IBM Offers Scaled-Down Enterprise IM

The Lotus Sametime Entry offering enables businesses to ease into unified communications.

For companies on the path toward true unified communications, IBM's Lotus division has come up with a way to dip a toe in the water.

By introducing a scaled-down version of longtime unified communications product Sametime, IBM is aiming to give companies the chance to take baby steps without having to make a full commitment to unified communication.

Sametime is a unified communication package that includes integrated, enterprise instant messaging, VOIP (voice over IP), Web conferencing and video chats. In contrast, the new Lotus Sametime Entry, which became available Dec. 3, provides a subset of those tools, including instant messaging, with a focus on providing a way for companies to move out of the less-secure public instant messaging services and into a business-focused IM solution.

At $20 per user, IBM officials say it is a good bargain for companies either just making the switch or moving from e-mail and voice mail to faster communications methods.

But in addition to cost and speed, Sametime Entry offers real value to companies, said Adam Gartenberg, product manager for Lotus Sametime. Because it integrates into the company's directory system, users can type in employees' names and reach them over instant messaging, rather than having to know which public IM system they use and their screen name.

"A lot of the value comes from being able to do things quickly," Gartenberg said. "For example, I might talk to Craig, who will tell me to speak to Joe, who will tell me that Amy has the information I need. It can literally take just 30 seconds to get to the person you need."

The system also can help build personal connections.

"Once you are above 100 people in a company, you are at the point where you might not know everybody, so being able to hover over someone's name and bring up information like title, location, division and a picture can be useful," Gartenberg said.

It's a good incremental step for companies that aren't ready to move to a full unified communications platform, such as Lotus Sametime or Microsoft Office Communication Server, said Melanie Turek, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

"Most companies don't decide to deploy unified communications all at one time today; a lot of them prefer to do it one application at a time. For many organizations, that means starting out with presence and IM," she said. "Essentially IBM realized that not everyone is ready to deploy all capabilities at the same time, and they wanted to make sure that companies that just wanted an IM product, for whatever reason, could do that."

IBM also rolled out a new version of its comprehensive product, renamed Lotus Sametime Standard. The new version provides support for more mobile devices, new point-to-point video capabilities for Macintosh users, integration with Microsoft Office 2007, and easier methods of establishing connectivity to other enterprise IM networks and public IM networks.

The goal, Gartenberg said, is to have something for everyone. A new solution slated for the first quarter of 2008—Lotus Sametime Advanced—will add additional real-time community collaboration capabilities like ongoing chats, and real-time collaboration tools that enable users to tap into the expertise of a community of people within an organization. By the middle of next year the company plans to introduce a product, tentatively called Sametime Unified Telephony, that will, among other things, allow users to integrate softphones directly into the Sametime client. The focus of that product will be using telephony and video integration to communicate better and streamline communication processes, he said.

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