IBM urges users to "liberate" data from SharePoint

IBM has ratcheted up the rhetoric in its attempts to position its collaboration tools strongly against Microsoft's SharePoint.

IBM has come swinging Friday, urging companies to "liberate" their data from Microsoft's popular SharePoint document management platform. Big Blue said it can take that data off its competitor's hands with a new migration tool that imports it into Lotus Quickr, its own content management system.

The offer marks the latest skirmish in the competition between IBM and Microsoft for the lucrative collaboration software market. SharePoint has grown explosively in the past year -- in fact, it's been likened by Gartner analyst Tom Austin to the contagious growth enjoyed by Lotus Notes in the mid-1990s (ouch). The platform has proved an effective vehicle for bringing more users to Microsoft software, in turn spurring IBM to reinvigorate its Lotus software division.

Quickr is IBM's server-based product that allows companies to share documents and collaborate through applications like wikis and blogs. Employees connect to the server through a browser, provision a place to work on their projects and can be up and running in 15 seconds on an application with tons of collaborative services, touts IBM. The system runs on Windows, Linux or Unix. In addition to SharePoint, Lotus Quickr supports Microsoft Exchange folders, IBM Lotus Domino Document Manager libraries and IBM Lotus Domino teamroom applications.

Rob Koplowitz, who covers the space at Forrester Research, said IBM's strategy is to coexist with as many content sources as possible.

"SharePoint is becoming a very relevant part of the overall content management landscape. In a heterogeneous environment, coexistence will increasingly become a requirement," Koplowitz said, adding that numerous content management vendors have developed integrations with SharePoint, including OpenText. and Documentum.

IBM's new Lotus Quickr Content Integrator, based on software from Casahl Technology, coincides with the release of a new version of Quickr, 8.1. The new version wraps the "self-serve" menu users have come to expect with policy-based administrative software. A manager can go in and set rules for each template -- how much storage is allowed, for example -- and be alerted when those policies are transgressed.

Quickr's new policy-based administrative console is an attractive feature, Koplowitz said. Enterprise organizations are looking for tools that allow users to generate content and even applications on their own terms. And, to be sure, users are accustomed to this type of functionality from social computing on the Internet and increasingly expect the same in enterprise products.

"That said, there are types of content and communications that require additional rigor due to compliance, security and privacy requirements," Koplowitz said. "Adding additional controls, particularly around policy management, is quickly becoming an enterprise requirement."

Self-serve, within limits

David Kajmo, senior product manager for Quickr, IBM Lotus, downplayed the tool as a strategy for blunting the red-hot adoption rates for SharePoint. "Customers have decided to standardize on Lotus Quickr. They came to us and said, 'We do have little outcroppings of SharePoint, but it is not the officially based standard,'" Kajmo said. "This tool lets them do it."

Quickr runs on a wide variety of platforms and "provides even better support for older versions of things, like Microsoft Office," Kajmo said, so users need not be on forced march to upgrade to the latest version. The Quickr connectors reinforce IBM's "whole design philosophy to fit into the tool that the end user is already accustomed to working in."

The new version delivers some new connectors for Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Symphony and an enhanced connector for Lotus Notes. Users can drag an attachment out of email and drag it to a team space, or drag a link from the side shelf in Notes and send a link out to collaborators, he said. The new version also includes a personal file-sharing space that allows participants to access project documents, eliminating the need to email large attachments that clog up mail files.

IBM is currently working with a local government that has set up an application template to handle zoning change requests. The Quickr workplace will be used to centralize all the information and documents collected during such requests, Kajmo said, providing a forum where team members can "chew over" the information in advance of a vote.

With Quickr 8.1, users can still "self-serve," spontaneously creating places to work on projects based on an application template, he said. But now IT can go in and set a policy for that template. So, for example, a merger and acquisition template might come with a storage limit of 5 GBs and the stipulation that the workplace will be taken down if 90 days pass without any activity, Kajmo said. If the manager knows a bigger merger and acquisition is coming online, he or she can modify the rule to include, say, 20 GBs of storage. Security is built into all the applications.

"As owner of the application, I have manager access. I can invite other co-workers to join my place, and I can control access all the way down to the individual document level. If you don't have permission to participate in my workplace, you won't even see it," Kajmo explained.

Quickr teammates can keep close track of each other. Someone working in a team space can see a colleague's name, click on that persona, pull up a thumbnail picture, see shared bookmarks, activities and the communities that persona belongs to, Kajmo said, dismissing a suggestion that people might not want to be that exposed.

"People quickly realize if they share a little, others will share with them," Kajmo said. When a query goes out, people "chime in, because they know when they have a question they can get it answered. They see value in participation because it makes life easier."

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