Hoping to catch a ride on the software-as-a-service wave, America Online Inc. is working to integrate its popular instant messaging client with WebEx Communications Inc.s Web meeting tool and Microsoft Corp.s Outlook with the aim of offering a hosted, subscription-based service for businesses.
The offering, in development at AOL and unofficially dubbed AIMPro, is slated to launch early next year, said Brian Curry, vice president of premium services for AOL in Dulles, Va.
AOLs free public IM client is already used by millions of business users, and this isnt the first time AOL has tried to sell some kind of service around AIM (AOLs Instant Messenger) to businesses.
In November 2002, AOL launched the AIM Enterprise Gateway, which was designed to offer corporate IT administrators security and monitoring capabilities for IM use.
However, in 2004, AOL shelved the enterprise version and opted to leave IM monitoring capabilities to IM management and security vendors such as Akonix Systems Inc., FaceTime Communications Inc. and IMLogic Inc.
AOL currently offers some services around AIM for businesses through AIM@Work, which provides a tool bar for paid services such as voice conferencing from Lightbridge Inc. and Web meetings from WebEx. But AOL said AIMPro would be deeply integrated with WebEx and Outlook, making it far more valuable to businesses.
Still, AOL acknowledged that this model wont suit the needs of some large enterprises, which want to link their IM systems to back-end systems and directories. But the company sees an opportunity among SMBs (small and midsize businesses) and SOHO (small office/home office) users, Curry said.
Curry discussed the plans for AIMPro at last weeks meeting in New York of the Financial Services Instant Messaging Association, an organization of 25 large financial companies dedicated to promoting IM interoperability. At the event, Curry said AOL also is in the early stages of beta testing a clearinghouse for IM interoperability.
Discussions at the conference largely focused on the benefits and drawbacks of clearinghouses, where messages flow through a third party instead of using direct business-to-business federation.
"Clearly it seemed like universally the enterprise IM providers said federation was the main answer or the only answer to interoperability, while the network providers were much more up on a clearinghouse," said Graham Lawlor, chairman of FIMA, in New York.
"Its not surprising that all the software vendors want to push it out to the edge of the network, while the service providers want to keep it in network. [At the end of the day,] it will likely be some measure of both," said Curry.
Overall, Lawlor was encouraged by the progress made on the IM interoperability front. AOL says its clearinghouse will be an extension of the federation efforts it has done with enterprise IM vendors.
There is still a lot of uncertainty around how clearinghouses will work. AOL, for example, has not yet determined its business model. "Were still investigating that; we do see it as a value-add," said Curry.
AIM Gets Back to Business
- Early 2006 AOL plans to launch hosted, subscription-based IM service integrated with WebEx and Outlook
- June 2004 AOL launches AIM@Work, a tool bar for fee-based Web meetings and voice conferencing services
- June 2004 AIM shelves AIM Enterprise Gateway
- November 2002 AIM launches AIM Enterprise Gateway, with IM security and management tools for IT administrators