IBM pieces fall into place

The last puzzle in IBM's software strategic direction became clearer at last month's Lotusphere in the US. Namely, where does the Lotus division fit in the overall IBM software strategic direction?

The last puzzle in IBM’s software strategic direction became clearer at last month's Lotusphere in the US. Namely, where does the Lotus division fit in the overall IBM software strategic direction?

The answer to this puzzle, according to Lotus’ general manager and keynote speaker Ambuj Goyal, is that it is Lotus’ role to deliver the human-facing interface to IBM’s software. Lotus thus takes over responsibility for the WebSphere Portal product, a suite of products known as Workplace, and the Notes and Domino products.

The WebSphere division, meanwhile, retains responsibility for the same-named server product family; the DB2 division looks after the database product family; Tivoli stays in the enterprise and application management area; and the relatively recently acquired Rational division will look after application development tools (although it’s not clear if this includes WebSphere Studio), modelling tools, source control and so on.

Although these are separate divisions within IBM software, they are working closely together on many projects. For instance, Lotus plans to include DB2 as an optional storage mechanism for Domino (from version 7.0 onwards). The WebSphere Portal and Lotus Workplace products sit on top of WebSphere server. Both projects suggest close co-operation between the various teams.

Having been working with Lotus products for a number of years, it’s my opinion that one of the reasons for the success of Notes and Domino has been down to two things: first, that the Lotus engineers themselves used Lotus products in the building of their product range, and second, that Lotus’ engineers always kept close to the community of developers, administrators and users of their products.

The fact that the teams within IBM are starting to be able to see outside of the narrow scope of their own product lines and actively incorporate the ideas and products of the other divisions impacts in two areas – the ability to deliver more innovative products, and to deliver them more quickly. According to Goyal, the alpha of the Workplace client (in limited beta testing now and expected to be delivered in May) took just 12 weeks to be delivered.

But to make this interaction between its software divisions possible, IBM is going to have to provide its internal teams with collaborative tools for sharing strategy, project progress and ideas, not to mention code. So the new Lotus collaboration products are going to be worked hard inside IBM. Internal expectations will be high. Software developers are not known for their tolerance of poor application quality (particularly in anybody else’s code).

So here’s what I hope we’ll see from all this:

Lotus to impart imagination generally to IBM software and to make collaborative software a natural extension of the way people use computers, ie portable, platform-neutral and personalisable.

Rational to impose a focus and discipline on IBM’s development processes, improving code re-use, software quality and product delivery lifecycles as a result.

DB2 to deliver solid structural underpinnings to the IBM products and aid progress to a platform for managing disparate data types.

Tivoli to provide simple and elegant tools for infrastructure management, from deployment and management of applications and networks to identity management and security – in products from individual to enterprise scale.

WebSphere to provide a solid infrastructure for all this to run on that.

Do I think this will actually happen?

Over the last 12 to 18 months, I’ve seen increasing evidence that the software teams within IBM are starting to work well together and that future software will be stable, multi-platform, flexible, self-healing and adaptable.

However, it will probably have execrable GUI interfaces (remember OS/2?), names a paragraph long that no one can remember and a licensing scheme so fiendishly complex that the only people who could possibly decipher it are already working for IBM in the advanced R&D labs. And just to add insult to injury, it’ll cost exactly twice as much as you’ve budgeted.

Unless marketing catches up.

Evans, who travelled to Florida as a guest of Lotus, is the CTO and online business development manager for IDG, Computerworld 's publisher.

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