IBM Takes Lotus Deskless

IBM Tuesday became the latest firm to offer up an enterprise email product for “deskless” workers, unveiling IBM Lotus Workplace Messaging.

Geared to extending email to factory floor workers, retail clerks, airline employees and other workers who just need “baseline” email capabilities, Workplace Messaging is a Web-based offering that runs on IBM’s WebSphere Internet infrastructure software and uses its DB2 Universal Database. IBM said Workplace Messaging can integrate with IBM Lotus Domino and other standards-based messaging infrastructures.

“It’s about providing email access to the unserved user population inside our accounts and other accounts,” John Caffrey, manager of messaging solutions for Lotus, said. Caffrey noted that between 30 and 35 percent of employees inside many organizations do not currently have access to email.

Emeryville, Calif.-based Sendmail, which last week unveiled Workforce Mail, a competing offering targeting the same space, puts that figure a little higher. Sendmail said a little more than half of all employees in a typical enterprise are “deskless” mobile workers and that many organizations have found it too costly and complex to equip deskless workers with email capabilities.

“Enterprises are looking for less expensive email seats, and service providers are looking to increase their revenue by offering additional services,” said Joyce Graff, vice president and research director for Gartner. “These two pressures are moving the enterprise and Internet mail markets together into a single messaging market that serves enterprises, extended enterprises, extranets and service providers with standards-based messaging decoupled from other collaboration support functions.”

“To us, it’s kind of like rounding out our portfolio,” IBM’s Caffrey said, noting that Big Blue already has solutions for workers that “live in mail all day long” and need a rich, high-fidelity user experience, and users that “live in portals and Web browsers.”

Workplace Messaging adds a solution for the rest of the workers, ones who often only need access to basic email — even employees that use shared workstations or kiosks.

“We’re offering another companion product that allows us to service the rest of the users inside of an organization at a price point that makes sense for them.”

Reaching those deskless workers can be critical, according to research firm IDC. “Providing email to deskless workers enables the organization to speak to all employees at the same time with a consistent voice,” said Mark Levitt, vice president of Collaborative Computing at IDC. “Deskless workers feel more connected to the organization because they know what’s happening, which tends to improve morale and employee satisfaction.”

Caffrey said Lotus took design elements from its iNotes product and scaled down the scope of functions in order to create Workplace Messaging.

“We tried to build a simple to use product that can be tailored specifically to a user group inside an organization based on the organization’s wants and needs,” he said. He noted that on the server side administration feels very similar to Domino. “If you know how to administer Domino, you can probably figure out pretty quickly how to do administration of Workplace Messaging,” he said.

It contains an auto-provisioning feature which means the administrator only has to put an entry for an individual in the directory and that person is able to use email. It also features policy management features which allow organizations to assign users to particular groups and grant them granular levels of capability.

IBM has also partnered with anti-spam technology specialist Brightmail to increase Workplace Messaging’s anti-spam capabilities.

IBM is setting a higher price point than competitor Sendmail. The firm said it is available now for a suggested retail price of $29 per user, whereas Sendmail’s offering comes in a $8.50 per seat. But Caffrey noted that IBM will provide discounts for volume customers, adding that Big Blue believes the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for the product, including the $5.80 per user per year maintenance fee, will come in below $3 per user per month for a 5,000 to 10,000 user customer.

Pricing and packaging for the product includes IBM WebSphere Application Server, DB2 Universal Database and LDAP directory. It supports Windows 98 and Windows 2000 on the desktop, and Windows 2000 and AIX on the server. It does not yet support Windows Server 2003. However, Caffrey noted, “We have another release scheduled on the second half of the year,” explaining that it will add support for additional platforms according to customer feedback. Linux is almost certainly on the list, he said.

Workplace Messaging provides language support for English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Simplified and Traditional Chinese.

Still, Oracle, which offers up its own Oracle Collaboration Suite, said IBM is playing catch-up with Workplace Messaging.

“IBM has one email strategy for knowledge workers and another for deskless workers,” said Steve Levine, vice president of marketing for Oracle Collaboration Suite. “One relies on unstructured data and the other on structured data. It’s confusing and gives customers a reason to closely evaluate integration costs versus return.”

He added, “Lotus Notes is features rich, but on a proprietary platform. Workplace Messaging is on a database, but is email only. The bottom line is that IBM’s latest collaboration offering is clear validation of Oracle Collaboration Suite. We leverage an unbreakable database with the most comprehensive tools for building collaborative applications. Think about it: if DB2 could manage unstructured data, why isn’t Lotus Notes already running on it?”