RealTime IT News

IBM Squares The Collaboration Circle

UPDATED: ORLANDO, Fla. -- IBM ;today detailed its strategy for integrating voice and data communications with the Lotus Connection collaboration tools that it announced yesterday.

The application set, which IBM is calling "UC-squared," is intended to provide an open, extensible software platform that integrates rich presence information, instant messaging, e-mail, Web, voice, video and business applications across multi-vendor environments.

To achieve this, the company plans on centering its approach around the new Lotus Sametime 7.5.1 client, to be delivered early in the second quarter of this year, as well as Lotus Notes and Domino 8, also due later this year.

Bruce Morse, vice president of the Lotus unified communications software unit, said that though many of these tools are already in use by enterprise customers, they are separate tools that don't work effectively together.

"Let's be clear about what we mean by UC-squared," he said. "It's about combining the power of communications and collaboration together."

In one example of how this application can be used for both communication and collaboration, IBM executives showed how customers in the new environment could pull a document created in Microsoft Word into a chat session, detect presence information about the document author if it is present in the document, and pull that person into the chat if they are available.

"It's about delivering a unified user experience that adapts to the preferences and the tasks at hand," said Morse.

The software vendor is working to convince its partner community of the value of developing plug-ins and other applications for Sametime 7.5, which is built on the open Eclipse framework.

It thus demonstrated a variety of plug-ins developed by vendors like Cisco , Siemens , Avaya  and Research in Motion  that integrate capabilities of Notes and Sametime 7.5.1 with their applications.

Product lifecycle management vendor Dassault Systemes  gave a demonstration of how it has integrated XML-based, 3-D design renderings into the chat client allowing engineers to collaborate on design problems in real time. That application will be available later this year.

Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT Research said the demonstrations "send a message to the developer community" about the value of integrating with its collaboration tools.

IBM is also hoping to capitalize on an opening it sees developing as companies contemplate the costs of migrating to Microsoft  Vista and Office 2007. Microsoft unveiled its own unified communications road map last week.

Akiba Saeedi, program director for real-time collaboration products, noted that IBM is fully prepared to work in heterogeneous environments and doesn't expect customers to make wholesale changes to their IT environments in order to implement these products effectively.

"Multi-vendor environments are the rule, not the exception. We're committed to supporting the investments you've already made, and this is a key differentiator between us and Microsoft," she said.

Later, Saeedi said that Lotus added the ability to integrate with Office to counter Microsoft arguments that its flavor of unified communications integrates with Office productivity tools more fully than IBM's.

"Last year that was a problem, so we added that for the purpose of taking that differentiator off the table," she told internetnews.com.

She also noted that customers use many applications other than Office, such as ERP  and Web-based tools. "To pin your differentiation on integration with Office is absolutely a limited point of view."

IBM is the only vendor supporting both XMPP  and SIP  communication protocols, she added.

John Andrews, director at Evans Data Corp. said that both IBM and Microsoft support open standards such as SIP  at the communication layer, but that IBM supports open standards deeper into the application stack.

"Where there's heterogeneity, that's where IBM catches fire," he told internetnews.com.

King also noted that large enterprises running Microsoft environments may take a deep breath when they consider the cost of upgrading both Windows and Office in the next few years. He said that while Microsoft's document-creation tools are superior to other products on the market, those feature sets may only be applicable to a relatively small portion of their user base.

"It's an opportunity for Linux, Open Office, and Lotus to step in and say, 'do your users really need the full version of Office?'" King continued.

"Some companies may decide to step in and use Lotus for collaboration and communication and they can limit the number of upgrades to Office 2007."