IBM Corp.s Lotus Software division is preparing to launch an updated version of its Sametime collaboration package with a new emphasis on encouraging customers to piece together their own programs using tools included in the offering.
On Monday, IBM will introduce the updated version of Sametime at its Lotusphere developer conference in Orlando, Fla.
The latest iteration of the product, which includes tools for Web conferencing and instant messaging, as well as sharing and editing documents online, adds new features including an applications development platform that promises to allow users of the software to build and launch their own custom collaborative programs.
As an example of the types of applications companies can build using the feature, Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM highlighted an internal technology it has created dubbed as SkillTap that uses a social networking approach to creating a database of experts at the company that engineers use to find help for projects theyre working on.
Using the system, workers in the company list their particular skills, search for topical experts, and can recommend other people to colleagues to help with their own efforts.
The applications building blocks available in Sametime will allow companies to create such collaborative tools that specifically meet the needs of their employees, said Ken Bisconti, IBMs vice president of Workplace, Portal and Collaboration Products.
He said a majority of the news coming next week from Lotusphere would revolve around custom applications development and social networking.
"This is about evolving from real-time collaboration to creating real-time business applications," Bisconti said. "With the Eclipse-based plug-in module for Sametime, were allowing [independent software vendors] to add more external information to the Sametime experience, or to use the applications framework to bring-in social networking tools."
Technically, the IBM executive said the new development platform allows customers to create composite applications, or so-called mash-ups that use extensible pieces of code from different pieces of software to create additional programs.
Many other business software vendors, from enterprise software makers including SAP, to hosted business applications providers such as Salesforce.com, already tout such ability for their customers to build and launch customized tools.
Bisconti pointed to the same example of Lotus systems capabilities that many of those firms have used to demonstrate their own features, the ability to integrate various business applications with search giant Google Inc.s Google Maps technology.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based search company makes the underlying code for the mapping system available to other developers, and large numbers of people have created applications that mesh with Google Maps to show the location of specific stores or their distribution locations.
Bisconti said that Lotus will continue to increase its efforts around allowing users to play a more active role in building the look, feel and functionality of their own collaboration tools, as he said that is what IBMs customers are demanding.
"We will be very focused on how businesses use these capabilities and how popular composite applications are becoming," said Bisconti.
"The changes in collaboration software today demands that we no longer look at products in stove pipes but instead create collaborative services and applications that address real-time business needs."