IBM's Message: Speed Is Good, But Security's Better



IBM last week revealed a slew of tools designed to let its E-mail and collaboration applications connect with popular instant-messaging products and allow users of its software to make Internet phone calls.

In an effort to maintain the relevance of its enterprise desktop software in a computing world that's becoming increasingly open, mobile, and ad hoc, IBM is working to let users of its Lotus and Domino products connect with IM tools from America Online, Google, and Yahoo. The connections are made through a secure real-time gateway based on the Session Initiation Protocol. IBM also plans to make its Lotus Sametime IM tools available to Linux users and users of Apple's Tiger operating system with an eye to broadening their appeal.

Security is key, IBM officials say, and that's the reason they believe businesses will open their checkbooks for technology that Internet service providers offer for free. "Unlike Yahoo Messenger and others like it, Sametime offers encryption and authentication," says Adam Gartenberg, manager for real-time collaboration products. "More and more decisions are made and shared [in] real time, not through E-mail. If I'm talking to my CFO, I have to know that no one else is going to see those numbers."

Among the business applications IBM foresees for commercial-grade IM technology: Members of a marketing department might conduct instant polls with thousands of IM-using customers without compromising the security of their business network. It also could facilitate instant communications between in-house ad hoc teams or project members.

Analysts say technologies like IM and voice over IP will cause businesses to alter the way they communicate internally and with customers and suppliers. "This is the new dial tone," Gartner analyst Bern Elliot says, citing customer support as one of the areas that would benefit most from a change. "The basic customer-service model today is broken; for most customers, it's not a satisfying experience. This is a new way for businesses to reach out to their customers."

But there's a note of caution. Businesses that use IM to contact a customer should already have a good relationship with the person: "People don't want an untrusted company on their buddy list," Elliot says. "They don't want to get spammed with this stuff."

Phone Calls and More

More IMingIBM is looking to cash in on the growing use of voice-based Internet communications and keep up with eBay's Skype and other VoIP providers. It's teaming with Siemens to offer Internet voice calls launched from Lotus and Domino software. The applications will include Siemens' HiPath software-based switching technology to enable the calls. Beyond basic calling features, IBM plans to offer speech-enabled access to calendars, directories, and conference ser- vices in future releases.

Businesses will pay for commercial-caliber VoIP software rather than use low-cost offerings from Skype and others for the same reasons they'll use enterprise IM tools, IBM's Gartenberg says. "Businesses don't want their users running Skype and Yahoo and AOL and Google. They want to be able to control the desktop environment but still have all of those communications capabilities."

A big question is how much IBM's moves will help close the gap with Microsoft in collaboration software. Microsoft has about 32% of the market compared with IBM's 24%, according to the Radicati Group. Earlier this month, Microsoft unveiled initiatives to make it easier for Notes users to switch to Exchange. Microsoft also is sticking to its own way of facilitating IM through its Live Communications Server. But that hampers interoperability between IBM and Microsoft IM products, Gartenberg says. "We're interested in promoting the SIP standard; supporting [Microsoft's] LCS may be further down the road," he says.

The stakes are high: Gartner predicts that the market for enterprise IM technologies will grow from $287 million in 2005 to $640 million in 2009.

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