IBM's Lotus brands will demonstrate a neat trick this week at the Lotusphere user conference: The IT market has come around once again to groupware.
Even knowledge management may be something you can say nowadays without someone glancing askance at you with a smirk.
Lotus defined groupware back in the early 1990s with Lotus Notes, and rode a steep (if expensive) 10-year global adoption curve. Notes uniquely and powerfully combined communications, flexible collaboration, lightweight application development, data-based views of functions and processes, third-party packaged apps (wish there were more), and a secure client-server and web-based replication and distribution network capability. Notes pushed the envelope on user productivity.
But many workers did not get the proper training or ignored what they got, and tended to use less of their imagination and more of their wetware when it came to groupware-type functions. Microsoft took advantage of this and force-fed their less-integrated applications in between the Notes comprehensive package. People and companies got by with disjointed email, stand-alone calendar, closed-format applications, and disparate data. For those that did exploit Notes fully, it was and is extremely powerful.
But groupware as a concept and category got a little lost amid Web-based applications, services, and ERP. But when you look at social networking, wikis, blogs, lightweight interfaces and extensible data -- you're looking at groupware.
So now IBM is bolting on the new lingo to the old value. Some nice turn of events, eh? When Notes 15 years ago allowed for databases to be created on the fly for certain (or all) people on the network to read and add to, it was a wiki. Team rooms and IM -- real-time collaboration, ie Second Life. Publishing via email to large lists or publicly available applications -- blogs.
So it may be your granddad's IBM, but with the proper packaging, marketing, and price-tags IBM may be the one to bring Enterprise 2.0 to the real enterprise world (and make some profits), in a virtual reboot of what Lotus has been offering for a long time.
Maybe this time the people will use it, even if they can't afford the admin for a cluster of Domino servers.