Instant Messaging is One to Watch

Integrating instant messaging and presence the ability to see if and how a user is connected to the network into the business landscape may become an important incremental revenue opportunity for channel partners as the value of such collaboration tools becomes more apparent. IM allows real-time conversation, but in sessions that can be indexed, categorized and searched, offering better case management than phone conversations. Presence capability also removes the cycle time of phone tag.

Something thats just starting now, but we definitely think is going to be something of a tidal wave, is IM and presence, says Scott Petrack, CTO at eDial, a collaboration company with a channel program that was just purchased by Alcatel. It just makes sense.

A case study from the Yankee Group demonstrates the power of IM, which the firm is bullish on. Yahoo! Business Messenger and Plumtree Software announced an integrated offering for embedding presence awareness and IM into enterprise Web applications such as corporate portals a move the analyst firm says underscores the trend toward integration of presence and real-time communications into core business processes and enterprise software applications.

Enterprise IM can presence-enable other applications, which makes employees more productive and business processes more efficient, says Yankee Group. Integration into enterprisewide corporate portals is an area where companies can achieve meaningful results and tangible benefits, particularly when integrated into the workflow of existing business-specific applications, reads the report.

A large international law firm, Haynes and Boone LLP, has close to 1,000 attorneys focusing on a wide range of practice areas. These attorneys were using various independent applications. According to the case study, they compiled information from handwritten notes taken during phone calls with clients and other attorneys, referenced prior discussions and searched for previous cases across a wide range of document repositories or file folders, and communicated with colleagues in other offices by sending e-mail and leaving voice mail messages. A reply could take anywhere from minutes to days, even for mundane inquiries requiring only a moment to answer. In short, attorneys and staff expended non-billable effort due to the latency of tradition e-mail environments and phone tag.

Meanwhile, in November 2001 the firm had deployed a content-aggregation system: a Plumtree portal that allowed a single sign-on to the firm’s billing system, litigation-management system, contact-management system, corporate directory, document-management system and proprietary knowledge-management system with agreements, contracts, research materials and expert witness content.

To bolster productivity, the firm decided to deploy IM via the portal. The firm’s employees and attorneys were used to using the portal, so there was little ramp-up time. Haynes and Boone decided to standardize on one IM solution for the firm to manage unauthorized use by employees of free consumer IM, such as AOL Instant Messenger. It also offered to pay for clients to deploy the hosted Yahoo! Business Messenger solution (at a cost of $30 per user per year) to outside contacts at no cost. This would facilitate secure, open communications between attorneys, their clients and third parties, such as expert witnesses.

The benefit? According to the Yankee Group, using IM rather than e-mail allows real-time interaction within a conversational context. Extending the capabilities to clients and third parties replicated phone or in-person interaction, but left an automatic paper trail. It also saves time, so attorneys are able to manage larger caseloads. And the firm has plans for client extranets that will be presence-enabled for real-time messaging.

Demonstrating this kind of value to customers provides an opportunity for channel partners to gain incremental revenue from existing and prospective customers. Also bolstering the market for end users is a recent agreement between Yahoo!, AOL and Microsoft to allow paying users in the enterprise to chat with each other. Users of Microsoft’s Office Live Communications Server 2005 can connect with AOL, MSN and Yahoo networks, sharing presence and directory information.

Several channel programs give agents and resellers a chance to get involved. On the pure-play side, Gordano, maker of the Java-based Gordano Messaging Suite, offers a channel program. IM gateway player Akonix is expanding its channel for the L7 solution. And Omnipod has launched its Premier Provider Channel Sales Program to sell the Professional Online Desktop, or POD, into corporate and government markets. Omnipod will share sales leads, provide end-user education and offer collaborative sales.

Conferencing purveyors are planning for instant messaging, too. Netspoke Conferencing, which offers an agent program, is adding IM to its Conferencing Hub, an integrated Web conferencing solution.

People in a meeting have integrated controls for the audio within a Web conference, so they can see whos on, where they dialed from, dial out to add more participants then block the conference for security, which really make it convenient and easy to use, says Netspoke president and CEO, Scott DEntremont. Instant messaging is a way to communicate and more efficiently do business and know youre going to reach people. Today, when you reach people on the phone and try to schedule a meeting, youre really only half expecting theyll be there on the other end of the phone. Presence increases the likelihood of a successful connection. Our goal is to continue along the continuum of making conferencing more and more integrated, and more and more easy to use.

Global Crossing Ltd., which also offers services via agent and resellers, plans to roll out presence capabilities. We definitely see customers wanting to do chat and IM now, and we have those features, says Kim Kenney, segment director of collaboration services at Global Crossing. Chat we support today, some IM apps for larger customers, presence is on the roadmap. Were trying to make it easier and more streamlined for the customer, and the back end is transparent to the people using it. These are user applications and customers want to do more with less and improve productivity.

Eventually, presence and IM will become part of a greater, all-in-one collaboration play. The long-term goal and where a company will achieve the real business value comes when businesses have deployed a unified communications and business application platform. The platform should connect workers, partners and customers and display presence status into an environment that integrates desktop applications with one-click access to instant messaging, Web conferencing, telephone and all forms of wireless devices. The ultimate goal is making all applications, all communications and all devices accessible via a single user interface from the desktop.

Besides Plumtree and Yahoo!, Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Oracle Software, Polycom Inc., Nortel Networks, Open Text and Siemens ICN are all mapping out plans for such a unified platform, according to the Yankee Group. Most of these companies have channel programs for resellers and VARs.

The question is not if it will happen, but when, writes the analyst.

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