IBM has launched a hosted software product aimed at the online, enterprise-class social collaboration market. LotusLive is a cloud-based integrated portfolio of social networking and collaboration services tailored for business that will be offered in a hosted, software-as-a-service model.

Sean Poulley, vice-president of IBM's online collaboration services, said LotusLive, which is regarded as a competitor to Microsoft's Office Live, includes tools for networking, email, file sharing and web conferencing.

"This is about extending the existing investments that our customer base has already made, and we see it as complimentary to what they're already doing," said Poulley, noting plug-ins will integrate LotusLive services with on-premise Lotus tools for businesses that want to run both.

Organisations already have fairly rich sets of collaboration tools, said Poulley. The challenge is that these tools are largely confined to the business, while the challenge today is how businesses can connect externally, whether it's with customers, partners, or their supply chain. "So all that rich collaboration capability you have inside your business doesn't work outside your business, and that's really the genesis of LotusLive," said Poulley.

Various versions and bundles of LotusLive services will be rolled-out during 2009, tailored to specific verticals and markets. The first offering, expecting to ship in March, is dubbed Engage and includes web meeting, network, instant messaging, file-sharing, charts, forms and activities tools.

IBM acknowledges LotusLive and the SaaS model won't be a fit for every business. While large organisations will be better served by optimising their existing on-premise implementations, Poulley said IBM sees LotusLive being a money-saver for organisations in the 100 to 10,000 seat range, and organisations with so-called "boundary workers" that are often mobile or located remotely from the main office. For these business cases, Poulley said LotusLive could deliver the benefits of a large-scale implementation with the cost-savings of the SaaS model.

While Microsoft is a major rival to IBM's Lotus in the on-premise category and is making its own SaaS play as well with offerings such as Office Live, LotusLive isn't necessarily a response to Microsoft despite the similar names, said David Tebbutt, an analyst with Freeform Dynamics.

"It's just IBM deciding what needs to be done and getting on with doing it," said Tebbutt. "IBM has been looking at this social stuff for years, at least since they bought Lotus Notes. It's not alien territory to IBM, it's not a catch-up game. It's a getting it right game."

And he said one area where IBM has a leg-up on its competitors in the space, particularly the pure-play SaaS vendors, is its corporate reputation for longevity, stability, and security.

"If Google says we've got these social apps and they're secure, people will ask, 'Do we really trust these guys with our business? Are they really secure?'" said Tebbutt. "However, if IBM says they do, then for most people it's a given, you feel a lot safer with them."