Lotus CEO: Collaboration Key for E-Commerce

SAN FRANCISCO (06/22/2000) - As expected, the watchword of Thursday's keynote address here at Lotus' developers conference DevCon was collaborative commerce.

The company's chief emphasized that human digital interaction is a vital element to facilitate electronic commerce.

Kicking off an entertaining presentation, Al Zollar, Lotus Development Corp.'s chief executive officer and president, encouraged attendees to discover "what's up" with e-commerce.

Three key factors are at work in today's market, he said. Employee turnover is reaching "epidemic proportions - the war for talent is in full swing, " Zollar explained. The other two factors are the rate of technological change and the way the whole business world has been "turned upside down," with small businesses taking on some of the typical roles of large operations and vice versa, according to Zollar.

"The rate of change is greatly outpacing the rate of learning" so businesses are looking for ways to lessen that gap for their customers, employees and partners, he said.

The fiction being spread in the B2B (business-to-business) market is that it's all to do with automated relationships and automated transactions, Zollar said.

It's naïve to imagine that people make decisions about B2B transactions in a vacuum without recourse to other people, he added.

"With all the B2B and B2C (business-to-customer), human capital seems to have been lost in the shuffle," Zollar said. "We need to improve the level of digital human interaction. Collaboration will provide a competitive edge for most e-businesses. Collaboration is a requirement for e-commerce."

If online customer care representatives were readily available to offer assistance to would-be online buyers, it might be possible to salvage many abandoned Net transactions to the tune of US$1.6 billion, he said.

Lotus is ideally placed to offer messaging, collaborating, electronic learning, and knowledge management software, Zollar claimed, and so can enable collaborative Net commerce.

Collaborative online commerce is what analysts describe as the next stage for today's Web transactions, with the aim to establish more trust between Net buyers and sellers through the use of real-time communications.

Zollar gave three examples of customers using Lotus software to enable collaborative commerce.

State Street Bank is building Lotus collaboration and instant messaging SameTime software capabilities into its Web site so that customer representatives can engage investors in real-time conversations to help them decide which 401 (k) benefits package is right for them. In South Africa, car maker DaimlerChrysler AG is using Lotus distance learning software LearningSpace to help train its dealers on the details of its latest cars.

Askmall.org is a nonprofit Web site that aims to put those in need in contact with people who have what they require, Zollar said. Homeless shelters and charities spend a lot of time and money trying to find the basic foodstuffs, equipment and volunteers they require to help needy people, for instance.

Askmall is using Lotus software, Binary Tree Inc.'s EasyMerchant and Lotus hosting partner NetAspects Inc. to set up an online exchange to bring together shelters and charities with possible suppliers and volunteers.

Lotus is working in three key areas to improve its software for use in collaborative commerce: modularity, conforming to a variety of standards, and integrating with both Lotus and third-party products, according to Jeanette Horan, Lotus executive vice president of worldwide development and support.

Looking at modularity, Lotus is ensuring it supports both Microsoft Corp. and Java-based models in areas such as scripting and object models, Horan said.

Lotus is also making its own products more modular, so that users can plug and play its discussion forum, workflow, awareness (in terms of knowing the identity of someone on your Web site), e-learning, teamware, document management, conversation, and application sharing software, she added.

In terms of standards, support for XML (extensible markup language) is key, Horan said, with Lotus working to include XML support in Domino, Domino Designer and Domino Designer components.

In the area of integration, Lotus and parent company IBM Corp. are working to bring together Domino with IBM's WebSphere to eventually enable features like a single sign-on. For now, the companies will bundle the two products together in August for an as-yet-unspecified price. [See "UPDATE: Lotus Stresses Collaborative Commerce," June 19.]The second half of the keynote address was taken up with a lengthy demonstration of Lotus technology through Fish.net, a fictitious global fish buying and selling electronic exchange. Company CEO Zollar made a brief reappearance as a fish deliveryman, wearing overalls and clutching a large tuna. He claimed to much hilarity that his Lotus job was so easy due to his great staff that he "had time to moonlight" as a deliveryman.

All three presenters - Zollar, Horan and Lotus Senior Technical Marketing Manager Beverly DeWitt - were at pains to stress their technical backgrounds.

Following the Fish.net demonstration, DeWitt showed the code used to create the demonstration.

To much applause, DeWitt also gave a sneak preview of a version of Domino Designer currently under development. The upcoming features include the ability to more easily get to and share different design elements, as well as drag-and-drop capabilities.

With the future version of Domino Designer, developers will also be able to pick up images from databases besides the one in which they are working. A feature which will enable developers to lock coworkers out of their design work drew particular applause as did the ability to use layers instead of tables in the design process.

DevCon kicked off here Wednesday and runs through Saturday. Information on the conference can be found at http://www.lotus.com/home.nsf/welcome/devcon.

Lotus, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, can be reached at +1-617-577-8500 or http://www.lotus.com/.

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