You'll not hear much about groupware from Lotus Development these days. The wider role for its Lotus Domino/Notes product line is to help companies marshal their communications and information assets. The subsidiary of IBM calls it knowledge management.
In addition to singing the praises of knowledge management, Lotus has upped the ante recently with acquisitions and product news that bring real-time collaboration - such as instant messaging, also known as "buddy lists" - into the Domino/Notes mix.
IDG's Dana Gardner recently spoke with Mike Zisman, executive vice president at Lotus, to probe deeper into what the company has planned for knowledge managementIDG: What do you mean by just-in-time virtual community?
Zisman: Just what it says. You've got a particular problem at a particular moment in time, and there's a bunch of people out there who can help you, and you want to get in touch with them. Ideally, you get a bunch of them together at the same time, so for the five minutes it takes to solve your problem, you have a community focused on that problem.
Why isn't the telephone good enough to do that?
None of these things replace one another. With instant messaging, I'm already at my work- station; it's very convenient. Second, one of the things that will prove to be very powerful is the ability to take a chat and save it as a document. So you have a sense of permanence and archiving that can be very helpful. But it's your choice . . . it's a question of style.
Is there a role for combining real-time collaboration with voice recognition?
Well, we're working on that. In the Millennium version of SmartSuite, Lotus 1-2-3 is fully voice-enabled, and it's really powerful.
We're looking at that technology in Notes, and I think it's going to be very important for a lot of applications.
Is it fair to say that knowledge management has just cropped up as another way of putting icing on the Domino cake?
I don't think that's fair, for a couple of reasons. There are a lot of people talking about knowledge management. Knowledge management maximises the knowledge assets we have, that's all. And it isn't just about Notes and Domino. Domino is a big piece of it, but . . . the whole infrastructure of Notes is about sharing. That's what knowledge management has come to be.
Does this mean that there's going to be other servers, or does everything have to hinge on Domino?
No. IBM is clearly going to have lots of products that are not Domino-oriented. Domino is very much about unstructured data. If you are telling me that knowledge management is just about unstructured data . . . you're smoking some great stuff. Right?
You've got to look at it from two perspectives - Domino and then the Notes client. With Domino server, we are a repository for a large amount of unstructured data. That's part of knowledge management. We want that data to be available no matter what client environment you are in.
A lot of [IBM's DB2 database products] access Notes, along with other databases. I would like to use my Notes client, within reason, as much as I can because it's where I live.
The ability to go out and look across a lot of data is very, very important. If Notes is where you live, we want to maximise your access to a lot of stuff.
If you live somewhere else, we want to make sure you can get the Domino stuff easily.
Community Space is a Lotus product in development. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
It's a prototype built by the Lotus Institute. Community Space is about communities of practice.
How do you optimise the discussions among communities of practice? Lotus Team Room takes a basic discussion database and puts some more structure on it. Community Space is about doing the same thing for communities of practice.
Is using Java classes as a way of linking to disparate back ends a technology you'll be using in knowledge management?
Yes, definitely. You typically think about back-end connectivity with Enterprise JavaBeans. The nice thing about those Enterprise JavaBeans is that once built, they can run in any [like] environment. And what that means is that . . . I've just got this standard interface, they go off to SAP, to Baan, to Oracle - boom, boom, boom. [So] besides searching the unstructured HTML world that's out there, I can also search internal structured relational databases.
It seems that you've crossed over from being a provider of software to business consulting, telling people about assets buried in the organisation. How does that relate to your mission?
[IBM Chairman Louis Gerstner's] foundation is we're in the solution business. Solution equals product plus service.
Service is the fastest growing part of IBM. Service is also the fastest growing part of Lotus. So what customers are saying is: "Don't just deliver me a bunch of software . . . help me exploit it. Help me develop the solutions."
Customers say: "I want you to come in and make all this work. And I can't hire the people and then train the people and then watch them go somewhere else." They don't have the people. This is the big problem.
There's a huge skill shortage. There are very few people who are going to be building their own applications or even implementing packages. There are not enough people.