IBM targets wider market with Next Gen e-mail

IBM revealed it is beta testing a no-frills e-mail product for workers who do not need all the high-end features of Lotus Notes,...

IBM revealed it is beta testing a no-frills e-mail product for workers who do not need all the high-end features of Lotus Notes, at the Lotusphere conference in Orlando esterday.

Aimed specifically at factory workers, retail salespeople and other employees who do not normally have e-mail, the product, codenamed Next Gen, will be priced far below Lotus Notes to encourage companies to bring in a new group of users. Price per seat for Next Gen is estimated at $5 to $10, compared with around $30 per seat for Lotus Notes.

Next Gen, which is based on IBM's WebSphere and DB2 technologies, will allow users to check and send e-mail through a Web-based browser or through a POP3 configuration. IBM will position Next Gen as a lowest-cost, simplified e-mail offering under its iNotes Web Access product and its full-fledged Notes standard.

IT managers at the conference offered a wide range of opinions about the potential usefulness of Next Gen.

DaimlerChrysler senior manager of technology management Daria Colvett said that about 25,000 of her company's car workers across North America do not have e-mail access. This product could make it easier for the human resources department and other corporate offices to communicate with employees.

Chris Barrett, network manager at compressed gas company Holox, said a cheaper e-mail option could be worth the money, as delivering company information on paper to those without e-mail costs more time and money.

Sumit Pande, solutions manager at Financial services company Wachovia, said Next Gen has potential for about 10,000 bank tellers, cheque-processing workers and others who have no corporate e-mail today. "We'll have to research it first and see," Pande said. "If we get a good proof of concept, then we'll do it."

Wachovia has some 50,000 Notes users and about 20,000 Microsoft Outlook users.

However, not everyone agreed. Bryan Owens, manager of advanced technology at Kemet Electronics said about only half of the company's 6,000 workers have e-mail through Lotus Notes today, and that the other employees had little reason for such access.

The fact that early versions of Next Gen would require IBM's DB2 database application would be a deterrent, he admitted, as Kemet is not a DB2 shop.

"I couldn't go in tomorrow and justify $5 a seat in the current economic climate," Owens said. "It wouldn't fly. There has to be a better reason than that."

Nigel Dawson, Notes manager at United Biscuit Holdings, agreed, saying such an investment today would have little payback for his company. About 5,500 of United Biscuit's worldwide workers do not have e-mail, and the rest have Lotus Notes.

"The economics and the justification at the moment just aren't there," Dawson said. "I think there's more business return in other areas."

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