After a nearly year-long wait, Lotus Development finally shipped the crown jewel in its knowledge management strategy on Wednesday.
The company released its Lotus Discovery Server after announcing in March that the software would be delayed a month to address problems with the sophisticated algorithms used for profiling users and organising data.
Discovery Server basically allows enterprises to index the data and resources on their networks, identify "experts" associated with that data, and make it all available through a sophisticated search engine.
"This was really an ambitious effort and the big news is that Discovery Server is now available for download from our Web site," says Scott Cooper, senior vice president and general manager of knowledge management at Lotus. Cooper said the release of Discovery Server triggers the development of other products in the pipeline and customer relationships that are keyed to the knowledge management server.
He would not offer specifics, but he said, "we are building extensions and we will learn a bunch more about how to improve the product as a broader base of customers begin to deploy."
Lotus has about 50 beta testers for Discovery Server.
"The issue now is how many people will understand and really be able to take advantage of Discovery Server," says Simon Hayward, an analyst at Gartner Group. "It's likely to be a slow growth product and will be pushed primarily in projects with a heavy services element. Lotus wants to be seen as a leader in advanced collaboration and knowledge management and needs to get out of the trench warfare with Microsoft over messaging."
Microsoft, however, keeps hanging around. It is offering its own knowledge management server called SharePoint Portal Server, but critics say it is not as sophisticated as Discovery Server.
Lotus is competing with vendors such as Autonomy, Plumtree and Tacit Knowledge Systems, which have captured mindshare in the market for these kinds of systems.
So much in fact, that Lotus-parent IBM has made deals with Plumtree and Tacit Knowledge to bundle their software with WebSphere, its Web application platform.
Discovery Server features powerful search algorithms developed in the labs of IBM that analyse and catalogue large amounts of data. The server's Discovery Engine, the core of the platform, analyses data and creates a content catalogue built on IBM's DB2 database. The engine also includes an Expertise Locator, which builds a profile of users to determine "experts" on certain topics. The profile is based on a range of criteria including expertise, skills, experience, education and job type.
In the fall of last year, Lotus uncoupled Discovery Server from the set of portal building tools that were originally part of its package. The tools, now called K-Station, are for building custom desktop portals with links to enterprise and Web data. K-Station, which was released late last year, also includes a set of templates for building knowledge management applications.