Tuesday, September 1, 1998

Will the real groupware please stand up?

The second coming of groupware: intranets, extranets, and e-commerce

Lotus made pioneering efforts with the concept of business-to-business collaborative computing through Lotus Notes. However, with the Internet and World Wide Web explosion of the mid 90's, the rapidly moving marketplace threatened to leave Lotus almost at the starting line. Lotus moved quickly to incorporate web technology into Domino and recreate it as web server and publishing platform. As a web server, Domino offers the power of workflow and the Notes development environment, which make it an excellent platform for intranet and extranet web development. Unfortunately, the server architecture and proprietary database technology and development tools have prevented Domino from becoming a mainstream Internet web server platform.

What Lotus did right was recognize that no proprietary system could compete with the Web and moved quickly to extend Notes and Domino to embrace it. As a web server platform, Domino gives customers the best of both worlds: the power of Notes and Domino as a collaborative computing environment and the flexibility, accessibility, and openness of the Web. Another thing that Lotus did right was identify the e-commerce opportunity and move to make Domino a powerful e-commerce engine.

The new groupware: knowledge management

While traditional collaborative computing and messaging, business process reengineering, and the Web (intranets, extranets, and e-commerce) are all strong markets for Lotus Notes and Domino yet another re-invention of groupware has emerged in the past two years: knowledge management.

Unlike traditional collaborative computing applications, however, knowledge management focuses on collecting, processing, managing, and distributing corporate information, including information about business processes. In practice this is not different from the kinds of Notes applications that existed under the business process reengineering model of groupware, but knowledge management doesn't necessarily imply changes in business processes and is much easier to sell. Regardless of how well Domino fares in the Web arena, there will be a place for it in knowledge management.

So what's next?

Lotus Notes and Domino evolved in four major phases (collaborative computing, business process reengineering, the Web, and knowledge management). Domino currently occupies at least four distinct market positions. This can make Domino difficult to define and it can be difficult for customers to understand what it is and how they can benefit from it. Nonetheless, the installed base of Lotus Notes and Domino is growing and its rapid evolution towards Internet standards-based technologies promises to make it more powerful, scaleable. flexible, accessible, and extensible in the future.

The primary value for Lotus Notes and Domino remains providing integrated IT infrastructures on corporate networks. There is an opportunity for small and medium-sized companies to benefit from Lotus Notes and Domino but, contrary to Lotus' optimism, this market will not significantly grow because customer requirements tend to be simple, IT resources are generally tight, and application development budgets are almost non-existent. These customers expect to utilize off-the-shelf products that their existing IT staff can install, configure, and manage alongside other systems. Lotus also faces stiff competition and cutthroat pricing among these Wintel oriented customers.