Following Microsoft's partnership with networking giant Cisco, the unified communications market is hotting up even further with IBM's launch of a new range of collaboration products.
IBM has joined forces with Siemens to turn its Lotus Sametime software into a product family that will include new telephony integration software.
The move comes as Microsoft confirmed the 16 October launch of its much-hyped Office Communications Server 2007 for larger enterprises. It plans to sell unified communications to smaller businesses as an on-demand service.
Unified communications pull together voice, video and data communications and a multitude of applications to allow employees to communicate more easily with a range of endpoint devices.
IBM said the new Lotus Sametime product family will make it easier for companies to create a unified communications environment that delivers essential capabilities to users and simplifies back-end integration — without forcing software migration or rip-and-replace decisions.
The central new product in IBM's vision is the Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony software, which is heavily reliant on Siemens' OpenScape communications technology.
The choice of Siemens by IBM has raised many eyebrows because Siemens has, up to now, been a close unified communications partner to IBM's rival Microsoft.
IBM seems to be hedging its bets as to which network suppliers it comes to rely on, as Cisco is also a close partner in getting its Lotus Sametime collaboration offering into the enterprise market.
In addition, IBM is working with Nortel to get yet another unified communications platform into the marketplace by the end of the year. Microsoft has already chosen Nortel as its main hardware provider in supporting Office Communications Server 2007.
"IBM chose Siemens OpenScape technology because of its interoperability with multiple PBX systems and track record of innovation and vision in this field," said Bruce Morse, vice president for unified communication and collaboration at IBM. "Our companies share the goal of developing extensible unified communications solutions that are based on open standards and integrate seamlessly into business processes."
Current OpenScape customers include SAP, Accenture and PepsiCo.
Jonathan Spira, an analyst at Basex, said: "Integrating the Siemens OpenScape technology into Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony will simplify the ability to build true collaborative business environments and communicate in real-time across mixed PBX systems, helping to increase knowledge-worker productivity."
Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony will allow users to manage incoming calls, see who is available to communicate with, and connect with a variety of back-end and legacy systems, said IBM. The platform is designed to work in mixed-vendor environments with multiple business telephone systems, enabling businesses to provide a common look and feel for their users, regardless of back-end systems.
Since it will be based on the common SIP (session initiation protocol) standard, Lotus Sametime will integrate within new and legacy environments, eliminating the need for businesses to rip and replace systems.
The reliance on the Siemens OpenScape technology comes after an announcement earlier this year that IBM and Cisco were to deliver a joint open unified communications and collaboration platform.
The unified communications platform promises to accelerate application development by enabling developers to easily include a set of communications and collaboration capabilities in their solutions. At the core of the offering is an open set of application programming interfaces (APIs) offered by IBM as a subset of the Lotus Sametime collaboration capabilities, along with communication APIs provided by Cisco to access communications functionality such as voice and video services.
The Lotus Sametime collaboration capabilities are built on IBM's Lotus Expeditor, which contains open technologies from OSGi and Eclipse. This allows customers and partners to build new classes of applications and services that are easily managed and that run across desktops, laptops, web browsers and mobile devices.
Despite Siemens' arrival on the scene, the development work between IBM and Cisco is set to continue, with both Lotus Sametime and Cisco's Unified Personal Communicator client using their joint platform.
A number of customers, developers, distributors and communications providers have already expressed their support for this so-called UC2 Client Platform. These include Citrix Systems, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Nokia and Research in Motion.
Ray Repic, chief technology architect at Coca-Cola Enterprises, said earlier this year: "The announced platform by Cisco and IBM will allow us to more fully integrate core applications as well as build additional applications to work with them via open APIs."
IBM said its Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony solution will be available in mid-2008.