Enterprise 2.0: The Reincarnation of Lotus Notes, Circa 1989


Enterprise 2.0 is both the information technology (IT) conference that took place the week of June 9 in Boston and the software category that combines enterprise applications with collaboration applications with social computing with ... (you pick it) ... on top of standard platforms such as Microsoft (MSFT) Windows Sharepoint or the open source LAMP stack. In other words, Enterprise 2.0 has a little of everything in it and the Boston conference reflected the eclectic nature of the terminology, with exhibitors as diverse as IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle on one end of the spectrum and startups Acquia and Alfresco on the other.

In my opinion, what the Enterprise 2.0 concept comes down to -- take notice, Ray Ozzie -- is a re-implementation of Lotus Notes as it was originally scoped in terms of replication of and collaborative access to unstructured data. The difference is that a lightweight user interface (the browser), underlying infrastructure and many out-of-the-box application "components" (you might call them services) that Ozzie and Lotus had to build themselves are now available and considered commodities. This makes the task of re-implementing such a massive system as Notes go a lot quicker than it did 20 years ago. I guess that is why I saw multiple attempts to do just that at the conference, including one from Ozzie's new employer.

It appears that it took Ozzie and Lotus four years to write the original Notes (most likely with a large team of developers) because it included its own UI, infrastructure and proprietary capabilities such as search and discussion boards. At Enterprise 2.0, Lockheed-Martin (L-M) developers Christopher Keohane and Shawn Dahlen illustrated how about 20 L-M IT staffers essentially reincarnated Notes in a year. They used the Google search appliance, Sharepoint, NewsGator and in-house-developed components. 4,000 of its engineers are already up and running on the software, which L-M calls Unity, and the developers are aiming at adding at least the 54,000 employees in their division and possibly the other 100,000 L-M employees and others via open source. (The Unity developers do not have L-M management permission yet to open source their work; see my blog post at ebizQ.net about the problem many IT shops face when they try to convince management to open source something that has been developed in house.)

Across the hall an hour later, Microsoft presented research on a prototype product called Town Square, with similar functionality. It was developed in a few months by Microsoft's Office Labs unit, and is also built on Sharepoint. Town Square was also exhibited by Microsoft, and about 500 Microsoft employees are involved in an "early alpha" somewhere in GatesWorld (at least I can call it GatesWorld for two more weeks).

All kinds of questions remain relative to how this sort of functionality can be updated and maintained (open source and/or proprietary) and delivered (on premise, true SaaS, or just sitting on bare metal in an outsource farm somewhere). But the fact that the equivalents of 1980s-era Notes systems are being put together in skunk works and in-house IT development shops in a matter of weeks has some implications.

  • If you're a CIO, it means get out ahead of the Enterprise 2.0/mashup trend or it will run right over you.
  • If you're a developer, as the L-M IT guys said: "Think big, start small and move fast."
  • If you are an end user in an organization, it means the time is close at hand when you can tell the CIO that you'll go out to the cloud to get what you want if IT can't deliver. And IT might say, "I agree."