Presence simmers on business back burner

By themselves, today’s collaboration technologies, such as instant messaging (IM) and audio, video and Web conferencing, help make workers more productive. But when combined with “presence” — information about where users are, what applications or devices they’re using and how to best reach them — those collaboration tools can become part of a virtual workplace in which employees can quickly get information they need and ad hoc groups can set up meetings on the fly.

The result: companies save money, boost productivity and stay agile in a changing world.

It’s a great goal, but it’s still at least three to five years away for most organizations. That’s one key finding in a recent Nemertes Research LLC survey. Only 16 per cent of the 43 IT executives who responded said they use presence now. Another 26 per cent said they plan to do so in the next six to 24 months, but that leaves 42 per cent with no presence plans at all.

There are two main reasons why companies are holding back. Many IT executives don’t see the justification, in resource terms, for deploying presence; and those that do are still focused on other real-time communications deployments.

That is expected to change over time, but until companies get a handle on IM, conferencing and basic security issues, presence will remain on the back burner for most IT executives.

In the meantime, a war is brewing as vendors come at presence from a variety of angles. Applications vendors such as Microsoft Corp. and IBM Lotus view voice as an add-on to their collaboration products, while IP telephony vendors such as Nortel Networks and Siemens Corp. see collaboration applications as an add-on to their voice systems.

IBM Corp.’s newest entry in the real-time communications arena is Lotus Workplace Team Collaboration, which is Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE)-based and offers integrated synchronous and asynchronous collaboration.

Nortel’s Multimedia Communication Server 5100 drives VoIP networks, and delivers multimedia and collaborative applications.

Capabilities include mobility, collaboration, presence, messaging and video services. Presence has the potential to change the way people work but change will come slowly; the technology isn’t mature. Productivity gains are difficult to measure, and the cultural adjustments won’t come easily from end users. However, the companies that do adopt the new tools will be well positioned to support a dispersed workforce and leverage the benefits such an environment brings.

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Turek is a principal research analyst at Nemertes Research. She can be reached at [email protected].

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