Lotus targets workers without permanent workstations

IBM Corp.’s Lotus division last month released an entry-level corporate e-mail software package targeting “deskless” users.

Lotus Workplace Messaging (LWM) is a Web-based offering that allows organizations to extend enterprise e-mail to users currently without a dedicated workspace or e-mail access.

“What Workplace Messaging does is it essentially rounds out a portfolio of messaging products that is available from IBM Lotus. It now allows the factory workers, the retail clerks and the bank tellers – [the] people that don’t have a dedicated workspace and are generally unserved users of communication – [to have access to e-mail] within a company,” said Westford, Mass.-based John Caffrey, manager of messaging solutions with IBM Lotus.

These types of employees tend to send and receive a lower volume of messages compared to traditional office workers, the company said in a statement.

IBM is quick to point out how the solution will be cost-effective for companies who deploy the offering.

At a suggested retail price of US$29 per user, IBM said in many configurations the three-year license cost for LWM may fall below US$1 per user per month.

Caffrey said the savings for the organization fit into hard and soft dollar savings. For example, “companies can save money because they no longer have to print out and use the postal service to deliver e-mail information like pay stubs or benefits statements,” Caffrey said. “They don’t have to hire people to go around and post stuff on bulletin boards because they can now use the infrastructure, or the extension of that infrastructure to contact and communicate with everyone within the organization.”

Caffrey also said the service can give employees a psychological boost by providing people with e-mail access, who didn’t have access before.

Pricing and packaging includes IBM WebSphere Application Server, IBM DB2 Universal Database, and IBM LDAP directory. The software is Web-based and is accessible through the browser of any POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) e-mail client.

The offering, which supports several languages, currently supports Windows 98 and Windows 2000 on the desktop and Windows 2000 and AIX on the server. Caffrey said it doesn’t yet support Windows Server 2003.

It also offers auto provisioning, which means the administrator could enter an individual user into the LDAP directory, via WebSphere, and access to e-mail is provided, Caffrey said.

“For example, someone who’s familiar with administering a Domino environment, [the LWM] is not going to be that dissimilar to them,” Caffrey added.

San Francisco-based David Ferris, president of Ferris Research, said it’s difficult to gauge how the new offering will do within the market.

He said, on average, about 30 per cent of business people don’t use e-mail today. These are the people without a desktop who work on a production line.

“The argument goes, and I think it’s correct, that at some point those people will have e-mail that is provided by their organization. So there is an opportunity there and that is what Lotus is trying to address,” Ferris said.

The question is that of timing, he added.

Ferris said Lotus and Microsoft Corp. are the two main suppliers to businesses of e-mail systems. “The fact that one of these two players, mainly Lotus, is offering a product that is specifically aimed at those folks may very well cause that market to open up.”

The LMV also fits in line with other fully equipped messaging products currently offered by Lotus, which include the Lotus Notes suite and the Lotus iNotes Web access products, Caffrey said.

He said the main difference between the various products is that the newest addition basically only offers mail access, and is therefore a scaled down version of both the Lotus Notes suite and the Lotus iNotes Web access products.

The Lotus Notes suite “offers a rich, high-fidelity user interface with access to lots of workflow-based applications and is just a rich experience,” Caffrey said. iNotes “offers some of the same workflow capability, calendaring and e-mail support, but also offers access via the browser.”

Caffrey said Lotus might offer a personal calendar option in the next release, which he added is likely expected in Q4 this year.

IBM Software Services for Lotus provides additional support, including technical services for installation configuration, knowledge transfer and capacity and network bandwidth planning around the new offering, IBM said.

LWM is now available worldwide.