Lotus debuted the long-awaited version 6 of its Domino and Notes messaging platform Tuesday, emphasizing a new focus on real-time communications and collaborative abilities.
IBM's Lotus Software division also released Sametime v3.0, an update to its instant messaging and online meeting software, and Quickplace 3.0, a team collaborative tool.
At the launch event in Cambridge, Mass., IBM also announced the creation of a new e-learning product, Learning Space -- Virtual Classroom, which represents the merger of its Quickplace and Sametime technologies.
"The collaborative technology is a big win for us," says Jeff Wright, manager of e-learning at Ryder, the transportation and trucking giant. "Ryder may conduct more than 750,000 training events a year. The savings in travel costs alone would be dramatic. We've been flying people all across the world for training."
Wright says Ryder has standardized on IBM's instant messaging technology, rather than allowing workers to download various free systems from Yahoo!, AmericaOnline or MSN.
"Day to day, I leave instant messenger on all the time," says Wright. "I use it to collaborate four to five times a day. People may be working remotely or traveling, and this is a great way to locate them and get work done."
Dropping the instant messaging components into Notes and Outlook is a key part of the upgrade, according to Scott Cooper, vice president of Lotus Solutions. The combination allows a user working on a spreadsheet, for instance, to see if the other authors of the document are online by the presence of a color icon beside their name.
"When I see someone's name on the document and I can see right there that their available online, I can IM with them and ask them questions or confer," says Cooper.
That's a key feature, according to Mark Levitt, research vice president for collaborative computing at IDC, an analyst firm based in Framingham, Mass.
"The benefit of componentization is enabling companies to deliver to the user exactly the functionality he needs," says Levitt. "If someone is working on a document and they have a question, wouldn't it be great if they could see right there who is online to help them? Then they could IM that person with a question or invite them to collaborate on the document at the same time."
Industry watchers say IBM's timing may be right with its real-time messaging emphasis.
Huge Growth Seen in Enterprise IM
IM is taking its place on the corporate desktop. IDC estimates that the global instant messaging market will increase more than 10-fold in the next three years, going from $18.4 million in 2002 to $229.2 million in 2005. IDC also projects that the amount of money companies pay for IM is expected to growing, jumping from $133 million this year to $1.1 billion in 2005.
Notes and Domino v6 also provide enhanced spam filtering, enhanced calendaring, and tighter integration with existing infrastructures and inbox management.
The e-mail management is designed to color-code messages in a user's inbox based on the sender's name or affiliation. That way an e-mail from the boss would be easily distinguished from an e-mail from a vendor.
In addition, a technology IBM calls Swift File is aimed at providing users with an 'intelligent' assistant that will file incoming emails in folders based on the user's habits. IBM's Cooper says Big Blue hasn't gauged Swift File's accuracy rate, but he estimates it places his e-mail in various folders 90 percent of the time. He notes, however, that its accuracy depends on the amount of information in the e-mail.
Marlo Foltz, manager of e-school development at Credit Union National Association in Madison, Wisc., says his organization has been using Lotus' Sametime software for its virtual classroom, which serves the trade association's 300 staffers and 10,000 credit union members around the country.
"It helps us save time and money," says Foltz. "But it really helps us help our member credit unions. They can attend schools and access instructors they otherwise wouldn't have contact with ... The real-time and collaborative aspects of it make it feel more like a traditional face-to-face classroom. Students can be live with instructors and other participants, so we find more people logging on. It keeps them engaged so we are seeing more repeaters."
Even with these feature enhancements, will enterprises actually be upgrading anytime soon?
The economy is showing few stable signs of improvement, IT budgets have been slashed and so many IT workers have been laid off that many IS organizations do not have the manpower to handle a major upgrade.
But IDC's Levitt says it may make financial sense for some companies to upgrade.
"With the Domino 6 release, there's the message that if you upgrade there's less administrative headaches and you can reduce the number of servers," explains Levitt. "It could lower your costs. I believe customers need to evaluate that claim and see if they have too many servers running. It's going to be different for every company. It's worth investigating."