IBM intros Lotus cloud suite, partners with Skype, SF.com

IBM has introduced LotusLive, which it describes as a portfolio of integrated Internet-hosted services for social networking and collaboration in workplaces.

LotusLive's Web site is now the portal where all of IBM's Lotus "cloud" offerings are located, including e-mail, collaboration and Web conferencing, IBM announced Monday at its Lotusphere conference in Orlando.

At LotusLive.com, organizations can find a suite of hosted collaboration and communication services designed to be easy to use and adopt, without requiring a hefty IT investment, IBM said.

Built on open standards, LotusLive is designed to allow for simple integration with third-party applications. It features a "click to cloud" functionality to tie existing applications residing on customer servers with LotusLive services.

IBM has also announced partnerships with Skype, LinkedIn and Salesforce.com for LotusLive. LinkedIn, which operates a social network for professional contacts, plans to tie its site with LotusLive, Lotus Notes and Lotus Connections. Salesforce.com intends to integrate its CRM software with LotusLive services. Skype will provide voice and video capabilities within LotusLive.

This move by IBM is in line with the trend from vendors like Google, Zoho, Jive, Microsoft, Salesforce.com, Socialtext, Jive Software, Central Desktop, Telligent and Atlassian and others to offer collaboration and communication applications via the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model.

The SaaS approach, in which software is hosted by vendors in their data centers and provided to customers via the Internet, has touched a wide variety of application types, including office productivity suites, e-mail, CRM and collaboration.

IBM has been one of the world's biggest providers of enterprise communication and collaboration software since it acquired Lotus in 1995. However, in recent years with the rise of Web 2.0 technologies like blogging, wikis and RSS, vendors like Google, Zoho and Yahoo's Zimbra have simplified the adoption and use of communication and collaboration software by offering it via the Internet, making it more affordable to smaller companies along the way.

IBM, with its Notes and Domino platform, as well as other major vendors of legacy communication and collaboration software, like Microsoft with Office and Outlook/Exchange, are trying to modify and extend those products to latch on the popularity of the SaaS model.

One Web 2.0 application that is gaining a lot of attention in the workplace is social networking, popularized in the consumer market in recent years by Facebook and MySpace. IT managers and CIOs are implementing social computing capabilities in their workplaces, having seen how these systems can help employees communicate, collaborate and do their jobs more efficiently. IBM's entry in this space is Lotus Connections.

Specifically, enterprise social networks typically mimic the core functionality of consumer sites, including the creation of lists of "friends" and the easy sharing of messages and content, as well as the automated notifications of contacts' actions. However, enterprise social networks, like other workplace social computing technologies, have special security and IT control features, as well as workplace-specific capabilities. Other announcements at Lotusphere include: -- IBM and SAP plan to release in March their first joint software product called Alloy, which links Lotus Notes with SAP Business Suite. Alloy is designed to present data from SAP applications within Lotus Notes. Both companies will sell the product. IBM and SAP announced this collaboration, code-named Atlantic, at last year's Lotusphere. -- IBM and Research In Motion will deliver new Lotus software capabilities for BlackBerry phones. By the second quarter, BlackBerry users will be able to access Lotus Symphony documents, as well as Lotus Connections activities, blogs and communities. In the second half of the year, BlackBerry users will have access to Lotus Quickr team software, while developers will gain additional functionality thanks to new BlackBerry platform support for IBM Lotus Domino Designer and XPages. -- The next version of Lotus Connections will add a Facebook-like "wall" to profiles where information can be posted, as well as Twitter-like microblogging capabilities for employees to share short updates of their actions and whereabouts. Connections is also gaining a new wiki service.

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