IBM Lotus customers remain wary of Workplace

IBM Lotus users have cautiously welcomed the first Workplace products unveiled at the Lotusphere show in Florida.

IBM Lotus users have cautiously welcomed the first Workplace products unveiled at the Lotusphere show in Florida.

Manpreet Singh, chief operating officer of software and services company IT Factory, said his office has been trying to develop a Workplace strategy. IT Factory develops applications around Lotus software.

Customers have been asking about the technology, but no one has signed for a deployment yet, he added.

Singh is worried about the portability of custom Domino applications and add-ons to the Workplace system. Workplace is based on J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition).

"I've been talking to IBM. They say it's practically drag and drop. That's sales talk. It's impossible."

Alaa El Ghatit, a knowledge management technical strategist with human resources outsourcing and consulting firm Hewitt Associates, is also concerned about the resources required to migrate to a system crafted around Workplace software.

"We really need a lot more information on the return on investment," he said.

Although IBM said it will not abandon its Notes/Domino base, El Ghatit is wary that keeping up with existing technology will require following IBM down the Workplace path - a path he believed would involve significant costs for staff retraining and new hardware purchases.

Larry Bowden, IBM's vice-president of portal solutions and Lotus products, said IBM is listening to customer concerns about Workplace and will address them with tools and programs intended to smooth the transition.

IBM will offer development tools to help programmers ease into J2EE. Plug-ins for WebSphere Studio are available to add to it some of the look and feel of Domino Designer, as are tools to output applications developed in Domino Designer to J2EE-consumable portlets.

"You can continue for years to use the skills you have," Bowden said. "Over the course of the next three years I would suggest that you broaden your skill set to involve J2EE, but there's no emergency."

Amy Palazzolo, responsible for planning Ford Motor's collaboration architecture, said she came to Lotusphere to investigate Workplace as Ford evaluates options for a new infrastructure.

"Ford's adoption of collaboration has mirrored the industry's," she said. "We have a lot of best-of-breed technologies mixed together, which doesn't integrate well and gets expensive to maintain."

Ford is still in the early stages of figuring how to streamline its messaging systems, and Palazzolo said she is gathering information from several suppliers, such as Lotus and Microsoft.

Lotus' professed open-standards focus is "certainly very appealing".

MedStar Health messaging and support services manager Frank Hasting said he is very happy with his existing Domino-based messaging system and even happier at the savings he foresees from Workplace products such as Lotus Workplace Messaging, a simplified, web-based system intended to bring e-mail access to users not needing a full suite of messaging features.

Medstar supports e-mail for 23,000 users in the hospitals it runs. Hasting would like to use Lotus Workplace Messaging to add accounts for another 14,000 workers such as doctors and nurses, who are likely to access the system through kiosks and need a basic messaging system.

"In terms of the cost per client, the savings are dramatic, $15 per user versus $60," he said. "It's huge savings, an order of magnitude. It's going to be great."

Stacey Cowley writes for IDG News Service

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