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Who Goes There?

Businesses discovered instant messaging's effectiveness. Now, they're finding more value in the technology that underlies it.

Now that corporate America is hip to the effectiveness of instant messaging, forward-thinking IT executives are finding even more value in the technology that underlies IM: presence awareness. It's what lets users see whether other people on a network are online, and what their availability is. And vendors are rushing to exploit that interest by incorporating presence awareness in their products.

Ryder System Inc. has 1,700 users on its Lotus Sametime real-time collaboration application and expects to have 2,000 by year's end, says David Baildon, group director of knowledge management. The logistics company is using Sametime's IM capability to eliminate phone tag, reduce travel, and cut long-distance bills by providing a simple way to get time-sensitive announcements out to large groups of employees, let employees multitask while on conference calls, and conduct distance learning.

Baildon is looking forward to using presence awareness widely, too. For instance, when a Ryder call-center representative doesn't know the answer to a question, presence awareness would make it possible for the rep to quickly locate someone with the required expertise, have a brief IM exchange, and ultimately provide a better answer for the customer. Or a dispatcher with an emergency shipment could use presence awareness to find dispatchers who know the locations of the closest trucks with spare capacity.

David Baildon -- Photo by Erik Lesser/Getty Images

The value of knowledge management will come from the application-sharing that presence awareness enables, Ryder's Baildon says.
That's exactly the kind of interaction Ram Gupta, executive VP of products and technology at PeopleSoft Inc., thinks his company needs to offer. Last week, PeopleSoft said it's investing R&D dollars to incorporate presence awareness in future products.

Other vendors are already there. IBM's Lotus Software division is readying a version of Sametime with a toolkit that enables tighter integration with other Lotus software and that can be used to embed presence awareness throughout a company's IT systems. For example, Sametime functionality will be embedded in the next version of Lotus' Quickplace online workspace application. In June, Lotus released a version of its document-management software, Domino.doc 3.5, which incorporates Sametime. Lotus plans in a subsequent release of Sametime to facilitate IM and presence-awareness capabilities for use between companies, says Bethann Cregg, manager of advanced collaboration. Interoperability among IM systems is a concern for technology managers.

WiredRed Software, a maker of business IM applications, last month released a beta version of a developers' kit that lets IT departments build IM and presence awareness into existing applications. And Microsoft is sharing sketchy details about a suite of real-time collaboration services, code-named Greenwich. Expected to be released sometime next year, it's designed to take advantage of Windows .Net server and Active Directory. Greenwich will tie together Microsoft's real-time collaboration efforts in three areas, including contextual presence awareness that can detect the type of device a person is using, says Bob O'Brien, group product manager for Microsoft's Windows .Net Server division.

Ryder's Baildon expects the value of knowledge management will increase when it can happen in real time using the application-sharing capability that presence awareness enables. The relative cost of such benefits is reasonable, he says. Of the $1 million that Ryder is investing in its knowledge-management system, he estimates that less than a quarter is tied to real-time communication.

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