Identifying IBM Lotus channel opportunities

Orlando – Social networking was front and centre at IBM’s annual Lotusphere conference in Orlando happening this week, and IBM’s Lotus channel chief believes they’re getting the right model in place to help partners capitalize on the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business opportunity.

In an interview with CDN, Timothy E. Kounadis, director, worldwide channel SMB marketing, IBM Lotus Software, said portals and mashups are an important business opportunity that IBM and Lotus are investing strongly in today because, even in a tightening business environment, companies will still invest in outward-facing applications to maintain links to their customers.

Launched at Lotusphere, LotusLive is IBM’s play for the online, enterprise-class social collaboration market, echoing in name at least rival Microsoft’s more SMB-focused Office Live play.

LotusLive is a cloud-based integrated portfolio of social networking and collaboration services tailored for business that will be offered in a hosted, software-as-a-service model. Various versions and bundles of LotusLive services will be rolled-out during 2009, tailored to specific verticals and markets. The first offering, expecting to ship in March, is dubbed Engage and includes Web meeting, network, instant messaging, file sharing, charts, forms and activities tools.

Kounadis said he sees three distinct opportunities for the channel with LotusLive. One is to resell the software though IBM’s Passport Advantage program. Under the revenue model IBM has developed, for making the sale the reseller with get both a percentage of the ongoing subscription revenue and the maintenance revenue. And rather than receive the subscription revenue on a recurring monthly basis, Kounadis said partners will get their share of 12 months worth of SaaS revenue per customer from IBM up front.

“There’s a lot more work to do with SaaS and how the channel plays, but we had a roundtable with partners at Lotusphere and it seems (this revenue model) is really going to meet their needs,” said Kounadis.

The second channel opportunity revolves around ISVs working with IBM to develop applications to run on top of and within LotusLive. Long-term, an “app-store” approach will allow reseller and integration partners to chose from a catalogue of tested and integrated third-party partner LotusLive applications tailored to specific verticals.

And third, systems integration partners will have a role to play, with IBM seeing many customers wanting to run both SaaS and on-premise solutions, and needing an SI partner to integrate LotusLive with their Lotus Notes and Domino implementations.

Whether its online or on-premise at its heart its still Lotus, and there will still be a strong channel opportunity said president Eric Houvenaghel. Ytria is a Montreal-based partner that develops tools for Notes developers and most of its employees are, like Houvenaghel, former Notes consultants.

“We’re seeing a lot of new stuff at Lotusphere, and there’s always a lot of hype, but underneath it all Notes is still there,” said Houvenaghel. He adds while companies such as Google and Microsoft are working on collaboration solutions, IBM’s legacy of business-class solutions gives it an advantage pitching SaaS to the enterprise. “Google is nice, lots of hype, but Google is about end users. Microsoft tried to go to the business side, but missed some steps I would say. If you’re looking for something durable and strong to handle corporate needs, I think IBM is the way to go.”

That’s an observation that’s echoed by David Tebbutt, an analyst with Freeform Dynamics in New Milton, England. Tebutt said one area where IBM has a leg-up on its competitors in this space, particularly the pure-play SaaS vendors, is its corporate reputation for longevity, stability, and security.

“If Google says we’ve got these social apps and they’re secure, people will ask, do we really trust these guys with our business, are they really secure?” said Tebutt.

“However, if IBM says they do then for most people it’s a given, you feel a lot safer with them.”

The recently launched 8.5 release of Lotus Notes and Domino is important for the channel, said Kounadis, in part because of the support for XPages, which he calls an evolutionary approach in the creation of applications for Notes and Domino that allows applications to be created for both the Web and on-premises at once, as well as go back and update older application for the Web.

“Partners can go into accounts and move them along to 8.5, and as they do start talking about the richness of the portfolio and how in many ways Lotus is becoming a social networking experience, and how services can be coupled on-top” said Kounadis.

Other partner opportunities will be around the upcoming release of the next edition of Lotus SameTime, IBM’s unified communications and collaboration platform. Kounadis said partners with Nortel, Avaya, Shortel and Cisco skills will find success plugging-in Sametime to shop-floor and other point applications to help connect those workers with experts more quickly. As well the Lotus Foundations Start appliance offering, built on technology from IBM’s acquisition of Markham, Ont.-based Net Integration, is a 100 per cent channel play that combines Notes and Domino and now includes a VMware hypervisor.

“In 2009, you’ll see us putting greater focus on partners that drive value and add value to our portfolio as opposed to strictly reselling the portfolio,” said Kounadis. “We think a loyal partner that’s well-enabled is a partner we’re comfortable with driving more business to.”

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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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