During IBM Lotusphere 2011 earlier this month, I had a chance to see the demo of IBM LotusLive Symphony and interact with the team behind Symphony. LotusLive Symphony is IBM’s new online office suite much along the lines of Google Docs, Zoho Office Suite or Microsoft’s Office Web Apps. Microsoft is a non-starter at this point of time and Zoho is more focussed on SMBs than enterprise users. Google appears to be serious about enterprise customers and their seriousness can be gauged from the poaching from Oracle. So, it makes sense to compare IBM’s LotusLive Symphony with Google Docs. Let me proceed with a disclaimer that LotusLive Symphony is not publicly available yet and hence the comparison is done with some speculation on the impact it will have in the space.
First, a brief look at the LotusLive Symphony features
IBM has been offering their own version of Office Suite, called Lotus Symphony, for quite some time. However, I didn’t see much movement since they released Version 1.3 few years back. But they suddenly woke up and released a much polished Version 3.0 with support for ODF 1.2 and Office 2007 files. IBM’s Lotus Symphony desktop version was based on OpenOffice, the open source suite now owned by Oracle. During Lotusphere 11, they announced an online version of Office Suite which is an entirely new codebase compared to their desktop version. Their emphasis on LotusLive Symphony is on the social and collaborative features and the enterprise use.
Some of the features of Symphony Live includes:
- Powerful and feature rich web based editor
- Comments and Discussion feature inside the document that comes handy even for globally distributed teams in many different timezones
- Real time co-editing feature, which Microsoft once dismissed as too difficult to implement, was pretty neat. The best part about this feature is that the user gets to work privately, meaning no one can edit that part of the document at that time. This will be very handy for enterprises
- Assigning different sections to different users. We are all used to document-wide permissions but, at times and especially inside the enterprise environments, different people may be working on different parts of the document. Section based permissions comes very handy for such scenarios
- Ability to build smart tables to organize data sets. It helps users drill down, analyze, pivot based on different criteria. More importantly, they are live links and any change in the source is automatically updated on the documents. This is again another important feature targeting the enterprise customers
Why I think Google needs to watch out?
Google has been the leading web based office suite provider in the enterprise space and they are increasing their efforts to go further in the enterprise market by developing an ecosystem of third party service providers who add value that fits well with the business processes inside the enterprise. However, enterprise is a completely different ballgame and Google is trying to inject a consumer-like behavior in them. It works well with newer and modern enterprise customers and it may eventually catch up others as the younger generation infiltrate deeply into the enterprises. But, right now, they do face a steep challenge trying to convert the more traditional enterprises to use web based office suite and other SaaS applications.
Microsoft has an upper hand with such organizations because of their reliance on desktop based office suite. And, Microsoft is not serious about pushing their web based office tools to these customers in order to avoid killing their existing cash cow. This presents both challenges and opportunity for Google and its SaaS based vision. It is tough for a consumer focussed company like Google to convince enterprises to use modern technologies but, if they succeed, it also offers them an opportunity to grab the marketshare before Microsoft wakes up to the new reality.
IBM’s entry into this space changes the market dynamics entirely. Unlike Google, IBM has enormous clout in the enterprise space and they can easily push their web based office suite to the enterprise customers using this clout. Another advantage IBM has over Google is the availability of a desktop office suite which can be used in sync with their web based service and also offline. From my discussions with the Symphony team, it appears that they are working on ways to connect Symphony desktop software with LotusLive Symphony. If they manage to integrate these two pieces well, they will have an easy-sell with the enterprises compared to Google. Moreover, IBM has a great vision for social business. If they execute this vision well and make Symphony Live an integrated part of this strategy, they could really grab a good marketshare over both Google and Microsoft.
However, Google has an upper hand with the pricing model and mobile strategy. Even though IBM promised me that their offering with be competitive to the other offerings in the market, I don’t think IBM will be willing to enter a price war with Google. Plus, I haven’t got any hint about IBM’s mobile strategy for their office suite. Today’s enterprises are embracing mobile in a big way and if LotusLive Symphony doesn’t offer a compelling mobile experience, they could easily lose out to Google.
IBM’s foray into this space is interesting because there is not much to monetize here. However, office suite is a critical piece for the very success of their Social Business vision. I would say the success of LotusLive Symphony is tied to how well they execute their Social Business strategy. It is also very important that Google takes note of IBM’s foray into this space and reposition themselves to meet the competition. I know that many pundits write off IBM in today’s world. I was also an IBM skeptic but my interactions with many IBM-ers during Lotusphere convinced me that they have their vision right and what is needed right now is proper execution. I did this analysis with the expectation that they will follow up on their execution this time. Let us wait and see.
Disclaimer: During my visit to Lotusphere, IBM arranged for my stay.
- IBM launches LotusLive Symphony technical preview: Is there room for another cloud office suite? (zdnet.com)
- LotusLive Symphony set to allow seamless enterprise collaboration (v3.co.uk)
- IBM to launch Lotus Symphony suite into the cloud (infoworld.com)
- IBM to Offer Cloud Office Suite (pcworld.com)
- Microsoft Office Alternatives: Productivity Software Showdown (pcworld.com)
- IBM floats Microsoft Office web challenger (go.theregister.com)
- Lotus Symphony fix pack for 64bit Ubuntu users (omgubuntu.co.uk)
- IBM Takes Social Business Mobile (informationweek.com)
- Overview of the LotusLive Collaboration Solution (customerthink.com)