First, thank you IBM/Lotus for getting me out of Boston before the snow. I know that has something to do with my good mood. But that aside, what Lotus unveiled at its 17th annual Lotusphere in Orlando this week warms my heart in another way. For all the advancements in its product portfolio and technologies, the real accomplishment is Lotus’ keen focus on people, context, and simplicity.

IBM wants us to have a Smarter Planet, and Lotus “Knows” how to get there. Its vision for collaboration is deeply connected to personal productivity. With LotusLive, launched just a year ago, the effort is to allow people to be able to stay in their in-box and bring work tasks, information, and people together, in context. It has 18 million users today compared to just about 1 million each for Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) and Google Premier Apps. It’s landing more huge enterprise accounts, including the just announced more than 150,000 seats with Panasonic. Yet it still seems that many people don’t know Lotus, because most of my inquiries continue to ask about Microsoft or Google. Let me share.

So much of the iWorker’s day is spent searching for information, toggling between applications, and pulling content together from various sources to support a business activity or process. Unlike Google Wave, which does try to innovate to accomplish similar collaborative experiences, LotusLive doesn’t require radically altering behavior to get there (see Ted Schadler’s related Lotus blog). Email is an hourly addictionfor iWorkers, so LotusLive starts there and integrates Web conferencing, social networking, and collaboration within the environment. 

Symphony, Lotus’ free Open Office productivity suite, will soon also be integrated to provide a web-based document document editor for creating and sharing (which surprisingly drew spontaneous cheers from the crowd).

Critical mass matters for the success of social networking and collaboration. So does trust and track record. IBM/Lotus meets the security litmus test because of its proven ability to support enterprise needs across its product portfolio. Google has yet to earn that trust. Microsoft engenders the same level of trust and is hot on the heels of Lotus with its 2010suite of products, slated to be launched midyear. But in the cloud, Lotus is way ahead and offering the kind of ease of access to people and content in context that Microsoft has yet to master. Consider:

  • iWorkers suffer from ADD. With plenty to distract iWorkers from their task at hand, people increasingly need help to compartmentalize their work to stay the course. Need to locate the latest sales numbers to put in your presentation to the board? This can trigger a investigation to find who has the latest information, how to best reach them, or perhaps to try and discover if the information is already documented elsewhere. LotusLive addresses these challenges by enabling easier connections to people and content through searching and social networking that don’t require switching applications. You can contact someone based on information published, through integration of a “business card” fed from Connections/SameTime, and escalate from a threaded discussion to voice, video, a meeting, and presence.
  • iWorkers need context. We know that information taken out of context is misleading. Value comes from understanding the genesis of information as well as its application in a given scenario. Because of the ability to filter by a lot of work dimensions, such as people, projects, time/date, or specific keyword searches, it’s much easier to surface content and people in relation to what your information needs are. With the ability to find sales numbers and also view related discussion threads or additional presentation materials or documents, greater understanding of the data is possible because more context is provided.
  • iWorkers want simple. Ok, I admit it, I am the epitome of the KISS principle. I really don’t adjust well to new technology. I’m lucky to have a husband that manages all of the electronics at home. But I do know good design. It’s simple. It’s clean. I don’t have to think about it. It’s intuitive. What LotusLive accomplishes is a strikingly simple UI that doesn’t force me to change my behavior. iWorkers will relish being able to do what they’ve always done and delight in the ease of discovering more content, more people, and ultimately, be more productive.

Given the concerted effort to solve iWorker pain points through actual use cases, within their core customer industries like banking and healthcare, Lotus is able to deliver what Google Wave fails to address: providing a solution that improves personal productivity without forcing a change in work behavior. The “build it and they will come” approach generally fails. Just look at any efforts around document collaboration and team sites usage. Incrementally improving upon the investments that you already have without forcing a cultural change, however, will be a powerful differentiator. Who knew? Lotus.