Corporate instant messaging (IM) use is exploding as increasing numbers of organizations recognize what individual employees have known for some time: IM is fast, convenient, and effective. Research firm Gartner forecasts worldwide spending on enterprise IM will almost triple from $231 million in 2004 to nearly $640 million in 2009. By the end of the decade, Gartner anticipates 90 percent of corporate e-mail users will also have IT-controlled IM accounts.
The attraction for businesses is that IM can increase productivity though improved communications and collaboration. Since all IM systems provide communication by definition, the key differentiator that will determine which enterprise IM systems will be successful is likely to be the collaboration element: the extent to which an IM system works with or is integrated with other corporate collaboration tools, such as shared work spaces, calendaring, directories and e-mail.
Pressure for integration is also coming from the groupware side: Collaboration and almost any group endeavor is more effective when an element of "presence" the ability to know if someone is online and available and real-time interaction is available. For this reason the unambiguous trend is for groupware to include functionality for real-time collaboration tools and conferencing, and for presence information and IM.
Clearly, the larger or more established vendors have an advantage for two reasons. Companies like Microsoft or IBM Lotus already have integrated groupware applications in place, so bolting on IM functionality or integrating an IM offering with their existing groupware is an obvious and technically easy move.
Such convergence is becoming so pervasive and so easy to achieve that the concept of shared calendars or other stand-alone group applications is likely to disappear in the near future. IM and presence management will very soon be a vital part of any software system that helps even the smallest group of people to work together. Wireless features that push instant messages to (and enable instant messages to be sent easily from) phones and PDAs are already appearing and will become more common.Clearly, the larger or more established vendors have an advantage for two reasons. For one thing, companies like Microsoft and IBM Lotus already have integrated groupware applications in place, so bolting on IM functionality or integrating an IM offering with their existing groupware is an obvious and technically easy move.
For another, these vendors' products are easily managed using leading IM security and hygiene offerings from vendors such as IMlogic (which is now part of Symantec), Akonix, or FaceTime. This will become increasingly important as IM security threats and the integration of IM into compliance efforts (such as archiving message in accordance with Sarbanes-Oxley) becomes more common. Akonix, FaceTime, and IMlogic currently support IM systems from Microsoft, IBM Lotus, Antepo, Jabber, Parlano, Communicator, and others.
The Leading Players
For many organizations looking for group calendaring, e-mail, and other collaboration tools, the server option will likely to come down to Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Domino. That being the case, it's pretty clear most Windows shops will be looking closely at Microsoft's Live Communication Server (LCS) and most Domino customers will be examining Lotus SameTime for IM capabilities.
Microsoft may have let IBM get a head start following a rather poorly received IM offering bundled in Exchange, but LCS, first released in the second half of 2004, coupled with the Office Communicator client (formerly known as Istanbul) or Web access, is impressive. Although IBM probably has four times as many seats, according to Gartner, the research firm believes Microsoft's share of the corporate IM market is likely to exceed 50 percent within five years. The key reason, according to analyst Matthew Cain, is LCS' ability to integrate with collaboration tools by exposing IM services throughout the Office system as well as the ability to generate tie-ins to established infrastructure, like SQL Server and Active Directory.
Microsoft may have let IBM get a head start following a rather poorly received IM offering bundled in Exchange, but LCS, first released in the second half of 2004, coupled with the Office Communicator client or Web access, is impressive.
The future for SameTime still looks bright, however. Speaking at Lotusphere 2006, Mike Rodin, general manager of IBM's Workplace portal and collaboration business, said there are currently around 16 million users around the world, and unveiled many of the features that will appear in release 7.5. These include client support for Linux and Mac OS X 10.4, enhanced Web conferencing and support for enterprise to enterprise IMing through SIP, as well as connectivity with users of AIM, ICQ and Apple iChat IM services. The key benefit of SameTime and this obviously applies only to Domino sites is that all of this IM functionality is tightly integrated with the rest of the Lotus Domino groupware suite.
A slightly less obvious solution is Sun's Java System Instant Messaging, an IM system for Windows, Linux, and, of course, Solaris, which integrates with Sun's Messaging, Portal and Calendar servers. The server is based on the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), the IETF's 1999 formalization of the core protocols created by the Jabber open source community. Java System IM supports XMPP clients but offers more functionality when used with Sun's IM client. No native connectivity is supplied to public IM networks, so users must rely on third-party and open source XMPP gateway products for connectivity.
An interesting alternative to these mainstream products, Gordano's Instant Messenger product combines the vendor's Collaboration suite and Mail server with other modules to create an alternative to Exchange with integrated IM on Windows and Unix platforms. The Windows IM client can be either integrated directly into Microsoft Outlook or used as a stand-alone IM client.
It still feels like Wild West in today's IM market. Companies like Gordano, Antepo, Bantu, Parlano, Jabber, and many others are vying for a slice of the action. But apart from a few specialist areas, it's questionable whether a stand-alone IM product is attractive when the alternative is the element of presence and real-time interactivity woven into all collaborative software. By the same token, stand-alone groupware is unlikely to thrive when the alternative is groupware with presence management capabilities. If that's the case, the likely winners are the larger groupware software vendors, and, inevitably, Microsoft.