Lotus targets cost savings

No new products are expected to be launched at the Lotusphere conference in Florida - instead the focus is likely to be on ROI

          This year's annual user's conference for Lotus Software Group isn't expected to reveal any major product announcements and instead will take a hard look at using collaborative technology to save money for the enterprise.

          The economy is certainly one motivation for the penny-pinching theme of Lotusphere, which opens Sunday at the Walt Disney World resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. But also behind the lack of new product announcements are a somewhat slow uptake on the current version of Lotus' Notes email software and R5 Domino database and the need to make any upgrades worthwhile investments, analysts say.

          Lotus, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based subsidiary of IBM, will unveil the brand name of its new version of Notes, which predictably will be called R6, but it won't release the new product until the third quarter or later.

          In the meantime, Lotus Vice President Scott Cooper says, "We're going to talk over and over again around very near-term hard ROI."

          Collaborative applications, such as those for web-based meetings and online learning, can be used to cut business travel costs, Cooper says.

          There is no new version release at the conference, he says, because R6, code-named RNext, isn't ready. "[Version] 6.0 will be a deployable release," Cooper says.

          That's no surprise, says David Druker, an analyst at Ferris Research in San Francisco.

          "It took customers a long time to convert to R5, and apparently there's still some R5 market out there," Druker says. "RNext will be another big change."

          Customers want to make sure an upgrade will be worth every penny, he says, because, "it's not going to be cheap."

          This cost awareness theme from the vendor is too little, too late, says Dana Gardner, an analyst at Boston-based research firm Aberdeen Group. "Suddenly, Lotus now has a religion about ROI? People who are really price-conscious have already left Domino," Gardner said."I don't think that's a business model. I think that's a temporary solution to a business cycle."

          Gardner says Lotus customers want return on investment through new products that are compliant with standards such as Microsoft's .Net and Sun Microsystems' Java 2 Enterprise Edition that will still integrate with painstakingly built Domino databases. "They don't want the applications that they've built on Domino to be dead ends," she notes.

          In other areas, Lotus will also promote the use of collaborative applications embedded in line-of-business programs such as customer relationship management, Cooper says.

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