IBM/Lotus this fall plans to offer technology that will enable users to integrate voice over IP (VoIP) or any other telephony service with their collaboration applications.

The service provider interface (SPI) is largely designed for service providers and vendors, although it could be used by corporate application developers, too. It could be applied, for example, to provide telephony features for Web conferences, such as to dial people into a conference, mute lines, hang up and see an indicator online that pinpoints who is talking.

The SPI is expected to work with IBM/Lotus Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing Server, Domino and eventually the Java-based Workplace platform.

David Marshak, senior product manager for real-time collaboration and team collaboration at IBM, says the SPI would let users integrate Web conferencing with current telephony infrastructures regardless of the provider.

IBM/Lotus today offers a plug-in called the Web Conferencing Audio Adapter for Premiere Conferencing, a proprietary interface that routes all telephony services in the IBM Web conferencing platform through third-party service provider Premiere Conferencing.

The IBM/Lotus move comes as rival Microsoft is adding telephony features to its Live Communication Server 2005 and its new Office Communicator client. The Microsoft client, however, focuses on adding more phone-like features to the desktop. Communicator, when integrated with a PBX, can be used for call control. Microsoft is working with partners Siemens and Alcatel’s Genesys.

“What IBM is doing, along with Microsoft and others, is at long last making audio conferencing and traditional telephony something that really does fit naturally inside real-time collaboration tools,” says Peter O’Kelly, an analyst with Burton Group. “You will see similar things that IBM is doing now from Microsoft, given the work they are doing with different PBX vendors.”

The IBM/Lotus SPI would let users configure their software to link into specific services automatically or on a case-by-case basis.

IBM’s Marshak says independent software developers and corporate developers can use the same SPI and IBM/Lotus support for Session Initiation Protocol and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions to build more sophisticated telephony features on top of Web conferencing and instant messaging, such as using SIP integration with an IM buddy list for a “click to call” interface.

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