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An Exclusive Interview With Doug Wilson On SYS-CON.TV

IBM's Lotus Division CTO Speaks Out

WebSphere Journal recently interviewed Doug Wilson, Distinguished Engineer and CTO of IBM's Lotus Software Division in Westford, Massachusetts.

Doug Wilson Speaks About His and Lotus's Background...

WebSphere Journal: Doug, could you please provide our audience with a little bit on your background and what path you took to your current job and responsibilities with the Lotus Software Division.

Doug Wilson: Like many people, my career path is a bit checkered. I started some time ago working at MIT as Director of Systems Operations and Systems Development for Project Athena, which, as you may recall, originated a lot of the UNIX based and X-Window based user interface technology. From there I attempted to work in the venture capital land, started a company to do computer aided mechanical engineering design, worked for a while at Kodak building office automation systems for the legal profession and then joined IBM at that time, Lotus, in 1991, where I worked on versions of 1-2-3.

In particular, I was the chief architect for Windows versions 1-2-3 and Smart Suite which was then being acquired by IBM. I worked on a variety of projects at IBM but many centered around the componentization of functions and Java technology.

WJ: What overall role does Lotus play within IBM today, and specifically within the company on the on-demand initiative?

DW: It's actually quite exciting for Lotus now. Lotus has taken the responsibility, within IBM, is really to build the face of the On-demand operating system. We're responsible for those parts of the IBM portfolio that deal with the interactions between users and systems, the organization and presentation of information. Products like WebSphere Portal are part of the Lotus Portfolio, as you certainly have known in recent months. We've released the Workplace Client Technologies and have the responsibility for marketing and engineering of that product as well. Of course, our history has been in Lotus Notes and Notes Domino, and we continue to be extremely strong there with a large customer base of a hundred million plus users.

WJ: What level of support can corporate buyers, in particular, and users, as well, expect to see from IBM for Lotus and Domino in the coming months or coming years?

DW: I think the first word would be unwavering. Domino is a critical part of the portfolio and obviously it's a critical part of the IBM business. IBM itself has close to 300,000 users on Notes. So along with our own internal interests we continue to drive and work towards the interest of all of our Notes Domino customers. It's also important to note that any system that customers have today is part of every system they will build in the future.

WJ: When you say system, are you referring the ability of Lotus to work across platforms and infrastructures?

DW: Well, certainly it does do that, but more specifically I was suggesting that customers have built up an incredible inventory of business critical systems on Domino, and those systems are always necessary going forward and will be part of the customers' future. And so the Workplace initiatives fully embrace all of that and extend the reach of those systems.

WJ: So you're respecting the vital aspects of Lotus in the Workplace and different vertical markets and applications.

DW: Absolutely. Lotus has always been in the platform business and the tremendous strength in Notes is attributable to a large partner community and we see that continuing as we enhance the Domino story with the Workplace story. About Addressing Customer Needs...

WJ: What specific problems are your customers addressing today to Lotus, and how has this evolved over the past few years?

DW: I think our customers are principally concerned with improving the productivity of their employees. A key differentiation in a market can be driven through the productivity of your people. Once you've driven costs out of as many of your systems as you can, one of the few places you have to make substantial differences is in the productivity of the people. That has been the traditional focus of Lotus products, whether for individual productivity with Smart Suite or team productivity which is a focus of the Notes Domino portfolio. Now with the Workplace initiatives focusing on organizational productivity, we are making people work better and more effectively in the context of the business operations that make up a company.

WJ: You were just talking about because you're always checking the feedback from your customers and responding in terms of product development to their increasing needs and expanding and diversified needs. And that's, I guess, reflected in every subsequent release of Domino. Can you be more specific in how you're meeting those current and anticipated customer needs?

DW: Certainly one of the things that we continue to do with the portfolio is to drive cost out of the operation. Domino now is significantly more efficient and capable than it was before. It is more in-tuned and integrated with modern technologies like Web services, and emerging new standards wherever they're appropriate. We continue to assist customers all the time with business value assessments that help them understand how better to utilize those technologies. Many of our customers are utilizing new capabilities and notes and new platforms to achieve significant cost savings through server consolidation which results in, of course, lower cost of ownership both from hardware acquisition and maintenance standpoint, but also in personnel that it takes to manage and administer those systems.

WJ: So you've seen those numbers actually declining as well on the number of quantity of administrators and support that's required?

DW: Yes, and the numbers are significant: factors of three to five in the reduction of the number of CPUs necessary. That's an accumulative effect of better SMP systems and better utilization of those systems by the software itself.

WJ: Would you say these particular factors have accelerated in the last year, given the current state of our economy? Are you more sensitive to total cost of ownership and cost of management and admin? Is that something that you've always been aware of something that you're trying to reduce?

DW: I think it's always been important but certainly in the last couple of years there's been an increasing focus on IT in driving costs out of the system. Actually, though, as the economy has improved lately, we've seen a swing back to more strategic projects and people really looking for ways to get more capability out of their IT systems and not just driving down costs. And that really leads us to look for new opportunities-and that's the most exciting focus of the Workplace portfolio.

We need to really figure out how to do that business more efficiently. We are embarked on really the first phases of what we see as a fundamental change in the way we approach collaboration in computing systems, and almost all business decision operation kinds of things are collaborative. Very few things are done by people in isolation, and are certainly not done outside of a business context that drives those decisions. We see tremendous opportunity in integrating the collaborative systems with the business systems that provide the context that employees need to make decisions that provide the information feeds all in the context of the particular business operation.

About Customer and Marketing Relationships...

WJ: We understand, Doug, that marketing relationships are critical to the success of all software products in environments today. Could you describe for our audience the extent of IBM's Lotus marketing program today? And how many partners, for example, and can you offer an example of great customer success stories? Those are things that our audiences are always interested in hearing about.

DW: Well, there are great success stores all over the place. One good story involves a major insurance company using our Workplace Client Technology to drive increased productivity in their organizations, handling claims more quickly, handling claims on site without the employees having to be tethered to the IT systems, and providing significant increases, significant improvements, in policy handling. We have customers with many, both internal- and external-facing portal implementations that are providing new sources of information, aggregation and feed to their employees to get them information more quickly. We have customers deploying our new Workplace services in order to provide low cost messaging and communication services between mobile employees, people who have no desks, but move from kiosk to kiosk.

WJ: And your marketing programs?

DW: What I think you'll see from IBM is a focus that is not as much software-brand-led as it's been in the past, but rather focused on the problem of the IT and business organization as a whole. The On-demand initiative from IBM is one that's really had resonance with our customers. It describes a set of ideals for business in terms of business agility responsiveness, flexibility, which are particularly important to businesses in the current market conditions, as things change quickly, as organizations merge and divest, in-source and out-source their capabilities. These are all things that are representative of the needs for a company, and correspondingly its IT organization needs to be very agile. The On-demand initiatives in IBM are about responding to that and providing IT the tools needed to do that.

WJ: So will the tools and software take kind of a back seat to just providing an overall solution or capability of creating greater agility for an organization?

DW: I wouldn't say a back seat. I would say that they are foundational, Right? That those software systems are necessary, that integration is a key to all of this. If you look at IT spending projects, tremendously large percentage of those projects are oriented at integration kinds of activities. Consolidation and acquisition force those issues and expanding opportunities drive new modalities and new channels for delivery of services.

About Lotus Workplace...

WJ: Nearly a year after its launch last June, how would you define the business opportunities inherent in Lotus Workplace? We've been hearing more and more about Workplace. That's part A of that question, and part B is has a full set of APIs now been released for Workplace or is that something we can anticipate?

DW: To the first question, as with any new portfolio, you expect there to be people out on the leading edge of that who are achieving success. We have those customers and they're doing quite well. I think we have a number our customers, in the thousands now, for the Workplace product portfolio. It's a very broad portfolio as well and encompasses both stand-alone offerings from Web content management to one of the very exciting offerings which is Workplace for Business Controls and Reporting which is very relevant to corporations today who are faced with compliance requirements through the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the like.

WJ: Are you offering solutions that are more vertical?

DW: We offer the Sarbanes-Oxley solution as a platform in conjunction with partners who bring the domain expertise on regulatory compliance and the templates and patterns necessary for achieving compliance in an organization.

WJ: Highly specialized...

DW: Yes. So again, we, as IBM, specialize in foundational and platform software. We turn very much to our partners to drive the solutions across all of the domains that they work in.

WJ: Are there any particular vertical industries that are quicker to adopt Workplace versus others that you're seeing any particular uptake in one versus the other, or is that something you can share with us?

DW: It's a very good spread, actually. The financial institutions have been quite responsive. We see very high interest in professional services organizations as well, which, of course, you'd expect because of the high degree of collaboration between individuals there. But it's quite evenly spread. IBM has a strong industry focus solutions team and every one of them is actively engaged with the Workplace technology so it's very good.

To the second part of your question, APIs for Workplace. Yes, there is an API for the Workplace collaborative services, and again I would probably stress that Workplace is a high level brand in IBM. There are a number of products under the Workplace umbrella and I suspect the one you were specifically asking about is Workplace Collaborative Services, and yes, there is an API for all of the service functions coming in the 2.5 release, which is imminent.

Part 2 of this interview will appear in the May 2005 issue of WebSphere Journal. Doug Wilson talks about RFID and retail, Lotus and J2EE, Eclipse, and other topics of interest.

Doug Wilson, CTO, Lotus Product Division, IBM
Doug Wilson is an IBM Distinguished Engineer and chief technology officer for the Lotus Product Division of IBM's Software Group. Prior to this he was responsible for architectural strategy for Domino and WebSphere integration, WebSphere Portal Server and WebSphere content manager, and WebSphere Personalization. He invented and managed the design and development of Lotus InfoBus technology, a data exchange technology for Java components that has been accepted for inclusion in JavaSoft's Java Developer's Kit as a Java standard. Doug holds a degree from M.I.T.'s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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