Lotus acknowledges delay, enlarges branch

Lotus officials, who until recently maintained that the complex Notes/Domino Release 5 (R5) upgrade would ship by year's end, acknowledged that the product's release would be delayed until at least the second half of January.

Lotus has also revealed plans to add muscle to its professional services corps. The Lotus Worldwide Services and Solutions Group is slated to be launched in January.

The pending Notes/Domino upgrade could slip to the end of January or later, although the company has targeted its midmonth Lotusphere conference, in Orlando, Florida, for the launch, said Ken Bisconti, senior director of communications products marketing at Lotus.

Some of the delay has been attributed to adjustments of the Notes R5 client upgrade, which introduces a Web browser metaphor and is intended to function as the user's primary work environment.

"This isn't by way of criticism, but it's just a fact that the client looks different every time you get it. They're doing a lot of usability lab-type testing. You can probably conclude that that's where the focus resides," said Andrew Jeffrey, chairman and chief technology officer of Quality Decision Management, a Lotus independent software vendor in Massachusetts.

"It's qualitative stuff, as opposed to technical," Jeffrey said. "The client redesign is extremely ambitious. Accordingly, there are a lot of UI challenges - like how do you organise all that information so it's useful and approachable and not overburdened with content to the point that you can't find what you're looking for?"

Given the precedent of earlier Notes client upgrades, users are likely to demand a gradual transition to the new UI, Jeffrey added.

"As long as there's demand for a transition to wean off the older version, that alternate UI will exist, I'd speculate, through Release 6," Jeffrey said.

Testers report the Domino server and Designer development environment to be sound and relatively complete, respectively. So far, the delays do not seem to have cut into Lotus sales, but some observers predict problems if R5 lags further. According to Lotus, the Notes/Domino installed base stood at about 29 million by the end of the third quarter, and is expected to surpass 32 million by year's end, Bisconti said.

In support of the Notes/Domino upgrade and its other products, Lotus - with the help of parent company IBM - plans to relaunch its services organisation as a single entity. Until now, separate groups have existed for consulting, support, and education, according to Tim Dempsey, vice president in charge of Lotus' worldwide business partner program. The enlarged Lotus services group will also increase its coordination with IBM Global Services, according to Lotus company officials.

Although the extension of Lotus' internal services reach might seem to put the company in contention with some of its roughly 19,500 business partners, the expanded internal group will, in fact, push more business their way, according to Dempsey. About 30 per cent of Lotus' services business is currently handled by the company's partners, and that figure is expected to jump to 40 per cent, he said.

"[Potential channel conflict] is a glowing ember, but it's more under control than it has been in the past," Dempsey said. "There may be occasions when that might heat up, but the overall demand for services is still unmet."

According to Aberdeen's Sloane, Lotus faces a difficult balancing act, because a significant number of its partners - and its lead-generators - are consultants.

"Domino is really a consulting machine, since it's a fairly complex environment, and writing Domino applications is not a simple task," Sloane said.

"I think they risk alienating some of their partners," Sloane added.

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