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Lotus takes steps to unify Web with KM

Determined to emerge from its "just groupware" perception, Lotus Development revealed the complex Web application design and collaborative personality of its long-awaited version 5.0 of Domino, dubbed "R5," before the 10,000 Lotus partners and developers at Lotusphere '99, in Orlando, FL, January 19.

Knowledge management will now take the leading role in Lotus's direction, driven by a strategy based on "capturing" the five "pillars" of business activity that Executive VP Michael Zisman says will coalesce to become a unified KM market: Collaboration, Business Intelligence, Expertise Management, Content Management and Knowledge Transfer.

Touted as a Web application server, Domino Application Server ($1,795, available next month) and Domino Enterprise Server ($4,995) have been beefed up with back-end services (for instance, larger 64GB database, support for transaction logging, load balancing for Web apps), and Domino Designer ($495) adds a welcome development environment. These aspects alone make Domino a serious contender in the electronic commerce market (although its ability to scale to large transaction volumes is questioned).

But it's likely that the features on the surface will attract the most positive attention. A new search engine that equally queries the Notes databases as well as Web sites will expose users to a richer information gathering experience. Lotus has also rolled in its SameTime technology, which puts on-line users in immediate real-time contact with colleagues who are viewing the same objects, thereby opening up an entirely new facet of interaction and knowledge transfer. And the newly announced partnership with America Online allows Domino users to receive customizable news and information feeds within the same Notes desktop.

In its METAfax alert, the Meta Group (Stamford, CT) said: "Despite Lotus touting Domino as a Web application server, we believe its strengths continue to be centered on collaboration and messaging. Applications based on those characteristics will benefit from Domino R5's application features, but significant failings include poor handling of complex business logic (e.g., versioning, debugging), limiting application server utility. In addition, its scalability as an application server and ability to handle large transaction volumes are unproven."

Lotus seems unfazed. It is determined that its knowledge management strategy coupled with R5's unique strengths will help it reach its goal of an installed base of 50 million seats (it has 30+ million now, 14 million of which were sold in 1998) by next year. And this confidence is defensible; its success growing Domino.Doc into one of the leading document management products shows that Lotus can, when focused, achieve its most elaborate goals.

Potential obstacles in Lotus's future lie mainly in the applications partner relationship management arena. It's clear from the Domino.Doc legacy and the emphasis in this announcement on the desktop features of R5 that Lotus intends to enter the applications space where appropriate. Many of the more than 200 Lotus Solutions Partners who exhibit at Lotusphere each year may be more than a little anxious about that fate. With one of the richest partner networks in the business, it'll be interesting to see how Lotus deploys its strategy to "own" the pillars of knowledge management, and beyond

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