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The IBM Desktop

At the opening of this week's Lotusphere, a lot of the talk was about LotusLive, which is IBM Lotus' new offering in the cloud/software-as-a-service (SaaS) market, and Bob Picciano, general manager of IBM Lotus software, talked this solution up as an extranet service -- i.e., one that could connect an enterprise's CPE-based Lotus systems with cloud-based systems used by partners.Which is the smart way to go for now, because lots of analysts remain unconvinced that SaaS or hosted or whatever you want to call it is going to take off as the primary method for anything but the smaller end of the market. We've heard that prediction too many times without seeing much in the way of fulfillment.

That said, the title of this week's post is deliberately meant to echo the title of last week's ("The Cisco Desktop"), because much of what IBM is talking about here in Orlando parallels the moves Cisco is making as a new entrant into the desktop battle -- with the difference being that Lotus has a two-decade jump on Cisco.

One of the things IBM is using LotusLive for is to integrate LinkedIn with Lotus Notes, a social-networking integration function that I highlighted in last week's discussion of Xobni, a software plug-in that runs on Microsoft Outlook but whose manufacturer just received an investment from Cisco. There seems to be a vision emerging of cloud-based public social networking as a potential component of desktop communications portals. Which makes it not too surprising that our friend and No Jitter blogger Zeus Kerravala of the Yankee Group challenged Picciano in a followup press conference as to why IBM Lotus opted for LinkedIn but not Facebook for integration.

Picciano gave the expected answer -- that LinkedIn is positioned as the business users' social networking site -- but Zeus came back with the accurate assertion that, in fact, a lot of business people use Facebook, either in addition to or even instead of LinkedIn.

On the subject of more immediate interest to telecom/IT folks, Bruce Morse, VP of Lotus' UC2 efforts, told the opening session that Sametime Unified Telephony (SUT), the system for integrating Lotus Sametime with PBXs, is in beta now and would ship later this year. But the more telling comments about the integration of telephony and communications portals like Sametime came from an end user, Ian Haynes, head of staff collaboration infrastructure at HSBC bank. Haynes told the general session crowd that his company's 300,000 employees and 9,500 offices worldwide run on a collaboration infrastructure that includes telephony, e-mail, IM, team spaces, streaming media, videoconferencing, and social software, and that no single vendor has all those pieces.

"I don't think anyone even knows what that solution looks like today; it's a journey," Haynes said. "While we can't buy the solution we need, we can select the partners who join us on that journey." This sense of uncertainty was echoed in a breakout session on the SUT road map. Akiba Saeedi, director of Unified Communications and Collaboration Products for IBM Lotus, said, "We believe there's this hybrid model to come," but "what precisely needs to be aligned and in what direction remains uncertain."

I think this is an honest assessment of the world where IP telephony and Unified Communications meet (or don't meet) today. By keeping out of the telephony platform wars, IBM is doing a service to the industry, because it is in IBM's interest, given SUT's positioning, to recognize and grapple with the multivendor, highly diverse, and complex telephony environments that virtually all enterprises have and will continue to have for quite some time. IBM's answer isn't: Migrate your telephony to our UC platform. It's: Our UC platform works with your telephony environment.