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Growing customer interest in collaboration has obviously caught the attention of the big three software vendors - IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, writes Martin Langham of Bloor Research. Now, each of them are putting the full force of their product development and marketing might into establishing a presence in this increasingly important area.

The good news is that all this marketing muscle and development effort will introduce collaboration into wider usage. The bad news (for existing collaboration vendors) is that when elephants dance the mice should watch out.

So how do these major contenders stack up in what is likely to be an important competition?

Lets start with IBM, on the basis that in Lotus Notes they created the grandfather of the collaboration business. Lotus Notes was a very far-sighted development, perhaps too far ahead of its time, so that in many cases organisations used it as an email system exploiting only a fraction of its capabilities.

IBM's new focus on collaboration is paying off for Lotus Notes. IBM Lotus Team Workplace, a product that is easy to administer and use, has grown rapidly in popularity since its introduction in 1999. This product is intended for small short-term projects but there are bigger plans afoot based on an enterprise-wide collaboration strategy called a Lotus Work Place.

More details of Lotus Work Place have yet to be announced but it is likely to tie in closely with the IBM WebSphere Portal strategy and to provide "industrial-strength" collaboration capabilities to business processes.

Oracle is a late entrant to the collaboration arena but has the advantage of starting with a clean sheet. Oracle calls its Collaboration Suite a new generation of enterprise software that manages both messages and content for businesses. They have set their sights firmly on large-scale enterprise-wide collaboration, basing it on their well-received unified messaging system. Release 1 came out last year and Release 2, to be announced in July, will provide most of the asynchronous and real time collaboration tools needed to stake their claim in this application area.

Oracle's marketing messages are cost of ownership, the very high reliability they can deliver and the scalability of Oracle solutions that allows collaboration to be rolled out cost effectively across the whole enterprise.

Oracle Collaboration Suite can also bring scattered content together and place it under unified control, ensuring that the organisation's directors need worry less about regulatory compliance. These messages build on Oracle's key strengths but the worry is that collaboration implementation has traditionally been "viral". The approach of starting with a small enthusiastic project in one department and spreading outwards, works well when cultural change is required. Can Oracle create the customer demand for enterprise-wide collaboration right now?

As ever, Microsoft is well placed to enter this market because it can leverage its pervasive Office interface and familiar collaborative editing facilities such as the Change Tracking in Microsoft Word. Microsoft is tackling this market with the release of Windows Server 2003 in April.

This will provide not only a collaboration Portal (Sharepoint Portal Server 2003) but also a set of services (Windows Sharepoint Services 2003) that can be used to develop portals and embed collaboration in other applications. For example, Word, Excel and Outlook have a new, shared task pane to access sites hosted by Windows Sharepoint Services. With the release of Windows Sharepoint Services, Microsoft has moved the Sharepoint application onto a robust architecture based on the .NET framework and using a SQL database.

The success of each of these vendors depends on how well they tackle problems inherent in their starting point.

  • Can IBM take the well-honed functions of Lotus Notes and deliver a flexible, scalable, low-cost and easy-to-manage product set?
  • How well will Oracle's message of reliability and cost of ownership play in a market just starting to consider collaboration as an enterprise-wide activity?
  • Can Microsoft leverage their Office inheritance and move their customers into a server-based and enterprise-wide collaboration environment?
  • Whatever their individual success, the common theme that's emerging from the three vendors is collaboration based on a flexible enterprise architecture that can support "pure" collaboration as well as providing a collaboration service to other applications. These "dancing elephants" will put further pressure on the pure play and document centric collaboration vendors.

© IT-Analysis.com

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