IBM Retires Lotus, Focuses on ‘Social Business’

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After 17 years under IBM ownership, the iconic Lotus name is being retired, relegated to the long list of tech brands that have gone the way of the dodo, DeLorean and Twinkie. The move clears the way for IBM to make its brand dominant in the rapidly expanding social business segment.

Lotus, the brand, had a good run. After 17 years under IBM Corp. ownership, the iconic Lotus name is being retired, relegated to the long list of tech brands that have gone the way of the dodo bird and Twinkie.

IBM quietly announced last week it was discontinuing use of Lotus, a brand and company it bought in 1995, and reclassifying social enterprise and communications tools under the Big Blue umbrella. Lotus product brands, such as Notes and Domino, will survive.

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Additionally, the annual Lotusphere conference in Orlando this January, entering its 20th year, is being rebranded “Connect 2013.” IBM states in the conference catalog that the name change reflects the evolving dynamic of business collaboration needs and IBM’s growing portfolio of products and services.

Many will lament the passing of Lotus, as it carried the legacy of a pioneering technology company that took on the giants and, in many cases, won. Lotus is best known for introducing one of the first, and arguably commercially viable, spreadsheet with Lotus 1-2-3. Over the years, Lotus tangled with greater and lesser degrees of effectiveness with Microsoft Corp., Paperback Software and Borland.

Analysts and observers mark the Lotus retirement as a sign of IBM maturing its collaboration portfolio and focusing on expanding its foothold in this growing market segment. Point of fact, IBM has been pushing the “social business” agenda, releasing several software and service packages designed to provide enterprise and midmarket companies with greater content creation and sharing capabilities.

While many vendors are plying the social business segment, IBM is getting the most traction. Discontinuing Lotus as a leading brand means IBM will position itself as the owner of the segment, giving sustainability in future development. The impact on solution providers reselling and supporting Lotus products is likely negligible, as the underlying technology and overarching go-to-market strategy are unlikely to change.

Lotus joins a long list of iconic tech brands that have had their banners lifted to the rafters in retirement, including Linksys (Cisco Systems Inc.), Great Plains (Microsoft), NetScreen Technologies (Juniper Networks Inc.) and Network Associates (McAfee Inc.). Chances are Lotus will remain a ghost inside IBM and in the market for years to come, similar in the way that some Symantec Corp. employees and partners still identify themselves first as “Veritas” people nearly a decade after that company and brand were acquired and assimilated into Big Yellow.

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