Q&A: IBM's Alistair Rennie on the big picture for Lotus

IBM is spreading access to its Lotus social and collaboration software all over the various computing platforms. But what's the big strategy here?
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

IBM is spreading access to its Lotus social and collaboration software all over the various computing platforms. But what's the big strategy here?

I spoke with Alistair Rennie (right), IBM's Lotus general manager, about trends like the consumerization of IT and the grand plan for his unit. Here's the recap.

On the IBM's move to put Lotus software on the Mac and iPhone platform, Rennie said:

One of the trends our customers are emphatic about is that things they see happening in the consumer space create a set of expectations among employees on how they should collaborate in the workplace. Our approach is to help customers with enterprise grade collaboration technology and make available on all platforms employees want that they use in personal lives. Every enterprise has expectations that are heavily influenced by the consumer space. Our job is to provide social networking in a business context on every device. We have to offer the best of both worlds.

Simply put, IBM wants Lotus to be agnostic whether it's on the desktop, smartphone or cloud. Frankly, I see Lotus as becoming a cloud brand going forward.

Speaking of the cloud, Rennie said:

The cloud is very important to us. We've made significant progress with LotusLive. The expectation is the likely endpoint will be a blend of on-premise software and cloud. We need to deliver a compelling user experience on broad range of devices, platforms like Mac, Windows and Linux and multiple browsers.

Rennie added that IBM is aiming to provide "rich capabilities" in the cloud that are tailored to businesses and secure.

Where do analytics fit in with the Lotus strategy?

Rennie said that analytics will increasingly become part of the Lotus formula. Rennie said that the goal is to leverage analytics to provide situation specific software on various devices. For instance, collaboration on a mobile device is different than the desktop. On a mobile device, you have a cramped screen and analytics can filter the clutter. Meanwhile, using things like GPS location, time of day and situation Lotus will eventually give you a customized home page based on what you're doing.

What's the Symphony strategy?

IBM is taking Lotus Symphony, a suite built on OpenOffice.org, to the Mac platform and recently launched a next-gen beta for the office suite.

"Customers are looking for options and choice," said Rennie. They are looking for options to bring employees and people together and edit, write and change documents in an open standards based way."

Today, IBM's Symphony pitch is that it can save enterprises money on Microsoft Office. However, Rennie's big picture idea is that open standard and Web-based suites will create new types of documents. Rennie explained:

Ultimately, new types of documents are possible. I don't see my kids creating content 5 to 10 years from now going into a dumb text editor and doing a presentation. I see them using rich media and aggregating small bits of data from the Web. The office suite box is constraining. People should interchange content over time, use collaborative Web-based editing and components that can be shared. Symphony is fundamental to changing and enabling open standards.

Also: IBM launches Lotus Symphony 3 beta; Office alternatives pile up

So when will this collaborative utopia occur?

Rennie maintained that the changes are happening today. Corporations have an increasing amount of content on wikis and microblogs among other places. However, "a lot of information is locked up in existing office formats." "The idea to work around the creation of content and chunks of content is here and now. I see it exploding with digital natives and customers want it to happen," said Rennie.

My take: IBM's vision of Lotus makes a lot of sense. Ultimately, I think the brand becomes a cloud-based one. The general theme will be that Lotus works as a cloud brand because customers can avoid any implementation headaches while still having the IBM brand behind it. In addition, the move to put Lotus software everywhere can bring it to the digital native crowd. For many of us, Lotus is viewed as an older brand that was popular in the 1990s. For the foreseeable future, you'll see enterprises with Microsoft Office as well as various alternatives. IBM's task is to make sure Lotus is always in the conversation as the Google Apps and Docs and Microsoft scrum intensifies.

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