Dodging Stockholm Syndrome at Lotusphere

holm Syndrome”>Stockholm Syndrome in which hostages empathise with their abductors. Having just come back from Lotusphere I can understand that feeling.

You're surrounded by hordes of 'yellow blooded' delegates and IBM/Lotus folk who applaud and cheer at the drop of a hat. Sometimes to small nuances that totally escape the uninitiated, like me. I could cheerfully sit there sneering from my analysts' special seating area in the auditorium. But, when it came to talking to these genuinely enthusiastic souls, it was hard to remember that this was an organisation that had a particular job to do: to keep the faithful on board and to secure the interest of the rest of the world.

That it did the former, I have no doubt. The announcements came thick and fast. Given that Lotusphere happens once a year, it will be a while until all of the products and services are on general release. But the overall effect of the event was to persuade the faithful that Domino/Notes is a cracking platform, that it has a future, that it will simplify programming (did I hear by "500 percent"? I think I did) and that it will be possible to integrate all of the social software offerings into existing and future applications, making them a one-stop-shop for work, communication and collaboration.

What of the outsiders? Well, some deals have been put together to increase Lotus' reach and increase the customer's convenience., RIM – the BlackBerry folk, SAP, LinkedIn and others are all happily welding themselves to different parts of the Lotus infrastructure. There were others, of course and you can read about them on the IBM website.

But what about the size of organisations that can participate in the Lotus experience, and would they want to? This is where things get a little murkier.

Without question, Lotus is at its happiest with organisations that periodically write large cheques. And who can blame it? But it has ambitions to charge downmarket to hit organisations as small as, depending who you speak with, 1000, 500, 100 or 5 employees. That's quite a spread. But it becomes clearer when you look at the channels to market.

Again, IBM's comfort zones are selling direct or selling through systems integrators. The one thing that you can't miss at Lotusphere is what a massive industry owes its existence to the company's products. Consultants, integrators, third party software suppliers, even hardware makers, are only too happy to drink the Lotus Kool Aid and make money while providing valued services to their medium to large enterprise customers.

But Lotus needs to find a convincing route to the smaller organisations. It has, or soon will have, a bunch of offerings, in the shape of LotusLive Engage (Bluehouse as was) and various other versions of the software – Connections, Meetings and Events. These are variously abbreviated versions of the full blown equivalent on-premise offerings. And, in case you didn't know, all will run in the cloud. IBM's cloud. Again, there's more but that will do for now. The route to market is through intermediaries. Anyone with a bespoke requirement or an integration requirement will probably turn to their local reseller and a deal will be made. But the hoi polloi, assuming they realise the value of communication and collaboration, will go where exactly?

Lotus talks about being in discussion with telcos but we've seen many attempts over the past ten years for these to engage profitably at the low end. They have the relationship with clients through the telephone business but it's a big jump from selling lines and equipment to selling stuff with an intellectual content to a small business. I'm told that selling off the page has been a dismal experience so far. So either the customers will have to mature at their own pace and come knocking when they understand this stuff. Or someone has to get out there and engage with them effectively.

Enter stage left the hosting companies. The good ones are already used to providing high levels of advice and support online. They sell to small businesses. Perhaps this is where Lotus should be looking for salvation. SIs for people prepared to dig deep in their pockets and a lightweight semi-automated service provision for those with short arms.

Or, in the blizzard of information last week, did I go snowblind? Please correct me, if you feel so moved. At least I don't feel I'm suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

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