc., the Discovery Server allows users to look for key phrases and browse hierarchical topic trees, but it also takes an active part in creating conceptual links between documents and building knowledge profiles of the system’s users. Over time, it improves those connections.

“We watch the way people interact with the system,” Cooper said. “Higher-quality people and things bubble to the top, lower-quality information bubbles to the bottom.”

The Lotus Knowledge Discovery System will compete with similar products from other leading software firms, including Microsoft Corp.’s soon-to-ship SharePoint Portal Server.

“We have competitors to every piece of this thing,” Cooper said. “But we have taken a very unique, very holistic approach.”

The Discovery Server is available in more than a dozen languages, including Spanish, Dutch, French, Italian, Finnish, and simplified Chinese, Taiwanese and Japanese. Per-user pricing for the Knowledge Discovery System is $395, although actual reseller prices may vary slightly. The K-station is available on its own for $120 per user. The Knowledge Discovery System currently runs on Microsoft Windows NT and Windows 2000. Cooper said Lotus plans to develop versions for other operating systems, including Unix, but does not yet have a timeline for that development.

Lotus, based in Cambridge, Mass., can be reached at http://www.lotus.com/.