SOMERS, N.Y.-IBM has unveiled new Lotus Sametime Advanced software and pledged to invest $1 billion to fortify its unified communications and collaboration strategy in the next three years through acquisitions, internal development and new services.
Detailed March 10 at a small press event at the company’s offices here (after an informal mention at Lotusphere Jan. 22), Lotus Sametime Advanced integrates social networking profiles from IBM’s Lotus Connections suite to help corporate workers more quickly reach out to colleagues or experts to answer their questions.
The software also includes features persistent group chat and instant screen-sharing capabilities to facilitate continuous, threaded conversations, said Bruce Morse, vice president of unified communications software for IBM Lotus. Sametime Advanced will be made available for public consumption March 28.
UCC (unified communications and collaboration) is a convergence of collaboration software such as e-mail and IM (instant messaging) with communications products such as VOIP (voice over IP). The idea is to marry traditionally walled-off productivity applications to improve the way workers collaborate with each other, partners or customers.
IBM officials said the company is going full bore into UCC in 2008 and beyond, recognizing estimates from IDC that project the market will top $17 billion by 2011.
IBM is ramping up its growth in UCC to meet challengers such as Microsoft, which launched its Windows-based Office Communications Server 2007 last year, and more traditional telecommunications vendors such as Nortel Networks, Avaya and even networking giants such as Cisco Systems.
Mike Rhodin, general manager for IBM Lotus Software, acknowledged Microsoft as a rival in the collaboration software market (Lotus Notes versus Microsoft Outlook). But he called Microsoft a relative newcomer in the space. “Microsoft is a formidable competitor and we’re going to fight this one out, too,” Rhodin said.
Steve Mills, senior vice president of IBM’s software group, emphasized that IBM is the vendor to go to for UCC that is “carrier-grade,” or ubiquitous and highly reliable in addition to being able to scale to thousands of users.
“It’s a key and very deep IBM differentiator that we address all of the server-side function for carrier-grade, high availability, first-traffic management, failover, low-latency things that are very challenging by way of infrastructure,” Mills said.
IBM to Pump $1B into UCC Over 3 Years
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Sametime, which IBM launched in 1998 as its core corporate instant messaging and Web and video conferencing client, forms the cornerstone of IBM’s UCC strategy.
IBM and virtual reality software maker Forterra Systems are programming a Sametime-based UCC solution, code-named Babel Bridge, that could allow U.S. intelligence agencies to use a common graphical collaboration system to communicate within a virtual world.
Another IBM partner, VBrick Systems, is introducing the VBrick Lotus Sametime Video Plug-in, which streams live broadcasts and digital video content within the Sametime environment to users for collaboration.
Bank of New York-Mellon, Celina Insurance, Colgate Palmolive, HSBC Bank, and Prudential UK all currently leverage Sametime to deliver telephony and audio and video conferencing, along with IM, group chat and Web conferencing to their employees.
IBM plans to extend UCC capabilities beyond Sametime to Lotus Notes, Lotus Connections, Lotus Quickr, Lotus Symphony, IBM WebSphere Portal, Microsoft Outlook and Office, line of business applications and business processes.
Company officials declined to detail future products, but Rhodin said IBM has made significant new investments in Sametime and its middleware platforms.
The company also said it will facilitate UCC software and services from desktops and laptops to smart phones and other mobile gadgets and services from RIM, Apple, Sprint-Nextel and Symbian.
IBM’s UCC strategy comes with a nod toward the future. Company officials predicted that in five years UCC will play a major role as corporate employees continue to work out of their home offices, where click-to-call and other tools to enable business processes will be employed.
Moreover, IBM expects open interoperability across business and public domains, with industry standards coalescing around UCC.
To plan for this, more than 70 engineers from eight IBM Research labs around the world are currently cooking up several software projects that will leverage UCC. Their focus areas include social software, interactive visualization, virtual worlds and accessibility.