IBM Buy Shines Spotlight on Web Collaboration

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2007-08-23

IBM Buy Shines Spotlight on Web Collaboration


IBM Buy Shines Spotlight

on Web Collaboration"> IBMs purchase of Web conferencing vendor WebDialogs on Aug. 22 highlights a growing trend in which high-tech stalwarts and startups alike are vying for pieces of an online collaboration software pie that could be worth billions of dollars.

WebDialogs makes on-demand Web conferencing services, and IBM plans to bundle those assets with its Lotus Sametime instant messaging assets. To celebrate the union, the Sametime team will create a joint offering called Lotus Sametime Unite.

Such an offering could be a major centerpiece of IBMs push into unified communications, an area where it is competing with Microsoft and Cisco Systems.

Though lucrative, Web conferencing and the unified communications category as a whole are part of a broader move toward online collaboration software tools. This market is complex, and further complicated by the emergence of so-called Web 2.0 tools, said Erica Driver, a Forrester Research analyst.

Click here to read more about IBMs purchase of WebDialogs.

"Weve been seeing for the last few years the convergence of collaboration point products into platforms. At the same time, theres this emergence of all of these Web 2.0 tools for collaboration, such as blogs and wikis, which are further fragmenting the market," Driver said. "Youve got Microsoft and IBM, which are folding more collaboration services into their platforms, but youve got loads of startups and other vendors that are providing point collaboration tools."

For example, packaged suites such as IBM Lotus Notes and Domino and Microsoft SharePoint and Office arent going away, but they are facing increasing competition from products by Google and Jive Software, and even IBMs own Lotus Connections suite.

These suites allow users to work separately or together online and to comment and communicate on their work through discussion threads, wikis and blogs. The idea is to foster greater communication and collaboration in pursuit of more polished work results.

Click here to read more about IBM Lotus Notes and Domino 8.

GAPE (Google Apps Premier Edition) includes Google Page Creator, an online tool for creating Web pages; Gmail; instant messaging via Google Talk; Google Calendar; and Google Docs & Spreadsheets. Businesses can pay $50 per user to work with these tools, which are hosted on Googles servers as part of the ambitious SAAS (software-as-a-service) model popularized by

Guy Creese, a Burton Group analyst, said the release of GAPE marked the first SAAS-based content management tool for offline documents, as distinct from the Web-based SAAS content management offerings on the market.

In the future, Creese said the public will see an increased blurring of the lines between content and collaboration.

"We have, for a long time, been saying there are content management and knowledge management systems, and its now becoming clear that it all mixes together," Creese said.

"You live in a workspace where you do store documents, but its also a workspace where you can collaborate. In the long run, we will get to a tuning-dial way of migrating between software in-house and SAAS. Right now, were asking people to choose one or the other," he said.

Page 2: IBM Buy Shines Spotlight on Web Collaboration

Startups Vie for Their

Slice of the Collaboration Pie">

Startups want their piece of the action, too. Jive Software just banked $15 million in funding from Sequoia Capital to help bolster its Clearspace collaboration suite, which lets knowledge workers employ content creation tools, including blogs and wikis. Users can then discuss their work in a forum.

Read more here about Jive Software.

Open-source collaboration tools are also available. Zimbra and Open-Xchange, two startups that merit watching, offer open-source collaboration and messaging software, including e-mail, contacts and group calendar functions.

So, where does an IBM purchase of WebDialogs fit into the collaboration landscape?

With the acquisition, IBM encroaches on the territories of Citrix Systems, Microsoft and Cisco, all of which offer Web conferencing. Cisco made the biggest splash in the market earlier in 2007 when it bought Web conferencing market leader WebEx for $2.9 billion.

Ciscos WebEx buy suggests competition with Microsoft. Click here to read more.

One could even argue that IBM, Microsoft and Cisco, despite Ciscos newness to the game, form a powerful collaboration pyramid, with the smaller vendors and startups looking to find a niche. The road to collaboration is paved by spirited competition and the lines between friend and foe are constantly blurring.

For example, Cisco, the networking gear market leader, is looking to creep in on Microsofts collaboration software territory. Cisco has made no secret of this: Buying WebEx appeared to be a clear shot across Microsofts bow.

Though staunch allies in several areas, the companies evolving relationship was underscored in an event in New York on Aug. 20. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Cisco CEO John Chambers discussed how both companies would continue to work together in some areas for mutual benefit, while competing fiercely in other areas.

Click here to read more about the Ballmer and Chambers event.

"They said, Were going to work together where we need to integrate our solutions, but they also said, Were going to compete," Forresters Driver said. "My takeaway from that is customers are pushing the two vendors to do what they have to do to get the unified communications working, but that Cisco and Microsoft will continue to overlap more and more heavily."

As in any business, acquisitions are the quickest way to fill product gaps. Driver said she wouldnt be surprised if Cisco moved to buy e-mail and calendaring tools from somewhere to further flesh out its collaboration portfolio.

"Microsoft and IBM have the core e-mail, calendaring and teamwork spaces, so they wouldnt make acquisitions there, but I could see Microsoft making acquisitions in some of the Web 2.0 areas because they only have basic stuff or tool kits," Driver said.

Check out eWEEK.coms for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.

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