Lotus tries to build new SMB Foundations

ORLANDO – With the Orlando Philharmonic playing Fanfare for the common man in the background, Mike Rhodin, general manager of IBM Lotus Software, announced the division’s biggest channel move to date.

Rhodin admitted to the more than 7,500 attendees at the 15th annual Lotusphere conference, held here, that it was difficult for smaller organizations to take advantage of what Lotus has to offer.

With that, IBM Lotus released Lotus Foundations, a line of small business software servers intended to be on-premise solutions that will predominately go through the channel. Also part of the channel offering is a managed beta of a Web-delivered services, code named Bluehouse. Bluehouse extranet services, in combination with Linux-based Lotus Foundations server, will be packaged as a collaboration tool for SMBs.

Shipping later this year, Lotus Foundations will have pre-loaded versions of the Domino mail and collaboration platform, file management, directory services, firewall, back-up and recovery, and office productivity tools from the old Lotus Smart Suite package in a small form factor box that actually fits inside a manila envelope.

Lotus Foundations will initially be under IBM’s Express Advantage program of products, which has been targeted at the SMB for a number of years.

Rhodin believes system integrators and ISVs will integrate their new or existing applications into the Foundations platform that can be installed in 30 minutes.

He and the Lotus team are still working on the margin structure for the offering as pricing has not yet been set. Rhodin said there will be margins to be had and that the division would be aggressive against Microsoft SBS.

Rhodin estimates there are 64 million customers in the SMB segment and IBM could not begin to touch each one. “This is why we need to get the margins right.”

Rhodin added that the end user strategy with Lotus Foundations is for it to not to be technically complex, but autonomic so that it can self heal on its own. IBM Lotus’s division, which acquired Toronto’s Net Integration last month for an undisclosed amount, said this announcement would not have been possible without Net Integration in the fold. Its Nitix product is a self-healing autonomic solution.

Rhodin would not pinpoint how many channel partners would touch Lotus Foundations from the outset, but did say that all of Net Integrations partner base, which is more than 2,600 partners, are ready for it today.

“We know the bulk of the activity work will be with external partners,” said Rhodin. “SMBs don’t deal with big business. They deal with business of the same size and they build relationships with them.”

The Bluehouse Web-service will enable users to share contacts, files, project activities, chat and set up Web meetings. The strategy behind Bluehouse is for SMBs to communicate beyond their boundaries, Rhodin said. Bluehouse is available today as a limited beta offering.

“Project Bluehouse is a new set of extras in an SaaS model for companies less than 500 employees,” Rhodin said.

It is Rhodin’s personal belief that the Web-based services models such as SaaS will evolve and that the current advertising model is not sustainable.

“You have to come up with options for SMBs to get work done. With Bluehouse, there is a great proposition for business partners to work on integrating on a regional system integrator level. They can add value around the Foundations package itself and be part of the distribution,” he said.

RIM shot

Waterloo, Ont.-based Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM) furthered its partnership with IBM’s software division at Lotusphere.

RIM will unveil Lotus-branded Connections social software on all of its Blackberry devices, starting with the Curve this year. Lotus Connections is IBM’s social networking platform for business that was unveiled at last year’s show.

IBM approached RIM more than a year ago about the social networking possibilities for Blackberry devices.

“We realized that a mobile client is important and we have mutual customers and more and more folks in organizations are becoming mobile by definition,” said David Heit, director, product management for RIM.

The problem is that, in the market currently, mobile users are inundated with e-mail, Heit added. During a work day, e-mail correspondence can lead to more than 400 e-mails being sent and received. Lotus Connections brings another way to collaborate, linking into a community of users where they can discuss topics on the fly and share data.

“I view this as an important step in how we evolve with one another,” Heit said. “E-mail is not dead, but how do I supplement it in a business context will be the new question.”

Tom Papagiannopolis, Lotus brand executive for IBM Software, based in Winnipeg, said with Lotus Connections and the RIM Blackberry device you now have the ability to be part of a community and be mobile.

“You don’t have to deal with 400 e-mails a day. You can post information and you do not have to be touched hundreds of times,” Papagiannopoulos said.

Heit believes that this joint solution will end up growing channel business for long time partners of IBM.

“This is a complex space for the channel. When RIM was 400 people or so we still had a fairly integrated solution with software and the device. When people bought into RIM, they bought a total solution,” Heit said.

The initial channel model was RIM would OEM it to the carrier providers. As the business grew for RIM, a lot of other channels became interested and the company formed distribution relationships with the likes of Ingram Micro Canada.

“What we found was that VARs and SIs had exclusive relationships with companies such as IBM and the carriers. They brought it all together,” he said.

Today, RIM has a multi-distribution channel model where VARs have risen in importance.

At the show, for example, solution providers such as ISEC7 out of Hamburg, Germany has developed a monitoring and management solution, called B*Nator, for the Blackberry that enables remote access to Blackberry smartphones.

Trevor Nimegeers, the president of CEO of Calgary-based solution provider Kryos Systems, believes the RIM/IBM partnership with Lotus Connections is a good move for the channel. Kryos has strategic partnership with both companies.

“We look at it as a way to build our business from a collaboration perspective,” Nimegeers said.

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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