Lotus Hopes to Soar with Raven

Since Lotus Development Corp. has already let plans for its Raven knowledge management suite out of the bag, the company will use its upcoming annual user conference to answer questions as to whether the project will fly in the enterprise.

Raven is the code name for a collection of technologies Lotus hopes will make it easier for users to build desktop portals, and organize and access data.

Raven is expected to be a major topic during Lotusphere 2000 in Orlando. Lotus also is expected to detail support for XML throughout Domino and tout offline services that open Domino replication to Web browsers and other clients. The company also will hype Domino R5, which enterprise customers have been slow to adopt.

But Raven is key as Lotus pushes collaboration beyond shared calendaring and threaded discussions. Raven combines a data store based on IBM Corp.'s DB2 with sophisticated indexing, searching, instant messaging capabilities and a desktop interface with such services as e-mail, discussion groups and data repositories. Raven is designed to help users locate data, find users who have expertise with that data and contact those users instantly. Microsoft is countering with its Digital Dashboard, a customizable desktop portal, and a set of search and index tools code-named Tahoe.

The intent of both vendors is to allow enterprise users to mine data from the mountain of electronic documents stored in database, e-mail and file systems.

Lotus provided a glimpse of Raven late last year at Lotusphere Europe, but many users and analysts say they saw nothing more than a concept.

"Raven is easy to visualize, but I'm wondering what pieces of it will actually work for us," says Mike DiNapoli, knowledge management system administrator for Keane, Inc., an IT services firm in Boston. The company uses Domino as the foundation of an internal knowledge management application called KMS and is hoping Raven will eventually replace Domino's weak search engine. "My feel is that Raven is a component strategy, and we'll evaluate those components and see what we can use," DiNapoli says.

While Lotus says Raven is a cornerstone of its knowledge management platform, observers say the company has a lot of work to do. "Lotus needs to provide examples as to what Raven can do," says Jon Johnston, a senior technology analyst for Creative Business Solutions, a systems integrator in Minneapolis.

Raven is expected to go into beta testing this quarter and ship around midyear.

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