While IBM Corp. officials continue to say they won't consume their Lotus subsidiary, the first glimpse of the larger picture Big Blue hopes to plug Domino into was evident this week at Lotusphere 2000.
IBM, which has spent millions promoting its e-business tagline, plans to use Domino as a customer service component to complement WebSphere, a Web application development environment and server. Lotus and IBM are developing technology to integrate the two platforms.
The intent is to offer a platform that not only supports online retail transactions, using WebSphere's transaction and back-end connectivity features, but lets businesses communicate with customers through e-mail alerts, instant messages and discussion databases.
"We are sending a clear signal that we are starting to connect the pieces of the IBM portfolio into a broad base for building e-business," says Paraic Sweeney, vice president of business transformation in the application and integration middleware division. "We will use Domino to add people services to the platform so we can solve issues such as the customer service nightmares from this past holiday season."
Lotus customers, while leery of IBM's motives, hope that the association will strengthen Lotus.
"I'm in favor of integration to the extent that Notes becomes a stronger platform so I can do more," says Paul Cottier, consulting analyst for the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland. "We would like to see Lotus become an even stronger company."
Others, however, are not so optimistic.
"I don't think IBM will be able to keep its hands off of Lotus," said one Notes administrator who asked not to be identified.
IBM officials say that won't happen. "Lotus will continue to manage its own destiny," says John Thompson, vice president of IBM's software group. "We will not undo this successful formula."
The standard edition of WebSphere already is loosely integrated with Domino R5, but Lotus will now tighten the hooks and marry Domino with WebSphere Advanced Edition, which adds transaction capabilities key to e-commerce.
"The crux of the synergy is to combine the servers into one logical architecture but still be able to separate them so customers can have one or the other or both," says Jim Kobeilus, an analyst with The Burton Group in Midvale, Utah.
IBM has been working closely with Iris Associates, the development arm of Lotus. "Integration with IBM is about Java, the directory and security," says Tim Halvorsen, chief technical officer of Iris.
Lotus and IBM this week said they are adding support for LotusScript in WebSphere to support Domino applications written in that language. Lotus also will create Java versions of its LotusScript connectors for WebSphere, which hook Domino to back end systems. Both servers will support Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) and the Java Naming and Directory Interfaces, which will offer tight integration with the Domino directory. Previously the two servers communicated via the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol. WebSphere also will rely on Domino security to control authentication and access.
"We are adding EJB, Java and other support so we can run Domino with WebSphere, just like we added COM interfaces so we can run with Windows 2000," says Ken Bisconti, senior director of worldwide product marketing. "People should read nothing more than that into this announcement."
Lotus officials say the pieces to integrate Domino and WebSphere will be delivered throughout the year fueling speculation that work on the project is in its infancy.
"Clearly there is a lot of work to be done here," says Matt Cain, an analyst with the Meta Group on Stamford, Conn. "It's obvious IBM proper has nothing it can offer for collaboration from an e-commerce perspective. Any collaboration has to come from Lotus."