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IBM is planning to integrate a number of the Lotus products with its core software offerings. This could be further evidence that Lotus’ life as a standalone company is drawing to a close. It couldn’t come at a better time.

Speaking at the annual IBM Developer conference yesterday, IBM execs revealed that its latest version of WebSphere would feature much closer integration with Lotus’ flagship Domino server. The company also plans to tie into the DB2 product range. In all honesty the announcement came as no surprise. At Lotusphere earlier this year the company had said integration was imminent – and this was undoubtedly the best place for IBM to start.

Following this kind of integration will enable IBM to cross sell across the platforms which should boost all technologies. The bigger question though is what does this mean for Lotus. Is it the start of the end of the stand-alone company?

Lotus has had a funny old life. Having established a good product set under its own steam, the company fell victim to an aggressive take-over bid from IBM in 1995. Following the acquisition however, Lotus looked set for a comfortable life. IBM set the company up as a stand-alone business tasked with grabbing the lions share of the messaging and communications market.

Unfortunately plans went awry. Although the Domino environment can claim some heady success, Notes, Lotus’ communications tool, soon fell victim to Microsoft and it’s bullish marketing techniques. The product gained itself quite an installed base and an enviable reputation, but Microsoft’s assault has been non-stop and now Notes simply doesn't have the clout it once had.

True, Notes almost made a startling run for glory when some clever little marketing goon came up with the idea of knowledge management – a new category where Lotus Notes could dominate. Again though, it was a strategy not so much built on shifting sands, as at the low tide mark. Knowledge management was far too much of a wishy-washy, liberal concept for anyone to buy into and once again Lotus found itself floundering.

Now the company finds itself with some damned good products but few places to sell them. IBM seems intent on denying that Lotus will be dragged back into the fold but it's probably inevitable. Lotus has to find somewhere to flog its products and there is no better way to do that than by making it part of a bigger, more clearly defined, IBM solution sale. That doesn’t mean that Lotus will go any day now, although IBM has acted swiftly in the past to re-merge its CRM firm, but clearly it's being considered.

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