Lotus Is Finally A Key Part Of IBM

February 6 2011 10:00:00 AM Comments Disabled
Last week I had the pleasure of attending Lotusphere in Orlando. I've been to almost all of them, and this was my second time attending as a non-IBM employee.  It's a challenging week both physically and emotionally. There is a lot of information to learn and a lot of people to see, with a few occasions to have fun thrown in. I was very excited to be there again this year, but from the moment the show opened something felt different. It took me a while to process it, but I now know what it is...

In June 1995, IBM hostilely acquired Lotus Development Corporation.
In January 2011, IBM publically embraced Lotus as a key component of the IBM Software Group.

For those not deeply entrenched in Lotus/IBM-lore that may not make much sense to you, so let me tell you a little story based on my experiences.

In 1993 I was working at IBM Canada with this unknown program call Lotus Notes (2.1a I believe) to help the Sales team track information about their customers. A year later, IBM acquired Lotus, so this little program I was working with was suddenly an internally owned tool. As one of the few people in the company with Lotus Notes experience, I was moved to a team that was responsible for IBM's internal deployment. This meant I got to travel down to Lotus headquarters in Boston and to the extremely cool Iris offices in Westford. Guess what? No one at Lotus or Iris wanted to have anything to do with us IBMers. Interactions were cold and sometimes even hostile. Fast forward a few years to a time when IBM is using Notes internally for mail, calendar and applications all across the company. At this point I've changed roles and am actually working for Lotus. Surprise, surprise. From inside Lotus it felt like no one in the IBM Software Group wanted to talk to us. IBM Executives were shuffled in and out of Lotus tasked with various business and a technology missions. I'm not going to get into the successes and failures of those years, but I think it is safe to say everyone involved both internally and externally still sports a few battle scars. The IBM-ification never really seemed to work. That left Lotus in a sort of limbo. How did it fit in? What was going to happen to the tools in it's portfolio?

In Orlando the answer was quite clear...

Over the last few years "social software" has become one of the darling markets of the software industry. In order to participate, IBM has had to move Lotus from the sidelines to the headlines. For the first time at Lotusphere executives from other divisions of IBM were in attendance. Leaders from Rational, Tivoli, Cognos and even IBM's internal Marketing and Communication teams shared the stage with their Lotus counterparts. Previous Lotus execs Mike Rhodin and Bob Picciano were there, and not just to sing karaoke. Lotusphere 2011 made it very clear that IBM needs Lotus and Lotus needs IBM.

Years ago I talked about how I wished the brand names would go away completely. Finally the lines are blurring between the brands and technologies from each group are finally being combined. All the divisions of IBM are involved as social features are mixed with analytical tools, cloud storage, compliance and other management tools. So how do you name that? Die-hards in the "yellow bubble" can protest all they want, but I think the best thing for everyone would be to just call it all IBM software. That did not happen this year, but I think it is something everyone should expect at some point.

This Lotusphere also reminded of how "big" IBM is. I don't mean just in number of employees. It's hard to explain, but everywhere I looked things felt complex. Support for lots of devices. Support for lots of industries. This lab, that lab. This team, that team. Cloud this, hybrid that. There are a lot of moving parts. That is not necessarily a bad thing. It's IBM were talking about after all, and some customers require that. But it made me appreciate how different it is working at Socialtext. We're not trying to work with the world's largest companies, instead we're providing solutions for the tens of thousands of mid-size businesses out there. While it is great that IBM is now telling customers to "Get Social", we've been doing it for years. We even integrate with Lotus in several ways, and you'll be hearing more about that soon.

Anyway, before the comments start, I want to point out that I did not mention specific products or technology platforms on purpose. I don't care if something is based on Domino or WebSphere. I don't care if it is stored in NSF or DB2. I don't care if applications are based on OpenSocial or Xpages. I don't have the technical knowledge or the energy to get involved in those religious wars. I'm just reporting how I see things as an outsider, with no previous bias and my eyes open towards the future.

Being at Lotusphere 2011 was wonderful.  It was great to see everyone and I look forward to next year.