In keeping with the New Year theme, it was out with the old and in with the new at the Lotusphere user conference. Indeed, 10,000 Lotus users turned up in balmy Orlando to witness the figurative passing of the torch from current CEO Jeff Papows to successor Al Zollar, a 23-year IBM veteran.
Marking an apparently cordial transition, Papows said he’ll be around until Q2, and that his decision has nothing to do with lingering questions surrounding his biography, distributed by Lotus, which included questionable references to his education and military record. “There’s been a ridiculous amount of attention on everything from my relationship with my parents to the veracity of my hobbies,” he said. “We live in an age when prominent people in this industry get the fishbowl attention that entertainers do. But that had nothing to do with it. It was entirely my decision to leave.”
Papows said he wants to lead an independent company, although no details were announced.
Zollar’s previous roles include general manager of IBM’s network computing software division and senior vice-president of development for IBM’s Tivoli unit. He said he jumped at the opportunity to lead Lotus. “I believe I’m bringing a lot of experience in engineering, marketing and sales to the table.”
Some pundits see the appointment of Zollar as another indication that Lotus is becoming more tightly integrated with IBM. Richard Morochove, a conference attendee and Toronto-based president of consulting firm Morochove & Associates Inc., said his biggest impression from the conference was one that wasn’t announced. “IBM is increasing its control of Lotus. When it was acquired in ’95, it operated as a pretty independent company. But yellow is turning blue.”
But John M. Thompson, senior vice-president at IBM Corp., stressed Lotus will continue to be run with separate sales, development, marketing and service teams. “Lotus is a critical part of IBM’s business strategy,” he said.
Of note, there were 2.2 million Lotus Notes users when IBM acquired the company. There are now reportedly in excess of 56 million.
Papows also announced support for Microsoft Outlook as an alternate messaging client to Domino. “We believe we have a technically-superior offering, but I also believe Microsoft has a relevant one.”
John Thomson, executive vice-president of consulting services for United Systems Solutions in Toronto, said the integration of Outlook and Domino is significant as it lets his company offer a solution that’s “technically agnostic,” allowing customers to choose whichever client best serves them.
A hot topic at Lotusphere this year was knowledge management, particularly pertaining to an upcoming knowledge management suite code-named Raven. Beta-testing will start this spring, while the finished product is expected to ship by mid-year, said Scott Cooper, Lotus vice-president for knowledge management products. When it comes to the battle for knowledge management, “Lotus is an arms provider for consultants,” he said.
The software will include a content catalogue which reads data, summarizes it and discovers relationships; an expertise locator; and a portal-like user interface. It will also pull together a variety of existing Lotus technologies, including the QuickPlace virtual team room and the SameTime real-time collaboration software.
Raven reportedly supports only Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 5.0 as a browser, although Lotus representatives said some customers have asked for Netscape support. However, IE 5.0 includes support for DHTML, which enables Raven’s drag-and-drop functionality, among other things.
Of course, there are still corporate and cultural KM barriers to overcome, as not all workers are incented to share expertise or resources. IBM’s Thompson said more people will want to use KM once they see others benefiting from it. He said he’s seen that at IBM, where there are now 100,000 users of SameTime, sending 2.5 million messages per day.
Julie Zutz is KM coordinator for Keane Inc., a US$1 billion IT services firm in Edina, Minn., that started a pilot project in November 1998, expanding it extensively in Q1 1999. Ultimately, the effort returned quicker proposal development, an improved status as an employer, plus shortened plans for build, manage and delivery cycles, she said.
Zutz said adopting KM is 70 per cent a matter of people practices and only 30 per cent about technology.
David Goldes, managing director of New York-based research and consulting firm The Basex Group, defined knowledge management as “classification, dissemination and categorization of information and people throughout an organization so as to make it purposeful for those who need it.”
Jonathan Spira, senior managing director at Basex, said Lotus is taking the concept of knowledge management “out of the theoretical. This is perhaps the first all-encompassing knowledge management kit.”
Of course, companies are never ready for change, Spira said. “However, some smart CEOs realize there are beneficial changes, which should be disruptive.”
David Boychuk, PC/LAN specialist, IT services for energy company Sunoco Inc. based in Sarnia, Ont., said he was particularly interested in Lotus’ KM plans. “A lot of people are talking about it, but they just don’t get it,” he said, noting Lotus is the exception, with its focus on documents plus a strategy to manage information about “people, places and things.”
Mac Hollingsworth, a Notes developer for Sunoco, said ideally employees could easily find others with expertise they might be looking for. “If they have a problem, they can find out who is knowledgeable, and who can help.”
Casselman (www.casselman.net) is a freelance technology journalist in Calgary.