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Comdex coverage by CNN and

Lotus' Papows hails 'virtual office' era

Growing web of communication methods is radically changing the ways we work.

November 18, 1998
Web posted at: 12:41 PM ET

by Jana Sanchez-Klein

(IDG) -- LAS VEGAS -- Jeff Papows, president and chief executive officer of Lotus Development, Monday hailed the beginning of a new era in computing: The virtual-office era, which he said will cause a "quantum leap in the way civilization works."

Papows, speaking to a packed audience at Comdex/Fall '98 here, discussed in broad terms the effect this new era will have on the way people work and communicate.

Trials and eras

Papows walked the audience through what he said were the three phases of computing.

The first era, beginning in the 1970s, was the back-office era, in which only thousands of professionals used large, mainframe computers to automate functions such as accounting.
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The second era was the PC era, in which hundreds of thousands of employees used PCs for front-office applications, such as spreadsheets, he said.

The third era, which Papows said we are in now, is the virtual-office era in which everyone in the enterprise uses computers and networks to work and communicate. "During the virtual-office period, we will reassess the meaning of teams, organizations, and communication," he said.

In the speech laced with humor -- including professional help presented by comedian Paula Poundstone -- Papows outlined his vision for the role of groupware, including his own Lotus Notes products, and the evolution of information management.

Today, he said, we send and receive more than 2.7 trillion e-mail messages each year. "E-mail will soon surpass the delivery of mail by the Postal Service. Just think of the reduction in violence possible," he quipped, referring to a number of fatal shootings by post office workers in the past decade in the U.S.

Collaboration and commerce

The Internet and the World Wide Web are growing dramatically as a result of the "killer applications" for collaboration, e-commerce, and training, Papows said.

The Web, he said, is both overhyped and undervalued. "Increasingly, it's about a more dynamic and sophisticated class of applications, such as customer service and business-to-business e-commerce."

Papows predicted that the use of collaborative applications, such as real-time messaging and chat, will grow, as will the use of the Internet for real-time "distributed learning," or online training and education, he said.

Spending on collaborative applications is growing at 20 percent per year, higher than the 12-percent growth in the information systems industry in general, said Papows.

"It's not just about business consequences," said Papows. "There are human and social consequences as well," he said citing an HIV-data project that lets people access information about HIV-related illness as well as communicate online with each other and with health professionals.

Papows pointed to the $58 billion that corporations spend annually on formal training -- much of which could be done via the Internet.

"Business to business e-commerce is doubling every 100 days and will reach $300 billion by 2002," he said.

Getting in sync

"All of our Web-based usage has been about asynchronous communication. We will move by the end of this year to a concurrent model," he said. The new release of Lotus Notes will include functions that allow users to chat online in real time, for example. "The next logical step is to deal with voice communication," said Papows, who said that users will be able to default to voice communication over the Web and have synchronous conversations.

This synchronous communication will increase the spread of "knowledge management" through enterprises, he said. "A year or a year and a half ago, it was just an industry buzzword. Knowledge management, however, isn't fundamentally about technology. It's about social and human changes," he said. "Knowledge management is about making our companies more innovative and responsive."

While the U.S. president has an e-mail address and favors preventing taxation of Internet commerce, the U.S. government has, in fact, hurt the industry by imposing "brain-dead legislation on privacy and the export of encryption," Papows said. "And outside of the U.S., I worry about taxation [of Internet commerce]. It's logical to assume that governments will want a piece of the action."

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