- For the second consecutive year, the top executive at Lotus Development Corp. pre-empted the software maker's annual U.S. trade show here with news that is certain to dim the spotlight on whatever product announcements the company has planned. Collaboration, groupware, messaging -- all will play understudy to details of the company's planned restructuring due to be outlined Tuesday by President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Al Zollar.
A year ago, word that longtime IBM Corp. employee Zollar was taking the helm from Jeffrey Papows soon after the end of the show superseded software news, at least as far as the media was concerned. This year is Zollar's first U.S. Lotusphere as CEO, and he's likely to find himself answering a lot of the same questions that he faced together with Papows in 2000 when queries focused on whether Zollar's ascendency meant that IBM was about to truly take over the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Lotus, which it acquired in 1995.
Zollar, Papows and others tried to persuade attendees -- and IT journalists, in particular, who seized every opportunity at news conferences to turn the topic to IBM's intentions -- that Lotus as a brand and a corporate culture was safe. Officials are likely to have a tougher time convincing skeptics now.
Word of the planned restructuring leaked on Jan. 5 when a company spokeswoman confirmed to the IDG News Service that changes are afoot. Several days later, in a report published in the Boston Globe, Zollar said that he isn't ruling out the possibility of layoffs as part of the restructuring, which apparently will run wide and deep through the company. The changes are meant to merge Lotus' business operations with IBM's, he was quoted as saying.
Exactly what the restructuring entails has not yet been publicly revealed by Lotus, although at least some details apparently are known to employees, who were sent e-mail from Zollar with information about the changes. When the restructuring was confirmed, the Lotus spokeswoman stressed that the Lotus brand would continue and that it would have dedicated sales development, marketing and service to support its products.
Papows may have fanned rumors, telling Network World Fusion shortly after the restructuring came to light that he left the company because it was clear that IBM was going to play a greater role in Lotus. He further pointed to changes in key personnel as a challenge for Lotus. Cliff Reeves, the former vice president of product management, left the company in December.
He was the force behind Raven, Lotus' knowledge management software that was announced with great fanfare in October 1999 and which the company has continued to tout at each European and U.S. Lotusphere since then. Half the product was released in December of last year when Raven: K-station launched. K-station is a portal-builder application aimed at allowing software developers to create corporate portals that allow users to obtain information and find specialists in particular areas from a single point. The company's Sametime instant messaging software and advanced search functions are part of Raven, although Lotus officials have said that they've had a more difficult time than expected in fine-tuning the search engine.
The most crucial part of Raven, the Discovery Server, has yet to see light. That part of Raven will analyze data and build a content catalog using IBM's DB2. It further will make profiles of users to determine who has expertise in particular areas and can be tapped by other Raven users for information when help is needed. The server, which also has been called the Discovery Engine in news accounts, is expected to be, once again, heavily touted here, with company officials putting major focus on it.
The company also is expected to highlight wireless products, detailing the Wireless Access server, which will allow users to access Lotus e-mail, calendars and directories through wireless devices, as well as the Domino Everyplace Enterprise server, which will combine the functions of an access server with application development aimed at letting users access corporate business software via wireless devices.