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IBM Drops Lotus Brand

Darryl K. Taft covers IBM, big data and a number of other topics for TechWeekEurope and eWeek

IBM is to axe the Lotus brand from its collaboration software products, using the IBM brand alone for new versions of Notes and Domino

In a move that has been a long time in the making, IBM is dropping the Lotus brand and in the future will use the IBM brand on its own to identify products such as Notes and Domino.

IBM plans to deliver a public beta of IBM Notes/Domino 9.0 Social Edition that will not carry the Lotus brand, Ed Brill, director of social business and collaboration solutions at IBM, wrote in a 13 November blog post. “…This beta is also the point where Notes/Domino will join other IBM software solutions in sporting only the IBM brand – the second-most-valuable brand in the world,” Brill said in his post.

‘Business as usual’

IBM’s dropping the Lotus brand might be viewed as a historic moment for old-timers, but also as a business-as-usual move by an industry giant. Lotus has been around since 1982, initially as the Massachusetts-based Lotus Development Corp., which released its famed Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet in 1983. IBM acquired Lotus in 1995 for $3.5 billion (£2.2bn), primarily to get hold of Lotus Notes, then a wildly popular groupware system developed by Ray Ozzie’s Iris Associates that was eating into IBM’s profits.

“In a nutshell, the updated branding of Notes and Domino is a continuation of IBM’s overall branding strategy,” an IBM spokeswoman told eWEEK. “As social business begins to dominate the collaboration market, Lotus must follow suit. It’s not about IBM dropping a brand, but more about strengthening the portfolio and meeting customer needs.”

Over the years Lotus has seen its share of scrapes and scuffles, as well as triumphs, including when its hard-charging former chief executive Jim Manzi tried to take on Bill Gates’ Microsoft directly and came out bruised for his efforts. In addition, Lotus pioneered some of the IT industry’s big “look and feel” lawsuits, as it charged Paperback Software, Mosaic and Borland with copying the Lotus 1-2-3 interface.

Lotus also had a reputation for innovation and supporting new ideas, both technological and cultural; that’s not surprising for a company based in free-thinking Cambridge, Massachusetts. For instance, in 1992, Lotus was one of the first, if not the first major company to offer full benefits to same-sex partners.

The death of the Lotus brand is significant in the history of IT, as Lotus technology can be counted among the most notable enterprise software brands in the world. However, that brand was and is not nearly as notable as the IBM brand.

“This is quite a historic moment, the end of an era for an iconic 20th century brand,” said Tony Baer, an analyst at Ovum. “IBM’s been laying the groundwork for retiring the Lotus name for several years. But don’t forget that in its lifetime, Lotus was already reinvented when it went from spreadsheets to ‘groupware,’ the first real collaborative application – if you’re not counting email. Today, collaboration is no longer an app, but a capability that is baked into applications, devices, messaging systems and social networks. Maybe it’s not obvious from today’s perspective, but Lotus became a victim of its own success.”

The growth of social business

Judith Hurwitz, president and chief executive of Hurwitz & Associates and a longtime IBM watcher, concurs. “If you look at IBM’s software strategy, it is clear that collaboration services are no longer standalone services,” Hurwitz said. “In fact, we are seeing that collaborative and social business services are embedded in everything from data services to converged infrastructure. Therefore, does it really make sense to have a standalone brand when collaboration is part of everything? It is a good move and will definitely help IBM. In many ways, the Lotus brand has outlived its usefulness.”

IBM kept the Lotus brand intact for more than a decade as it sold loads of Lotus software to thousands of customers. And its annual Lotusphere user conferences have been reputable, both for their ability to impart information and highlight new technologies in the pipeline as well as for the opportunity for thousands of users with like minds, solutions and problems to get together and party.

Brill said IBM will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Lotusphere next year; however, it will be as part of IBM Connect 2013.

In its description of the Connect 2013 conference, which will run from 27 to 31 January in Orlando, Florida, IBM said: “In January 2013, we’re joining two ‘places’ – long-standing Lotusphere and last year’s Connect conferences – and making them one.”

Why the name change? The conference has a new name to reflect an expanded focus, the broader IBM social business story. The technical content for which Lotusphere is known is still predominately featured through hundreds of deep-dive technology-enablement sessions for all technical roles and, in fact, is called the Lotusphere programme within IBM Connect.

Core values

“As a brand, Lotus probably has more historical significance today than it does market impact,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. “So the decision to place the products within IBM Collaboration Solutions does two things: 1) reflects a core value – collaboration – that the company has been emphasising for the past five years or so; and 2) firmly attaches them to IBM – which is number two on Interbrand’s 2012 list of best-recognised global brands – just behind number one Coca-Cola. Overall, I wouldn’t read too much into this though it does highlight the essentially transitory nature of most commercial products, as well as how notable it is for a brand to become and remain dominant for years or even decades as IBM has done.”

Amy Wohl, editor of Amy D. Wohl’s Opinions and another longtime IBM watcher, was also nostalgic. “When IBM acquired Lotus in 1995 – I can’t believe that’s 17-plus years ago because I remember the day – they made a decision to continue to use the brand name because Lotus, in its space, had quite a bit of brand value for both PC software and collaboration,” Wohl said. “Since then, IBM has pretty routinely [more than 50 acquisitions later] moved acquired products under the IBM brand, in their various product families [WebSphere, Tivoli, Rational, Information-on-Demand, and so forth].

“Lotus [like other IBM brands] has routinely been incorporating pieces of IBM technology and code and contributing technology to the IBM portfolio. So it’s certainly an important moment for Lotus, but not one that was unanticipated, I think. Today, IBM is the stronger brand, and Lotus is part of a large and strong IBM software portfolio. The decision makes sense,” Wohl said.

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Originally published on eWeek.