RealTime IT News

Yahoo! IM Expands Conferencing, App Integration

While rival AOL is embarking on new efforts to boost its enterprise IM offerings, Yahoo! is looking to integration deals with WebEx and BEA Systems to boost the uptake of its own instant messaging services among businesses.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Web portal said it plans the next release of Yahoo! Messenger Enterprise Edition (EE) -- the company's hybrid software-and-hosted IM provisioning, auditing and management interface -- to include built-in links to online conferencing services offered by WebEx.

As a result, businesses using Yahoo! Messenger EE Version 1.5 will be able to provision their employees with the ability to launch WebEx meetings from their desktop, including application-sharing and voice, video and VoIP conferencing. Messenger EE 1.5 is expected to debut next month.

In connection with business application development tools and infrastructure giant BEA, Yahoo! aims to have Enterprise Edition instant messaging technology being written into applications by enterprise developers.

Specifically, that will come about by integrating controls for Yahoo! Messenger into BEA's recently unveiled application development environment, WebLogic Workshop. As a result, enterprise developers should be able to build presence- and IM-based applications and bots -- which also requires Yahoo! Messenger EE.

Power of presence

Both efforts are two of the many similar moves now afoot to leverage the concept of "presence" -- being able to detect a colleague's availability, for instance, to chat -- in meeting software and other enterprise applications. Earlier this week, InstantMessagingPlanet.com profiled Applied Messaging, a startup looking to wed presence with meeting software.

Microsoft and IBM also are pushing hard into the field. Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft sees its upcoming "Greenwich" Real-Time Communications Server laying the foundation for advanced presence-based collaboration applications (like VoIP and application-sharing) and for syndicating presence to other enterprise apps, like corporate portals. (Microsoft also is deeply embedding Greenwich- and public IM-based presence in the upcoming version of its Office productivity suite.)

Similarly, IBM is aiming to turn its Lotus Instant Messaging (also known as Sametime) product into a platform for presence-enabling corporate portals, wireless applications, and the like.

Now Yahoo! is pursuing a similar strategy through the deals with WebEx and BEA. The plan involves injecting the portal's flavor of instant messaging into a range of applications used by enterprises, who in turn are looking for ways to better leverage the benefits of IM and presence in their day-to-day businesses.

"We're actually delivering on a lot of the vision we painted at the [InstantMessagingPlanet Conference] keynote address in February," said Steve Boom, senior vice president at Yahoo!'s enterprise solutions unit. "The big focus of the first generation of IM has been around security and control ... [Working with WebEx and BEA] is about delivering on a product vision in two distinct areas: one area is the person-to-person collaboration area ... the other area is thinking of IM not just as a person-to-person tool, but looking at integrating presence and real-time messaging into business processes."

Yahoo! and BEA said they envision developers using the embedded IM and presence technology in areas such as corporate directories, team-based collaboration tools, sales force automation systems, supply chain management utilities, and customer relationship management systems.

"The idea here is we're exposing Yahoo! Messenger to half a million Java developers, so that they can innovate on the technology, addressing not only the person-to-person benefits of instant messaging and presence, but also business process benefits -- squeezing out latency and using presence to speed up business processes," Boom said.

Already, a handful of these sorts of applications are being fielded by vendors like ActiveBuddy and Vayusphere. Wireless carriers Sprint and AT&T Wireless also are recent entrants into the IM application integration game. A number of smaller firms also working to develop IM interfaces to enterprise apps include InfiniteAgent, Conchango, Cobra Technologies, and Instant Technologies.

Yahoo! is expecting to have one of its first examples of application integration open for business in only days. In addition to the integration into BEA WebLogic Workshop, the portal's IM will be added to the next version of BEA's Web-based customer support service, eSupport, which is poised for launch within the week.

As a result, clients will be able to chat with BEA customer support reps via a Java-based front-end, while BEA reps are using Yahoo! Messenger EE. Clients also will be able to see BEA reps' presence on the eSupport Web site. Systems integrator and management consultancy Accenture developed the eSupport integration implementation.

In the process of contributing to the spread of new, IM-based collaboration tools and presence-leveraging business systems, Yahoo!, of course, also is banking that it will encourage sales of Messenger EE, which is the portal's chief source of income from its sprawling IM network.

Yahoo! Messenger Enterprise Edition competes with behind-the-firewall proxies offered by Microsoft and AOL for administering workplace use of their IM networks.

Generally, sales for the three IM networks' enterprise products have been lukewarm, as compared to the traction that third-party gateway vendors have achieved in the marketplace. That's because third-party vendors -- like FaceTime Communications, IMlogic, and Akonix -- handle traffic from the AIM, Yahoo! and MSN networks concurrently, obviating the need for single-network solutions from the three major IM providers.

Earlier today, AOL launched an effort to co-opt some of these vendors with a certification program, in a bid to make money from their ability to sell to enterprises seeking to control multiple IM networks.

Christopher Saunders is managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.com.