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IBM accelerates Lotus consolidation

The computing giant quietly consolidates the management of marketing and development efforts at its Lotus division.

IBM has quietly consolidated management of its Lotus software division within Big Blue's portal organization.

IBM had maintained parallel teams for its Lotus line of software and its WebSphere Portal software. Now, a merged group with development and management responsibility will report to Larry Bowden, IBM's vice president of portal software solutions and Lotus products, according to the company.

Since IBM acquired Lotus in 1995, IBM has sought to more closely align Lotus software with IBM's WebSphere-branded middleware--all while maintaining a level of autonomy at the Cambridge, Mass.-based division.

Lotus will remain one of the brands within the IBM Software group. But the internal reorganization is intended to accelerate the integration of Lotus software within IBM's portal software, Bowden said.

As part of IBM's "NextGen" strategy, IBM will combine Lotus' expertise in human collaboration software with IBM's WebSphere server software, which can be used for large-scale applications that serve data to thousands of people.

Over the next year and a half, IBM plans to rewrite Lotus' SameTime instant messaging and QuickPlace collaborative applications to run on IBM's WebSphere Portal software. It then expects to rework Lotus Notes software and then e-learning applications to run within WebSphere Portal, Bowden said.

"It makes sense for (the portal and Lotus products) to converge. There's no difference between the interaction that people do in a portal and what they do with collaboration software," Bowden said.

At its Lotusphere conference last month, IBM said the first Lotus product that will be rewritten for WebSphere is a lightweight e-mail application called IBM Lotus WorkPlace Messaging. Each of the reworked Lotus products will use the WorkPlace naming and adhere to the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) standard.

The consolidation is a logical one for IBM because the combination of collaborative applications and portals is potentially more appealing to customers than standalone collaborative software, said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst at RedMonk.

"It could be said that Lotus' day has finally come," O'Grady said. He pointed out that groupware and collaboration software hasn't lived up to its earlier promise. "But with a portal they have a chance to do that," O'Grady said.

Although IBM intends to continue investing in Lotus Notes and associated products, Bowden made clear that much of IBM's investment would be around the portal.

"We have to make the new environment so inviting, the total cost of ownership so compelling, and the tools so good that existing Lotus customers will want to move on their own volition," Bowden said.

IBM's software and consulting divisions laid off a small percentage of employees recently, but the staff reductions were not related to the Lotus-portal reorganization, a Lotus representative said.