SharePoint vs. Lotus: Microsoft, IBM Go Head to Head on Collaboration

Ann All

Just how big of a deal is U.S. Bank's decision to abandon Microsoft SharePoint in favor of IBM's Lotus collaboration software, a story reported by Computerworld? "It's a very big deal," according to Bob Picciano, the IBM executive quoted in the story. Not so big, sniffed the competing Microsoft executive. Said Julia White, director of Exchange product management:


Last year, more than 4.7 million people began the switch to Exchange and SharePoint from Notes. We count our switchers in millions, while Notes counts their switchers in tens of thousands. We expect this trend to accelerate with Exchange 2010 and SharePoint 2010.


Sounds like fighting words, and IBM has been spoiling for a fight since 2007, when it began adding lots of new features to its once-stagnant Lotus software, in an apparent effort to offer an alternative to Microsoft SharePoint, which has been Microsoft's fastest-growing product to date. Lotus is at the center of what tech pundit David Berlind last year called "probably the closest thing I've seen to a cohesive strategy around how the two infrastructures can strip out the inefficiencies in collaborative business process."


Yet even IBM's approach falls short of offering a seamless approach to Enterprise 2.0. As CMS Watch's Tony Byrne told me:


Connections is very networking-oriented with a little bit of collaboration. Quickr is very collaboration-oriented with a little bit of networking. So at a certain point, through the evolution of these things, you're probably going to want to take a thing that germinated in Connections and put it into Quickr to formalize it. Yet the whole point of Enterprise 2.0 is, "Let's keep the discussion going." But at that point, you're back in Connections.


As IT Business Edge's Mike Vizard pointed out earlier today, Big Blue just rolled out a set of collaboration frameworks for several vertical industries (including banking, of course). The frameworks ostensibly can provide a kind of one-stop-shop collaboration experience, with an integrated set of IBM software coupled with its consulting services. He cuts to the chase:


The IBM collaboration frameworks consist specifically of products from IBM's Lotus Notes group coupled with IBM middleware. Depending on the situation, IBM may add in some third-party products. But if you're starting to get the idea that it sounds awfully complicated and expensive to collaborate, you're probably not alone. If you think Microsoft, Oracle or anybody else is any better at the moment when it comes to end-to-end collaboration, think again.


And that's the $64 million question. (Maybe more, if you throw in those consulting services.) Why is enterprise collaboration still so hard (and expensive) to implement? Vizard calls it the collaboration conundrum.


U.S. Bank is also standardizing on the latest Lotus Notes 8.5 client and the Lotus Sametime messaging application for all of its 58,000 employees. IBM had an incumbent edge, since U.S. Bank was already using versions 6.5 of IBM Lotus Notes and Domino for most of its workforce. Picciano downplayed the advantage, saying it was a "largely competitive" battle in which the superior technology won.


An added note: Apparently U.S. Bank is also considering switching from Microsoft Offce to IBM's Lotus Symphony productivity suite, which Big Blue is strongly pitching as an Office alternative. As PCWorld reports, IBM is adding a new set of drag-and-drop widgets to Symphony that include integration with popular backend software such as Microsoft SharePoint Server, among others.


Check out some of the collaboration-friendly widgets: OrgChart Widget, which integrates with profiles in Lotus Connections so users can be added into online meetings; Learning Widget, which combines local and Web-based information; Team Workspace Widget, which provides access to documents stored in Lotus Quickr or Microsoft SharePoint; and Symphony 2 Wiki Widgets, which convert documents for publishing on wikis.

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