Oracle plans major Collaboration Suite update

Oracle Corp. plans to deliver a major update to its Collaboration Suite before the end of this year, adding instant messaging capabilities, improving integration with enterprise applications and enhancing other features, company executives said Tuesday.

This third release of Collaboration Suite is intended to make the Oracle product a stronger rival to Microsoft Corp.’s Exchange and IBM Corp.’s Lotus Domino, which dominate the corporate e-mail server market.

The update will come later than expected. Oracle had indicated earlier that it would release the new version of Collaboration Suite in the first half of 2004.

Additionally, the instant messaging functionality is overdue. Industry insiders had expected instant messaging to be part of the second release of Collaboration Suite in June last year. Both Microsoft and IBM already sell instant messaging products.

But Oracle is definitely committed to Collaboration Suite, company officials insisted. In fact, Oracle just hired Terry Olkin, cofounder and former chief technology officer of secure messaging vendor Secure Data in Motion Inc., also known as Sigaba. As Chief Architect for Collaboration Suite, Olkin will set the future direction for the product.

“The challenge is bringing the different pieces of Collaboration Suite together into an integrated and easier to use product,” Olkin said. Another task is raising the profile of Collaboration Suite. “Clearly, it is not well known in the market. It is not in the same breath as Exchange or Notes,” he said.

Oracle pitches Collaboration Suite as a cheaper and more secure alternative for corporate e-mail, coupled with the fact that it works with many user interfaces and offers certain benefits because it is integrated with a common database. These benefits include complying with regulations that require retention of all kinds of electronic communications, the company has said.

But Collaboration Suite is still a fledgling product, so it should not be surprising if it is not completely at par with offerings from Microsoft and IBM. To move Collaboration Suite from playing catch up with Exchange and Domino to a leading position, Oracle needs to come out with a highly innovative messaging system, Olkin said.

“What we need to do is come out with a high quality, almost next-generation communications product. There has to be that wow factor that says: hey we need to look at Oracle stuff because they are thinking ahead, they are thinking outside of the box, they’re not just adding yet another feature,” Olkin said.

Collaboration Suite Release 3 should reflect that thinking. It will deliver a lot more than just tagging on instant messaging capability to the existing product, said Rob Koplowitz, a senior director of product marketing at Oracle.

“It will be quite a bit of functionality that you will see coming in the next release,” he said. Aside from instant messaging, Oracle will deliver enhanced features to rival Microsoft’s Windows SharePoint Services group collaboration Web sites as well as improved integration with Oracle’s enterprise application products, Koplowitz said.

Oracle launched its offensive against Microsoft and IBM in September 2002 with the first release of Collaboration Suite. The product was updated in June 2003 to include Web conferencing. Oracle said last year that it sold Collaboration Suite to 500 customers in the 12-month period until May 31, 2003. In the six months after that it added another 250 customers for a total of 750 as of Nov. 30, 2003, the company said in a financial overview for that period.

As of the end of last year, Oracle held a 0.75 per cent share of the corporate messaging market, according to data from The Radicati Group Inc. And that market share is not bad for a product that has only been out a short time, said Sara Radicati, president and chief executive officer of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based consulting and market research firm.

“It is reasonable to be here in two years, it is about as far as you can get. Oracle is achieving what I think can be realistically achieved in the time that they have been out with the product,” Radicati said.

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