IBM needs to clear up some basic details on its LotusLive social networking cloud offering if it is to expect significant customer take-up on its release in the first quarter of 2009, according to analysts.
LotusLive extends IBM's Bluehouse project, announced a year ago, to include services from across the Lotus portfolio, such as file sharing, instant messaging, web conferencing and profile capabilities.
Bluehouse was pitched predominantly at the small to medium-sized business (SMB) market, but IBM has said that LotusLive will be targeted at companies of all sizes.
Senior Gartner analyst Robert Anderson suggested that SMBs might feel excluded by this switch in focus, and that IBM needs to provide extra clarification that LotusLive is still relevant to smaller companies.
"In a tough economy it makes sense for IBM to make what is on offer to the SMB market available to corporate work groups, because the profit from large enterprises can be diverted to the SMB assault," he said.
"But the only way after to go after SMBs is with aggression. Microsoft has been eating its lunch with SMBs for the last decade, and IBM needs to capture the necessary channels to go after the market.
"Having the right technical assets and disruptive technology is only half the work; the other half is to create market awareness and invest in building trust in the solution."
In an effort to target different sized businesses, IBM confirmed that LotusLive customers will have a choice of social software bundles according to their requirements, although these have yet to be announced.
However, Karen Hobert, a Lotus software expert who heads up US consulting firm Top Dog, warned that numerous bundled offerings might not be the way forward, and that customers want clear-cut packages targeted at their business size.
"IBM's competition is in a good position. Microsoft has similar offerings in different delivery models [such as for small businesses and larger enterprises] and this makes it easy for customers to know which one is right for them," she said.
Bob Picciano, Lotus Software general manager, defended IBM's strategy. " Every department in a big business wants to operate as a small business in order to empower each team," he told vnunet.com, suggesting that this is why IBM launches solutions aimed at different company divisions rather than by company size.
Meanwhile, IBM could offer no details on the pricing of LotusLive, nor when email capabilities from its recent acquisition of Outblaze would be added to the LotusLive offering.
"People want to know the answers," said Hobert. "It is important for LotusLive users to have access to email because, when you meet people in that community, you tend to want to keep messaging them in that same context, and not from another email account."
But the analyst warned that customers may have to wait a while. Microsoft announced its Software + Services intentions at Tech Ed in 2006, but did not deliver the applications until two years later.
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