Lotus strives to appease dissatisfied business partners

Lotus Development Corp. has affirmed that it undertook a corporate reorganization last year in part to better meet the needs of its business partners. But partner companies contacted by Computerworld this week said they’re still waiting see the benefits of that reorganization.

Last week at Lotusphere, the annual conference that the Cambridge, Mass.-based software maker sponsors for its users and business partners, Ken Bisconti was named to the new position of vice president of the Lotus Worldwide Business Partner Organization.

According to Bisconti, Lotus reorganized itself last summer, a few months after IBM Corp. veteran Al Zollar took over as CEO and president. Zollar reorganized the company around business units instead of around technologies – a move that was intended to help business partners, Bisconti said.

Lotus has for years had a partner program in place that has made software available to assist vendors in building value-added software on top of Lotus products like Notes, the e-mail and collaborative application software, and Domino, the server that runs it. The program also puts smaller vendor partners in touch with venture capitalists to help secure funding, Bisconti said.

“The big partners are telling us they need us to understand their business models. Some need us to understand their capital investment needs. They want us to coordinate some of our corporate investment strategy with theirs. They want to work together on sales,” Bisconti said.

However, several partners who spoke with Computerworld expressed dissatisfaction with Lotus’ partnering record.

Cambridge-based IT Factory Inc., Lotus’ largest value-added reseller, said the internal structure at Lotus doesn’t lend itself to supporting partners because there is no system in place to coordinate software development and support. According to IT Factory CEO Lars Johansen, resellers and other partner vendors essentially are left to solve software compatibility problems themselves, even if they have committed much of their company resources to building on top of Lotus products.

What Johansen said publicly was echoed privately by other business partners who said the lack of support is frustrating and added that they are looking for more support.

Bisconti said more is coming. He cited a meeting he had at Lotusphere with a unified messaging vendor.

“We were coordinating what kind of technology they would require – [which] would be delivered in RNext,” he said, referring to the successor to the current Lotus Notes Version R5 due later this year. Bisconti said they also discussed “what things would facilitate their working on an R5 installation.”

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