Interview: IBM's Zisman looks beyond messaging

Mike Zisman has two jobs -- he's executive vice president for strategy at Lotus Development and vice president of strategy for parent company IBM. His role is to examine areas where IBM and Lotus can work better together. Currently, he's spending much of his time exploring the topics of knowledge management and collaborative communications. Zisman recently shared his thoughts on these and other issues.

Q: The traditional messaging and groupware markets seem to have matured. What's going to spice up this market?

A: The market is moving in more interesting directions with real-time collaboration and knowledge management. We've clearly solved the messaging problem -- you can't live without messaging today. Now we're solving problems in the collaborative market and doing real-time messaging, and from that we get knowledge management.

Q: What do you mean when you talk about knowledge management?

A: The best sound bite is from [former Hewlett-Packard CEO] Lew Platt, who said, "HP would be better off if HP knew what HP knew." Knowledge management is a whole set of technologies. There are five key ones: business intelligence, collaboration, distributed learning, knowledge discovery and mapping, and expertise location.

Technology plays a role in knowledge management but by itself it will not solve problems. For an analogy, look at the massive investment made in enterprise resource planning systems. You could step back and say it was a new technology, but every ERP implementation starts with accounting, and we've been doing that since 1960. ERP was about looking at integrating a system across technologies. Knowledge management requires the recognition that unless companies change their core processes, just throwing technologies at problems will not change things.

Q: How does your view of knowledge management differ from, say, Microsoft's?

A: I'm not sure Microsoft appreciates this. I chuckled when I saw an ad in The Wall Street Journal for knowledge management. There was a picture of Windows and Back Office. You can call it knowledge management if you want, guys, but it's the same old stuff.

Q: Where is the real-time collaboration market going?

A: The market for pure messaging peaked, and now most customers want to see messaging-based collaboration. ... These collaboration products are doing quite well. I can instant message anyone in my company. With a browser, you can go to a Web site and click on to a meeting and all be working together. It eliminates an enormous amount of travel. The next big step is directly embedding collaboration tools in applications. We're very excited about integrating this into applications in other IBM units.

Q: Lotus recently pulled the plug on its eSuite collection of Java-based productivity applications. Did you learn any lesson from this?

A: I wouldn't say we pulled the plug on it. We announced we were stabilising it, at least for the time being. We're continuing to support customers. The lesson we learned? We were doing it in anticipation of the network computer market. However, the market did not mature as people thought it would. The network computer was depending on Java, and Java was still coming along. We're ahead of the market on this thing. We've got great stuff, and we'll pull back and wait for the network computer market.

Some people have written [the network computer market] off -- I have not.

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