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.”

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