IBM, AT&T Bring More Collaboration Options to SMBs

Their combined offering, dubbed IBM Workplace Services Express, joins IBM's WebSphere-based Workplace Express suite with AT&T's Managed Internet Services.

LAS VEGAS—IBM and AT&T are combining forces to give small and midsized businesses more options for collaboration over the Internet.

The two companies will announce the new offering, dubbed IBM Workplace Services Express, on Wednesday at IBMs PartnerWorld conference here.

The package combines IBMs WebSphere-based Workplace Express suite—a compilation of collaboration tools and middleware—with AT&Ts Managed Internet Services.

The Workplace Express package provide users with collaborative capabilities including team rooms, instant messaging, document management and an integrated portal from the IBM side of the house. The offering also includes the xSeries eServer running either a Linux or a Windows operating system.

AT&T in turn will provide the network services that let users collaborate inside and outside the firewall, with capabilities such as security wrapped in, according to Christopher Molke, director of managed application services at AT&T, in Bedminster, N.J.

/zimages/5/28571.gifHow serious is AT&T about the Linux desktop? Click here to find out more.

The package also includes VOIP (voice over IP) services—an offering that is still ahead of the curve for most SMBs, according to Molke. "IP is going to eat everything," he said. "But small and midsized businesses [SMBs] are just making the transfer to IP."

In beta now, with availability expected in later this year, the Workplace Express offering is available as either a hosted or a behind-the-firewall model. Patricia Meacham, one of the architects of the Express offering and vice president of business development with IBM Global Business Partners, said that based on studies, likely more than 50 percent of users will request on-premises services, while about 48 percent will require hosted services.

The hosted category, however, is an area where both companies see a lot of growth potential as SMBs become more comfortable with the model.

Using the Workplace Services Express as a springboard for IBM and AT&T to get their collective foot in the door, the idea is to start out with a relatively simplistic offering around collaboration and expand on that with emerging technologies.

"Well start generically, which is the gateway and the connection to the rest of the world, then well wrap that," said Eric Shepcaro, vice president of strategy and corporate development at AT&T.

"Well start with some horizontal applications like collaboration -which every business requires—and then well segment. Because were moving into Web services over email, which is where IBM is going, unique application integration as off-premises hosted (capabilities) just becomes a utility model that they can integrate as a service."

While IBM and AT&T are certain the SMB market is not yet ready yet for the whole hosted Web services discussion, AT&Ts Molke said that in the next nine to 18 months smaller businesses will be ready to look at more complex offerings. That includes adding hosted add-on services from partners, for example CRM (customer relationship management) or SCM (supply chain management) applications.

/zimages/5/28571.gifTo read about Spencer F. Katts adventures at PartnerWorld, check out his Weblog.

"The other thing this sets the stage for is the whole integration of VOIP to a collaboration pool via the portal so will be able to click on a VOIP call, click the dial functionality right in the portal and it will set up an IP connection at the same time it sets up for collaboration or Web conferencing," Molke said. "All those are things they want to get ready for."

Both companies will focus first on providing capabilities for several industries including healthcare, retail, banking and distribution. Theyll look as well to providing role-defined functionality within those industries.

/zimages/5/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK.coms for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.