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3/2/2006
09:44 AM
Melanie Turek
Melanie Turek
Commentary
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As Collaboration Options Grow, What's Right for Your Organization?

Every week, it seems, players in the real-time collaboration market enter new partnerships and deliver new capabilities to users of their ever-expanding products. Recently, for instance, AOL and WebEx Communications teamed to create a secure, feature-rich version of the AIM service for business instant messaging users.

The jointly developed service will deliver additional security plus the voice, video and web collaboration capabilities of WebEx’s MediaTone Network. Users will also be able to connect with others on select enterprise IM services via AOL’s AIM Clearinghouse service and its existing federation agreements with other enterprise IM vendors.

The new service will be available in two editions: a professional edition designed for individuals and small to mid-size businesses, and an enterprise edition with centralized administrative controls for larger companies. Both editions of the service will work with enterprise directory services and let users click to chat, launch conference calls, and participate in online meetings and live online demos with other AIM users.

It’s not a new idea—WebEx had a similar, short-lived partnership with Yahoo a few years back, and AOL has tried to launch a business-oriented service in the past as well, with no success (the company couldn’t transfer its leadership in the consumer arena to the enterprise world). And although click-to-call capabilities expand the value of an IM client, they don’t fully leverage the potential of real-time collaboration, with integrated telephony presence and related telephony features.

Meanwhile, new features in the Sametime client, including click-to-call and Web conferencing integration, take the application one step closer to being a formidable contender in the real-time communications dashboard (RTCD) game. The new Sametime 7.5 interface has additional security and control features, as well as click-to-talk capabilities.

What’s still missing? Integrated unified messaging tools, such as call forwarding and find-me/follow-me capabilities. But once it achieves such integrated voice and conferencing capabilities, IMB Lotus will become a real threat to the competition, thanks to its maturity and experience in the collaboration market overall. (Microsoft, by the way, is in the same position: no complete dashboard capabilities yet, but it’s headed that way.) IBM Lotus is also able to focus on more advanced integration and features, such as its partnerships with SAP and its investment in eForms, which could appeal to IT executives looking for extra bells and whistles.

But today, it’s still the telephony vendors leading the pack when it comes to integrated, all-in-one RTCDs that let users see both telephony and PC presence, as well as tap audio, Web and video conferencing. And then, only certain telephony vendors, including Avaya and Nortel, have tricked out applications; Cisco, for instance, still needs to integrate presence and other collaboration capabilities with its voice features (expect that soon, though).

Regardless of what level of features and capabilities they choose, IT executives need to decide whether they want to deliver them as a service, or on their own internal networks. Although the WebEx/AOL model may appeal to smaller businesses and those trying evaluate whether such capabilities are warranted at all, most companies would do well to bring the capabilities in house as part of a larger Voice over IP (VOIP) initiative. Doing so will not only save money, it will allow users to truly leverage the presence information they collect on their co-workers—and, thanks to more and more federation deals, on their customers and partners as well.

The WebEx/AOL deal doesn’t quite get you there. That’s not to say there isn’t value in being able to launch a live chat session or conference from within an IM message—there is. But collaboration really takes off when real-time communications capabilities are part of an integrated collaboration strategy that includes both telephony- and PC-based presence, as well as a variety of collaborative features and functions. That’s what a bona-fide real-time communications dashboard delivers. Fifty percent of the IT executives who recently participated in Nemertes’ benchmark research on convergence say they’re evaluating such an application; if you’re among them, it’s critical to consider today’s options carefully. Not all vendors can deliver a complete solution yet—make sure you know what capabilities you need, and whether (or when) your chosen vendor(s) will be able to supply them in an all-in-one application.

Melanie Turek is Senior Vice President of Nemertes Research.

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