IBM Hurls $1 Billion at Unified Communications Target
Published: March 12, 2008
by Dan Burger
Maneuvering to score more points in the rock-tossing competition that accompanies the unified communications mindshare game, IBM has piled on investments, added technology and products, and expanded its business partner relationships to demonstrate that its battle with Microsoft will be fought on several fronts--not the least of which is the public relations front. Unified communications carries considerable weight. The skillful noodlers at IDC, who analyzed everything from social software to software development, say this market is an avalanche in the making, with projections building to $17 billion by 2011.
The distinctions between IT partners and competitors usually depend on whom you're talking to and which day of the week it is. Especially at companies like IBM and Microsoft where executives from both camps can often be seen arm in arm and swaying back and forth to the same music. To some degree it's even true in the unified communications area, but as we've come to find out on many occasions, smiling faces often show no traces of the evil one side wishes upon the other.
Any rock hurled by IBM is a direct challenge to Microsoft and vice versa. Getting bloody is part of the game. Both sides trumpet competitive wins, but Microsoft has been more aggressive in this regard. During the annual Lotus user conference in January, Microsoft let fly with a press releases drawing attention to a reported 300 companies representing 2.8 million employees began migrating to its collaboration and content management system during the final six months of 2007. It claimed "many" of the new users are converts from Lotus Notes/Domino communication and collaboration software.
Yesterday was IBM's day to toss rocks.
The first one weighed in at $1 billion dollars. That's what Big Blue says it is investing in unified communications. That kind of cash makes a big impression, even after it is spread over three years and even if it's next to impossible to accurately account for where and how it's expected to be spent. Unified communications includes many things including e-mail, voicemail, instant messaging, telephony, and videoconferencing.
During its news conference, IBM executives emphasized the importance of creating software to serve a more mobile workforce and provide those workers with remote access to business applications. "It's not just about communications," said Mike Rhodin, general manager of Lotus software. "It's not just getting people together, but actually allowing them to do something."
Looking one year into the future, IBM promised to bring its unified communications offerings to popular mobile devices marketed by RIM, Apple, Sprint-Nextel, and Symbian. Some additional explanation of how the $1 billion would be spent was directed to expand research and development on "a growing number" of social and collaborative software projects. The project areas included computer-mediated communication, interactive visualization, virtual worlds, and accessibility.
Much less vague is how Big Blue plans to attack Microsoft in the unified communications area. Not surprisingly, it's going with its strength, its powerful top-down approach.
IBM has an advantage over Microsoft in that it has traditionally relied on the world's largest companies to lead the way in IT technology. These enterprise customers, which IBM quantifies as having 1,000 or more employees, are the fertile ground for existing Lotus Notes customers. IBM claims to have 20 million standalone Sametime users, with the majority in large enterprise environments. At the top end of the business food chain, these companies have the IT expertise and the budgets to roll out new technology and use it for competitive advantage. And IBM has its Global Services division to lend a hand to those companies.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has a bottom-up expansion into the business world with a greater presence in the small to mid size market than IBM and, therefore, a greater market share.
Deflecting any questions about market share comparisons or migrations from one unified communications suite of products to another, IBM's senior vice president of the software group, Steve Mills focused on Lotus gaining share in the enterprise business market. According to Mills, IBM will increase its unified communications revenue by at least 10 percent each year for at least the next five years.
"Microsoft makes a bunch of statements that are somewhat misleading in terms of what is happening," he said.
Another point IBM executives pushed hard to make was that its Sametime product--the centerpiece of its unified communications story--supports heterogeneous environments. Without saying it (at least on this occasion), IBM wants the interoperability light to shine on its stage, and it clearly wants Microsoft to be seen as a proprietary, and ultimately costly, dead end street.
Sametime is built on the Eclipse open-source framework, which gives users more flexibility to pick and choose complimentary software from third-party vendors, an option that Microsoft has traditionally avoided.
New functionality that will be added to Sametime, and become available March 28, includes tools that facilitate contact with a community of colleagues or experts and collaboration features such as persistent group chat and instant screen sharing capabilities.
By the end of the year a Unified Telephony enhancement to Sametime is expected. Its purpose is to help users manage telephone calls by routing them to various devices and setting rules on how to handle calls based on status.
IBM Toots Lotus Sametime Horn With Customer, Partnership Deals
Microsoft Rains on IBM's Lotusphere Parade
IBM Sets Sights on Microsoft and SMB with Linux/Domino Combos
Sametime, But a Different Place; IBM Tries to Top Microsoft
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