James Governor's Monkchips

Lotus Gears Up To Embrace The Web, Rebuild its Developer Story, pwn Social Business

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I was at Connect before Christmas, the annual Software Group meetup for industry analysts that follow IBM. See some coverage here by Coté. IBM’s Software portfolio is insanely big these days, so its hard to know where to start. But some interesting things are afoot.

As Cote says:

“When it comes to pulling in innovation from elsewhere, IBM is one of the quickest and earliest out there: Lotus has sucked in virtually all of the concepts from the Web and Enterprise 2.0 worlds”

He continues:

“Lotus has still been delivering straight-up applications for awhile. Their portfolio is very Enterprise 2.0 heavy now with things way beyond Notes. While there may be a question about how much it costs vs. other offerings, the functionality seems genuinely helpful.”

When Coté describes IBM as quick and early, he means as a big company – but his point is well made. While RedMonk regularly chides IBM for being a little slow to things, in comparison to other elder software firms it moves reasonably fast. As he says – Lotus is about apps. But that won’t cut it as a platform play. Without a strong developer story Lotus can only be a top down big sale item – that is, IBM business as usual. But IBM needs growth in collaboration, from the bottom up, and that means developers. Its been a long time since Lotus had a decent story for developers- arguably since the embedded app server was deprecated, and Lotus took a turn to the heavyweight with WebSphere.

In the meantime, Rational has sucked all of the air supply of the room when it comes when it comes to talking about developer tooling and methods, which is a problem for SWG as a whole. Got a question for an IBM group about software development and they’re pointing you Rational’s way before they even hear what you have to say. However Rational is really a business application rather than a developer tool. Developers don’t choose Rational – bosses do. Rational talks to heavyweight styles of development, such as embedded computing, where failure is not an option, and large scale global distributed software development (the kind of thing IBM is pretty much the only company in the world to do effectively. fwiw).

So you can imagine I was pleased to see a classic consultant slide from Lotus GM Alistair Rennie with a quadrant labeled Developer. Not a moment to soon. IBM needs to dramatically accelerate its attraction to Web developers – and Rational is the wrong tool for the job.

So what kind of language did Rennie use about Lotus and its developer play?

  • Social Business platform design principles
  • web UI (see ibm project vulcan)
  • strong aggregator toolkit
  • mobile first as a design point
  • embedded experience
  • security model from the ground up

Nothing there to scare off a web developer. And what about the standards IBM plans to support with this new approach, code-named Project Vulcan.

  • OpenSocial
  • Oauth
  • SAML
  • CMIS
  • ATOM
  • ActivityStreams
  • HTML5
  • OpenAJAX

Whoa – that’s a laundry list designed to keep a Silicon Valley hipster happy (well, maybe if you took SAML out, anyway). IBM needs to deliver of course- but if it really goes after this stack, packaging up the technologies that developers actually want to use, it could become aspirational in terms of pulling web developers into enterprise work. The winner in any tech wave is the best packager- so far no enterprise company has nailed and packaged the web development wave. SAP is looking at some of the same technologies, but more to improve the SAP user experience than as a platform.

Of course its best not to get carried away. A couple of weeks later I saw a tweet from Stuart Mcintyre about IBM positioning Lotus as its platform for Rapid Application Development and Deployment (RADD). Now while I believe IBM has its strategy in the right place- the 1990s just called and its wants its terminology back… RAD??? And the technology? IBM Lotus Domino platform features XPages technology. Hmmm….

So it seems Lotus is looking to refresh its developer story in a couple of different dimensions. Frankly admitting its wants to be a developer target is a step forward. I will be pushing for the web stack.

So what about this Social Business stuff?

IBM has some great assets there. The Lotus portfolio is surprisingly functional in terms of chatter based apps. But the real kicker for me discovering that Sandy Carter has a new role for 2011 – She is now Vice President IBM Social Business and Collaboration Solutions Sales and Evangelism. If you don’t follow IBM SWG you may not know that Sandy is Steve Mills’ go to person for the job that needs doing, particularly spanning cross party lines. Last year Sandy ran channel sales and IBM’s performance improved by a significant percentage. So she will be working with an already solid Lotus team to drive Social Business in IBM customers.

One more data point – I understand IBM recently poached one of the top UK salespeople from Headshift, a Dachis Group company. Dachis, an Austin-based rollup of Enterprise 2.0 talent has made a fair bit of the running in the Social Business space. Well IBM’s Sauron-like eye is now looking at the same space. In 2011 IBM will tell the enterprise its time to do Social Business. And the enterprise is receptive to the message – you only need to see the adoption of Salesforce Chatter to get a sense for that.

I am going to Lotusphere in a couple of weeks and everything should be somewhat clearer after that. IBM is running a Social Business Industries conference in tandem with the tech show, which is new and pretty cool- looking at things like Open Government. All in all though I am fairly positive about things. And from a disclosure perspective I should point out that we work with Lotus, and I am pretty fired up about helping IBM better serve web developers. We have been pushing for this for a long time.


  1. Woo hoo!!! The excitement around the event is crazy!! Both inside and outside of the company.. It’s making me anxious and I wish I had a fast forward button so that we could start today.

    I hope to cross paths with you at Lotusphere, James. Just 9 more days 😀

    1. Luis – definitely some buzz building. looking forward to it.

      anon coward- you’re not alone in your take.

      stuart – i thank you!

  2. It’s been a painful affair watching ibm mishandle the developer aspect of the lotus portfolio. Actually its been painful for Lotus all over.

    IBM has been suffering double digit declines in revenue from lotus for over 2 years. Some of this is due to the cannibalisation of licenses thru lotusLive and casting developers adrift with no other meaningful offering to existing customers.

    It seems deliberate that ibm had specifically omitted applications and developers in their campaigns and support, contrary to other big players in the same space. The market with a few critical gartner reports, (ppl still buy their crap?), smelling a dead duck, has responded in kind with more migrating to inferior and expensive technology and near zero work on new projects. Ibm has actually been investing in the development technology, they just kept it a secret.

    Ibm has all the nimbleness of a supertanker and hopefully can make the course correction in time before it puts Lotus on the rocks. Yes, the developer story needs some attention.

  3. […] Les mer om hva James Governor skriver på sin blogg. Han skal også delta på Lotusphere og det blir spennende å følge hans skriverier i etterkant av arrangementet. […]

  4. Great post James. I look forward to catching up with you at Lotusphere…

    “So it seems Lotus is looking to refresh its developer story in a couple of different dimensions. Frankly admitting its wants to be a developer target is a step forward. I will be pushing for the web stack.”

    This is a massive step forward. It seems that over the past 5-6 years (since before the IBM Workplace project actually) IBM SWG has been keen to put Lotus into the box marked ‘Messaging and Collaboration’, and deliberately exclude it from any areas that compete head-on with other areas of SWG – data storage and manipulation (Information Management), application development (Rational), application servers (WebSphere) etc.

    This has been fine for new Lotus products such as Connections that fit neatly into that very tight definition, but has left poor Notes/Domino out in the cold competing with Exchange for messaging (and losing unfortunately in what is a saturated and declining market anyway), and unable to be presented as the great platform for application development and application services that it is.

    The Lotus proposition has always been strongest when the messaging and collaboration platform (with its strengths of reliability, security, clustering, platform independence, workflow etc) can be used as a framework for developers to rapidly create their own ‘situational applications’ that deliver real business benefits at low cost and high speed.

    Unfortunately IBM has been its own worst enemy for a very long time, in restricting the Lotus portfolio from being presented in its best light. This has massively harmed it as a brand, and is a significant reason for the decline in profitability that Lotus has seen over the past 2 years.

    I am hoping that the document you mentioned is a stepping stone to IBM stating very publicly at Lotusphere that it is committed to Lotus software (and Notes/Domino specifically) and an application development and application server platform for the future – and then to make this clear to the rest of IBM and to the customer base that this is the case…

  5. […] blog, lotusphere  //  No Comments James Governor of respected analyst firm RedMonk is excited by the direction that Lotus is taking right now, particularly with reference to development […]

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