Conversation Elevation: IM, Web Conferencing, Multimedia

We look at new tools from eDial and Yahoo! that enable enterprises to move from text-based instant messaging into richer forms of presence-based communications.
Far from being an end unto itself, instant messaging is proving to be just the starting point for real-time communications in the enterprise.

That's the philosophy shared by two new solutions in the IM space. Internet telephony player eDial is taking the wraps off its new collaboration product that merges instant messaging, Web conferencing, and, not surprisingly, the phone. At the same time, Yahoo! is unveiling the fruits of its June agreement with Web conferencing player WebEx .

The solutions from Yahoo!/WebEx and Waltham, Mass.-based eDial provide for enterprise-grade, secure instant messaging. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo!'s Business Messenger service relies on a rich desktop client, while eDial's Instant Collaboration System (ICS) is browser-based. eDial, and Yahoo! (in connection with partners,) both provide for IM conversation logging -- a necessity for compliance in highly regulated industries like financial services.

Both solutions also make it easy for users to elevate their text-based IM conversations to live document-sharing and Web collaboration, simply by clicking an icon or URL in a chat window. Chat also can be started from users' contact lists, and additional participants can be added to a discussion with similar ease.

Since each solution necessarily takes into account users' presence and availability to collaborate, both offerings increase the likelihood for and usefulness of ad-hoc Web conferences -- which today, generally tend to be scheduled-in-advanced sort of affairs.

"We see IM as this center of real-time communication and collaboration ... in text, and Web conferencing as a real-time vehicle in media," said Steve Boom, senior vice president at Yahoo! Enterprise Solutions. "It's a natural marriage. The concept is of IM moving up from a text message to rich media collaboration, and WebEx moving from scheduled conferences to ad-hoc."

But the offerings don't stop at document-sharing and Web presentations. Yahoo!'s free public IM network client, Yahoo! Business Messenger also offers support for video conferencing and PC-based voice conferencing -- giving the offering a host of IM-based multimedia features.

All this comes in the form of a hosted service, as opposed to deployed software -- which Yahoo! says made its offering attractive to early testers who have become clients. Those include BMC Software, Stanford University, Southern Methodist University, Allied Van Lines, Snap-on Tools, and HSBC.

Meanwhile, software-based eDial is aiming to make headway with its own solution, which also can launch external conferencing services including WebEx and Microsoft Live Meeting, using its API.

Additionally, like a number of players in Internet telephony, eDial's solution is based on Session Initiation Protocol and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions -- which are proving popular in the enterprise IM realm, being baked into offerings like Microsoft's hotly anticipated enterprise IM solution, Live Communications Server. Because of its SIP underpinnings, eDial's ICS solution should also be able to integrate with other IM systems via a SIP connector.

Its grounding in SIP also gives ICS the added ability to integrate with corporate telephony services, linking into SIP-enabled-phones or legacy PBX networks. As a result, enterprise workers can see colleagues' available not just for IM and Web conferencing, but also for speaking via telephone. Once a user picks up their phone, their changed status is noted in their peers' contact lists.

"IM, in and of itself, has limited value," said Jill Smith, president and chief executive officer of eDial. "Its true value is when it's a part of a contextual collaborative solution, as a gateway to extended collaboration. That's where we're anchoring ourselves, to leverage IM and its presence and its real-time capabilities, with SIP an enabler of all of the above."

While eDial's strength has been in SIP-based telephony, the company said it's not afraid of expanding into enterprise IM and Web conferencing, an area dominated by a slew of big names -- including IBM, Polycom, and likely, Oracle, not to mention Microsoft and Yahoo!/WebEx. Indeed, Smith said the firm is nimble enough to pick its battles, providing solutions as-yet-undelivered by the major powers in enterprise IM, while also being flexible enough to tie into offerings from the leaders.

"We see integration as being absolutely paramount and the big guys aren't going to get there just yet," Smith said. "With SIP, I can be agnostic with respect to environments in which we work."

Flexibility might be a major selling point itself, but the smaller firm is also busy striking partnerships of its own -- it recently inked a deal with BT Conferencing, a unit of the British telecom giant, to provide its ICS software as part of BT's services.

Christopher Saunders is managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.com.

Which vendor of enterprise IM solutions is right for your business? Join us at the Instant Messaging Planet Fall Conference and Expo, Oct. 15 and 16 in San Jose, Calif. Sessions include: "Special Workshop: How to Pick and Buy an Enterprise IM Solution" and "The Big Decision: Weighing Hosted, Gateway, and Deployed Enterprise Solutions."






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