Get Ready for GTV

A new enterprise IM player on the block boasts a robust platform and an impressive list of deployments.
The company has kept a low profile to date, but Global Technology Ventures is unlikely to remain under the radar for much longer, sporting as it does a robust enterprise instant messaging and presence system and a number of high-profile deployments.

When last we heard from the then year-old New York-based startup in 2001, executives were looking for funding for their cross-platform and cross-network IM products. Since then, the company has matured into a full-featured enterprise IM player -- thanks, in large part, to technology acquired through a merger late last year with partner Sonork.

That technology provides the core of GTV's Sonork-EIM platform, an encrypted, store-and-forward messaging system that's already found its way into a number of big-name clients, including EDS , Title Data Inc., the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, AT&T , Commerzbank, and Hewlett-Packard Asia-Pacific, Johnson & Johnson's R&D group, and Ericsson Austria.

Deployed either behind-the-firewall or in a hosted capacity, the system provides for peer-to-peer internal, extranet and Internet messaging. Sonork-EIM authenticates against ODBC databases, and system administrators configure company employees' privileges -- such as their ability to share files or IM with other departments -- and user interfaces by assigning workers to specific groups.

The system also supports client-side and server-based logging and keyword-based search. It can also flag suspect words used during employees' conversations, and inform IT or managers accordingly.

Sonork-EIM also currently supports a number of protocols, including GSM for wireless communications, and protocols providing interoperability with the major public IM systems. It's also designed to be flexible enough to add new protocols, like planned support for Session Initiation Protocol and SIMPLE, with a minimum of fuss.

User interface nuances

That sort of concentration on ease-of-use pervades much of the product, which offers a wealth of features that speak to great care taken by GTV and Sonork in creating a powerful and intuitive user interface.

For instance, the system offers threaded responses to offline messages, enabling a recipient to respond to each message in turn -- with the system indicating to which message a user is replying. (Preventing, as a result, those awkward moments of confusion as to which question a user is answering.)

Unlike most EIM systems, Sonork also supports selective presence, which enabling a user to indicate a presence status (such as "Busy" or "Invisible") to only specific contacts. Chat histories are available at all time, so a latecomer to a chatroom meeting can see an up-to-date record of the conversation. Additionally, as with MSN Messenger, recipients' "Away" messages or status is shown as a user is typing their message -- rather than in response to an IM, as is the case with AOL Instant Messenger.

Drag-and-drop is prevalent throughout the UI. Messages or files received while offline can be forwarded to other users in the Buddy List by dragging. The system also supports drag-and-drop for inviting users to ad hoc chatrooms, which can be configured to automatically send transcripts to participants when the session is complete. On the backend side, much of the system's setup and customization is handled by drag-and-drop as well.

Sonork-EIM's user interface also offers a way to access "Tracker Rooms," subject-based directories aimed at helping employees in large organizations find and communicate with others. Based on their area of expertise, users are assigned to or enlist in Tracker Rooms, which maintains a list of registered users, and whether they're current available to chat or offline.

A Tracker Room might be set up to provide help desk support -- a user looking to get in contact with a help desk technician would visit a Tracker Room, and then locate a technician versed in their problem, as indicated in their profile.

Like a number of rival enterprise IM systems on the market, GTV Sonork-EIM also provides for a wide variety of customization and custom-branding options in the system's client.

Extensibility and application integration

In addition to providing a person-to-person IM system, Sonork-EIM is designed also to serve as the basis for messaging- and presence-enabled business applications.

For one thing, the Sonork-EIM client houses not just contact lists, but also Web forms that tie back into the messaging system or that link to databases. Those forms allow for rapid, formatted messaging. For example, internally, GTV uses a Web form as part of its product development bug tracking system; when an error report is sent through the form, the system notifies developers via IM, and adds the report to the firm's Web-based bug tracking database.

APIs also provide for add-ons to the Sonork-EIM user interface -- such as the ability to launch and pass data to locally stored external applications. For example, the interface can embed an icon to launch Windows NetMeeting, which can be used to start a conversation without having to track down IP addresses via an ILS server. The contact list also can be configured to launch commonly used office applications, like a calculator, notepad, or Web browser.

Such add-in features play an important part in GTV's positioning of Sonork-EIM as an easily customized messaging and office productivity solution.

"These companies need the flexibility to create applications based on what they need -- not what AOL or Lotus gives them," said Ken Mayer, GTV's chairman and chief executive.

Customization also extends beyond the client application itself. Like Vayusphere and similar players, Sonork-EIM can be configured to act as the foundation for a larger application platform -- linking users to other company apps or databases. As a result, corporate developers or system integrators can use Sonork-EIM as a basis for developing apps that include a messaging, presence-detection, or data-transfer component.

That's been the case in several of Sonork's client deployments. For HP Asia Pacific, the system not only offers employee-to-employee IM communications, but provides presence detection services and custom-built Web forms as part of the company's customer support applications. The same is true for Johnson & Johnson's research and development group, where Sonork-EIM adds presence to in-house applications.

"This is really a platform for localization [that is, locating users and services on a company network] and data transfer, with IM being a part of it," Mayer said.

Despite having been in the market only briefly, the capacity of GTV's Sonork-EIM product to serve as a messaging and presence platform for other enterprise applications is in keeping with the direction that the enterprise IM sector seems to be heading.

In recent months, major players in enterprise applications -- like Microsoft , IBM Lotus, Sun and Oracle -- are all aiming to leverage their IM systems to integrate messaging and presence with other products. Similarly, PeopleSoft recently introduced support for a number of public IM networks within its flagship application. And a number of third-party startups are looking to embed public-network or enterprise IM presence and messaging within productivity applications.

Certainly, there's no lack of rivals in the enterprise IM space, and only time will tell whether GTV's focus on usability, customizability, and application-integration will pay off in the face of entrenched competitors and a bevy of similarly hungry startup plays. In the meantime, the firm expects in coming months to continue enhancing Sonork-EIM, with additions including support for LDAP and Active Directory corporate directories, built-in alerts and notifications, and support for enterprises to add off-the-shelf or proprietary encryption, which will reside on top of Sonork-EIM's built-in encryption. The company also plans to throw greater weight behind rolling out branded, consumer-facing IM systems for clients.

Christopher Saunders is managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.com.






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