Lotus Prepares For Push into ISP Sector

Lotus is gathering itself together for a global effort to reverse its poor record in the booming Internet service provider space. Spearheading the push is Patricia Hume, a seasoned executive who is chairing a cross-company task force that is under pressure to deliver an ISP business plan to senior management before June.

Lotus is gathering itself together for a global effort to reverse its poor record in the booming Internet service provider (ISP) space. Spearheading the push is Patricia Hume, a seasoned executive who is chairing a cross-company task force that is under pressure to deliver an ISP business plan to senior management before June.

"As part of a complete business strategy, we are identifying the products, how we take them to market and at what price points," Hume said.

Currently general manager of Lotus' messaging division, Hume led IBM's acquisition team during its 1995 purchase of Lotus.

Speaking at the Lotus Connect 99 conference here, Hume conceded Lotus has a lot of ground to recover in the ISP market against rivals like Sun Microsystems and Microsoft.

Of Australia's 500-plus ISPs, only about a dozen use Lotus Notes and Domino Web application server. None are using the Domino Instant Host that Lotus created especially for ISPs.

Reasons for such a situation aren't hard to find. The Notes/Domino environment excels at delivering collaborative applications on the Web. But it isn't as fast and robust when it comes to specific aspects -- such as pure Web server tasks or handling huge volumes of e-mail -- which are vital for most ISPs.

Lotus' sales pitch has also been hurt by the fact that search engines have trouble finding documents within Notes databases. The cost of licenses and Lotus specialists are also a negative factor, especially in the context of the Web's freeware culture.

Hume predicted the improved functionality built into Release 5 of Notes and Domino -- due out real soon now -- will dissolve some of these obstacles.

Lotus says R5 greatly improves the scalability of Domino's directory services and the number of concurrent users it can support which will sit well with larger ISPs handling tens of thousands of users.

The company intends to form partnerships with large telcos and ISPs to marry core competencies into value-added products, a strategy that plays to Domino's strengths.

Hume envisages delivering sales force automation tools, helpdesk services and other business-oriented applications over the Internet by ISPs acting as service bureaus.

The shift to value-added services among ISPs may take several years to build momentum, but if Lotus "doesn't get on this bandwagon and find appropriate people to partner with, we could get hurt in time," Hume said.

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