IM Planet: Presence pitched as killer corporate app

Despite the noise generated around competing architectures, Microsoft Corp., Lotus, and Groove Networks Inc. agree that when it comes to enterprise instant messaging (IM), presence awareness is the true “killer app” and that interoperability is a key challenge facing the industry going forward.

IM as we know it today – person-to-person text messaging from buddy lists – is the only the tip of the iceberg, according to Jeremy Dies, senior offerings manager in the Advanced Collaboration Group at IBM Corp.’s Lotus Software and one of the executives speaking on a panel at the IM Planet Conference in San Francisco.

“Person-to-person IM and awareness is just the beginning,” Dies said.

IM is just the first killer app of presence awareness, and presence awareness will continue beyond person-to-person text messaging to include linking people to applications and applications to applications, Dies said.

Person-to-application IM, which IBM currently offers through its Sametime BOTS technology, extends the value of the buddy list to nearly any application. Examples of person to application IM include gaining access directory records, interacting with applications, and searching for experts.

Application to person, server-initiated IM, in which an application is aware of a person’s online presence, can speed workflows and business process, Dies said.

In the future, application-to-application messaging through Web services will truly leverage the advantages of real-time presence, he said.

“The most interesting trend we see going forward is the migration from person-to-person IM to having presence capabilities pervasive on the network and [able to be] leveraged by any application. You can thread presence awareness throughout the enterprise,” in applications and systems, Dies said.

According to Ed Simnett, lead product manager for Real-Time Communications at Microsoft, enterprises should not doubt the transformative power of presence awareness just because it is already a known feature of IM.

“There is an unbelievable amount of depth and richness in presence. The idea of a machine messaging to other machines” and to people is an incredibly powerful tool, Simnett said.

In fact, as Web services take root in corporations, both Microsoft and Lotus executives agreed that presence awareness based on a knowledge worker’s role will become increasingly critical.

Going forward, “it will be less important that you contact a person directly with IM and presence awareness, but you contact a person’s role through Web services,” according to Lotus’ Dies.

Applying presence and business rules together is something that customers are really excited about, Microsoft’s Simnett said.

Looking ahead, the emerging standards SIP and SIMPLE will be important for interoperability, Dies said. Lotus plans to ship a SIP Gateway next month with Version 3.0 of its Sametime IM product, and follow with full support as the standard matures.

Microsoft’s Simnett agreed about the importance of interoperability. IM and presence is becoming ubiquitous and easier to integrate into corporate applications, but interoperability remains a key challenge, he said.

“Interoperability will be the biggest challenge we should acknowledge today,” Simnett said.

Microsoft has in the past pledged support for SIMPLE as it matures in the standards process.

Todd Ray, systems engineer at Groove Networks, said his company also is looking at supporting SIP and SIMPLE.

Interoperability “will be more of a reality down the road,” as security and IM protocols progress, Ray said.

Another panel participant, Michael Osterman, principal and founder of Osterman Research, said his company’s research shows 84 per cent of organizations are using IM, but primarily consumer clients such as AOL and MSN.

Because IM is already so pervasive in organizations through the back door, deploying a standard, secure IM solution will be a top priority for corporations in the next year, he said.

“As IT budgets free up, IM will be one of the first things deployed in next 12 [months] to 18 months,” Osterman said. “A lot of IT departments are looking to channel IM in to a secure solution that can be part of the infrastructure.”

In the end, rather than a feature/function bake-off among vendors, the real value differentiating corporate IM will be the ease with which enterprises can extend IM and presence awareness into applications and infrastructure, Dies said.