Orlando, Fla.-IBM this year will add new layers to its Lotus SameTime instant messaging and Web conferencing suite in an effort to improve the way people work together, company officials announced, jan. 22, at Lotusphere here.
Lotus Sametime Advanced will include persistent chat, allowing users in a workgroup or department to conduct a continuous discussion. Knowledge workers can start a chat session and let other workers make changes to documents when this software is delivered in the first half of 2008.
The key differentiator is that users in Advanced sessions don’t necessarily have to know everyone in a particular discussion, said Bruce Morse, vice president of unified communications and collaboration at IBM, during a press briefing. For example, participating employees can poll experts in the community for answers and rate the quality of the response.
The idea behind Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony is to make SameTime “smarter” with intelligent call routing to any computer and handheld device. Users will also be able to set rules on how to treat calls according to status when the software becomes available in the second half of the year.
For example, while traditional instant messaging allows users to leave “away” messages, Unified Telephony allows users to set SameTime to route calls to a mobile device when people are away from their desktop. Or, Morse said, users can set rules that send pop-up notices to workers notifying them of an important call they need to take.
IBM officials also demonstrated the integration of SameTime in IBM’s Metaverse virtual reality application. IBM officials were able to place calls from a PC to contact someone in the Metaverse, where some IBMers hold virtual meetings.
Duking it out with Microsoft, Cisco, Even Skype
The new technologies are a sign of heady times for the flourishing unified communications market, where IBM is duking it out with Microsoft, Cisco Systems, and even free services such as Skype. IBM currently has 20 million SameTime users after shipping 9 million users clients in 2007, according to Morse.
In unified communications, as in many high-tech markets, vendors have to cooperate to be competitive.
Accordingly, IBM has arranged to have Cisco, Nortel and CareStream Health resell SameTime to expand the software’s reach. Cisco will offer the software through its unified communications channel of 1,200 companies; Nortel will sell and integrate SameTime in its enterprise unified communications suite; and CareStream will integrate and sell the software with its software for radiology departments.
Lori McLean, general manager of the Nortel/IBM alliance for Nortel, which has a strong unified communication relationship with Microsoft, summed up the competition in the unified communications thusly: “Solutions that we bring to our customers should be about solutions that our companies need. Nortel likes to maximize its addressable market space.”
Knowing that some customers will choose Microsoft, Skype or Cisco over IBM doesn’t scare Big Blue at all, Morse added.
“Open standards are about interoperating and communicating with many systems out there,” Morse said. “While we would like to be the messaging system across the entire world it’s not going to happen.”