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Pondering the Value of LotusLive

The most interesting news out of Lotusphere is LotusLive, a "cloud-based collection" (read: hosted offering) of social networking and collaboration services, including social networking applications, e-mail, file sharing and Web conferencing capabilities. IBM says the offering is designed to help businesses easily collaborate with their customers, partners and suppliers over the Internet.LotusLive is partnering with the popular social networking site LinkedIn to allow users to connect with their business contacts on an as-needed basis. With a planned Lotus Notes integration, LinkedIn members will be able to track their professional network via real-time feeds and get access to LinkedIn profiles from within their Notes applications. also has plans to integrate LotusLive services with its CRM applications, to simplify and improve customer interactions by integrating conferencing and collaboration capabilities with the CRM capabilities within And a Skype integration will allow LotusLive users to call contacts directly from within the service.

IBM is positioning LotusLive as a way for companies to communicate with their partners and customers-i.e. those people who lie outside a company's firewall and wouldn't have access to collaborative technologies deployed on premises (such as Quickr, Sametime and Connections). I can't help being reminded of the Internet boom of the late nineties, when everyone was talking about extranets-only then, it was all about opening up supply chains to partners and customers via so-called B2B marketplaces. Although many companies have since made certain product information available to people outside their organizations, few bought into the real purpose of an extranet, in which participants were meant to collaborate on design, production and procurement across a web of suppliers, contractors and buyers.

LotusLive isn't a B2B marketplace, but the message today is similar: Extend collaboration to people outside your organization to drive business for everyone. Forgive me for having my doubts about whether companies will embrace the notion.

Which isn't to say that LotusLive won't serve a purpose. Although IBM says large enterprises are a target market for such "extranet" capabilities, I think the service is better suited to lines of business that will deploy LotusLive to a distinct group of internal and external users; and to SMBs looking for a hosted suite of collaboration services for their own employees. It seems unlikely that companies that have deployed Connections, for instance, would find value in having users switch applications and move to LotusLive for external interactions-that is a cumbersome proposition indeed. IBM executives wouldn't give a timetable for integration between LotusLive and Connections or other Lotus applications.

Also missing from the new service is federated presence information and real-time connectivity-for instance, people can launch meetings only if they know the people they need to meet with are available, or by sending e-mails alerting participants to meetings in the future. That's fine, but it hardly meshes with the mantra of "now" that pervades unified communications and is, indeed, the driver between many of IBM Lotus's on premises applications (not to mention just about every UC vendor's value proposition).

Pricing has not yet been set for LotusLive, but it will be offered on a subscription basis, and IBM intends to allow paying users to invite guests in free, much the way Web conferencing services work today. That's critical if people are going to start inviting all their LinkedIn contacts to collaboration sessions.

To see more of my assessment of Lotusphere 2009, go here.