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IBM's Lotus Goes Live for SaaS Apps

Microsoft owns the desktop (for now). Google owns the Web (also for now). But this Software-as-a-Service stuff is wide open, and a huge player kicked up its pace in the SaaS race this week.

IBM unveiled LotusLive this week in Orlando at -- where else? -- Lotusphere. LotusLive is a hosted collaboration suite that includes pretty much everything you would think it would include -- e-mail, file sharing and various online collaboration bits. It slots in competitively, more or less, with Windows Live and maybe a bit with Google Apps as well.

IBM isn't going it alone with LotusLive, either. Big Blue has integration partnerships with heavy-hitters, LinkedIn and Skype in its portfolio. Of course, the agreement isn't necessarily exclusive, as also has a relationship with Google around Google Apps. But suffice it to say that IBM's messages with LotusLive are all about openness -- and, specifically, open standards -- and powerful partnerships.

So, what does all this mean for partners? Well, first, it means that partners that don't have a SaaS strategy of some sort had better get one -- because the big vendors all have them, and they're going after the market with gusto. Along those same lines, it might be time for partners to start figuring out how they can make money off of SaaS, which could necessitate a fairly significant shift in business model as well as a willingness to accept a monthly revenue stream rather than collect big licensing fees up front with every deal.

Aside from the monthly check -- which might very well come from a vendor in the form of a referral fee -- there should be plenty of opportunities to customize SaaS applications. In that sense, this SaaS business isn't all that much different from the regular ol' software business; it's all about customization and services and not so much about licensing (or renewal fees). The trick is that partners have to know how to work with SaaS applications, although it seems that the big vendors are doing their best to facilitate that.

Which mega-vendor, then, will win the SaaS race? We kind of suspect that all of them will. IBM's model looks more pure SaaS than Microsoft's, but Microsoft has a massive installed base and a lot of incumbent applications in the enterprise for integration purposes. And then there's Google, which is replicating Microsoft's model by going after customers through the channel, which seems to us like a wise strategy indeed.

In all likelihood, the race for SaaS superiority will be a marathon and not a sprint. And as long as partners can make a few bucks along the way, that'll be a good thing.

What's your take on the impact of SaaS? How do the vendors' plans look to you? Sound off at [email protected]. It has been a while since we've run reader feedback; we're going to try to do that later this week. Stay tuned.

Posted by Lee Pender on January 20, 2009