Lotus Introduces New CEO

FRAMINGHAM (01/24/2000) - At Lotusphere 2000 in Orlando last week, Lotus Development Corp. introduced new CEO Al Zollar to customers, partners, analysts and the press. The 23-year IBM veteran will take over for outgoing CEO Jeff Papows Feb. 1. Computerworld senior editor Lee Copeland spoke with Zollar about his strategic vision for the groupware vendor.

Q: What skills are you bringing to Lotus that will help move the company forward?

A: I've had a lot of experience in software. And that experience has gone across many technology areas: databases, application development, systems management, Java. And I think those experiences in software - plus the experiences I've gained in developing strategies, sales and services, and in other aspects of what it takes to be a successful software business - will serve me well. Another thing that I hope will serve me well is that I have always been a believer in diversity of thought. It opens new ideas and new approaches, and that type of innovation has been a hallmark of Lotus.

Q: You have been described as a true techie. Is that an accurate moniker?

A: I would describe myself as an OK engineer. Not a superb engineer, not a great engineer, but someone who appreciates what technology can do and how people use it. But it's been a long time since I've done any type of engineering. Most of my time has been focused on building software businesses and looking at business models and acquisitions and relationships that are important to building a successful software business.

Q: Departing CEO Jeff Papows has been criticized for not having enough of a handle on development. Notes/Domino 5.0 shipped almost two years late. Will one of your priorities be to get on top of development?

A: Software engineering is quite complex. And Lotus is not the only team that could be described as having problems from time to time meeting execution milestones. That being said, I have every confidence in the team that we currently have and their ability to execute with time, precision and customer focus.

I think at the end of the day, it's hard to move dates out, but it's usually based on a deep concern on what the customer experience with the product will be.

Q: As IBM and Lotus meld more, what will be the role of Iris, the development group inside Lotus? Will it go away?

A: Absolutely not. Iris is the heart and soul of Lotus and the heart and soul of innovation that makes Lotus what it is. I want to know how I [can] help them to continually improve that team and innovate as they always have.

Q: What needs to happen next technologically to get the Raven knowledge management suite off the ground?

A: I think it's a matter of execution. The real point of Raven is the value of being able to know what you know through the discovery capability that Raven brings. Then [the next step is] to put that information in the hands of those who need it, when they need it - the expertise-location capability.

Then, finally, the capability of establishing a portal that knowledge can be accessed from.

Q: While Raven is cooking, what is Lotus going to do to help get collaboration and e-mail migrations off the ground? A lot of customers are still in the Notes 4.0 world, and some haven't yet started creating collaborative applications with Domino.

A: I've heard some of those things. Once I become more of an authority, we'll see if a course correction is required. Domino as a development platform is very successful, but I need more insight to give a better answer.

Q: You're an African-American, and there are very few blacks in the technology or business worlds at your level. What do you make of it?

A: As people build a skill set and portfolio of experience that represents a set of talents that they bring to the job, that becomes the deciding factor in why they are selected. I would like to believe that that is why [IBM Senior Vice President] John Thompson selected me for this position.

The fact that I happen to be African-American is a positive sign, relative to demonstrating a commitment to diversity. But I hope it's the talent of individuals that are allowed to shine without any blockage or barriers that are artificial.

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