IBM growing partner capacity in portal space

OrlandoIBM Lotus Software is banking on more enterprises turning to portal technology to help employees collaborate or to connect with suppliers or customers. However, there’s not always a solution provider available to help with portal development solutions.

In an interview with CDN at IBM’s annual Lotusphere conference, Larry Bowden, vice-president, portals and mashups software group with IBM, said the largest IBM partners in the portal space are largely sold-out, and are operating at capacity, leaving a sizeable market opportunity untapped.

While the final year-end numbers are still being crunched, Bowden said IBM grew its portal business between 20 to 60 per cent this year, and in this space the challenge is finding people and partners with the right level of skill to complete the project with high quality.

“When we get our best partners engaged we do very well,” said Bowden. “Nurturing and growing the skills in that partner network is a priority.”

The challenge, he said, is that customers do some very complex things with portals. It can get complicated, and a high-level of programming skill is needed to drive a successful implementation. And portals are becoming increasingly mission critical, and outward facing. Portals are becoming a tool to engage customers and drive customer loyalty, and according to Bowden 75 per cent of IBM’s WebSphere implementations are now customer-facing portals.

“If you fail to differentiate your business on the Web and to engage your customers, you business will disappear,” said Bowden.

One solution to building channel capacity in the portal space is assisting skill development. Bowden said IBM is also seeking to both enable greater business collaboration and allow partners to play in a lower end of the portal market by developing mashups and iWidget standards. With the new technologies, partners without higher-end WebSphere skillsets to play in the portal space.

“You can get down to Oracle and SAP integration and the skill level necessary to build a widget is way down…almost anyone coming-out of high school can build these,” joked Bowden. “We expect skill level to go away (as a barrier) in three to four years.”

And while mashups and widgets may require a lower skill level, that’s not to mean there’s not good money to be made by the channel if partners get the business value right, said Bowden. It’s a faster implementation, allowing partners to do more business with the same resources. And the key, he added, is to monetize based on the value to the business.

“Partners can make very good cash off of this, even more than (the higher-end) portal, if their business model is right,” said Bowden. “If they charge by the hour they won’, but if they charge based on value, they definitely will.”

Mashups are also changing the development of enterprise portals by enabling departmental business users greater say in the creation of their portal applications, said Bowden. IT can watch what they develop and see what is most popular with end-users, bringing in targeted resources to harden and improve the successful applications.

That’s an observation echoed by Michael Hastle, a solution director with Prolifics. An IBM business partner based in Chadds Ford, Pa., Prolifics specializes in WebSphere portal development and implementation.

Prolifics considers itself a high-end partner that has built a solid business driving business value for its clients around WebSphere portal technology, but Hastle said they’ve also been active in the mashup space and agree with IBM’s increasing focus in the area.

“I think that’s where the industry is increasingly going, and we’re already there,” said Hastle. “And the direction is being increasingly driven by users, who set the direction and we enable them to set their direction often without getting IT involved. It’s a real paradigm shift.”

Monetizing SaaS, and new product releases.

In other Lotusphere news, IBM and SAP announced the fruits of their Project Atlantic collaboration by launching Alloy, their first joint software product. Alloy connects Lotus Notes and SAP Business Suite, allowing users access to SAP backend data and applications through their Lotus Notes environment. Also, LotusLive, formerly Bluehouse, has been launched as the portal for IBM’s cloud-based portfolio of social networking and collaboration tools, including e-mail, collaboration and Web conferencing, and partnerships with Skype, LinkedIn and Salesforce.com.

SaaS is increasingly important for IBM Lotus and in a press conference at Lotusphere, Bob Picciano, general manager, IBM Lotus Software, said building-out new offerings he’s always mindful of the need to look at channel requirements and how partners can participate.

Monetizing on SaaS, said Picciano, is still a challenge for the channel.

“In order for our channel partners to be successful we need to give them the opportunity to add their own unique value, and maybe their own branding as well,” said Picciano.

Mobilzing Lotus on the BlackBerry

The other major announcement at Lotusphere on Monday revolved around the BlackBerry. On the 10th anniversary of the launch of the made in Canada smartphone, Research in Motion CEO Jim Balsillie was on hand to launch a new round of Lotus compatability and functionality for the BlackBerry platform.

With the growth in wireless mobility, and increasing mobile access to business data coupled with increasingly rich multimedia capabilities, Balsillie said he believes we’re on the precipice of a quantum paradigm shift. He added that, in an era where businesses are under pressure to both save money and increase productivity at the same time – seemingly an impossibility – mobilizing business applications may be the answer.

Picciano agreed there’s a paradigm shift happening with employees spending less and less time in the office.They still need to be productive, and have quick and seamless access to their business data.

“The answer is to provide more and more sophisticated applications optimized for the mobile environment,” said Picciano, adding the access device should be seamless when it comes to accessing needed business information.

Lotus already offers a degree of BlackBerry compatibility, but the announcements at Lotusphere take that a step further by enabling mobile access to Lotus Symphony documents, launching Lotus Quickr Web 2.0-based team software to help users find, share and edit business content mobily, and enhancing Lotus Connections to allow access to blogs and communities mobily, and BlackBerry platform support for Lotus Domino Designer and XPages will enable XPages developers to write a rich application once for use on both the Web and the BlackBerry. The Symphony and Connections enhancements will be available in the second quarter, and the others in the second half of 2009.

As well, BlackBerry Storm support for Lotus Notes, Domino and Sametime was recently announced, as was a BlackBerry Client for Sametime, which enables the presence and awareness features of Sametime on the BlackBerry.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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