In the first major victory for the large public instant messaging players' push to gain credibility in the B2B market, Hewlett-Packard
has agreed to resell and integrate America Online's enterprise-class instant messaging product into its own offerings.Two months ago, Dulles, Va.-based AOL, a unit of AOL Time Warner , introduced the Enterprise AIM Gateway, a tool for businesses to regulate use of the free AOL Instant Messenger IM client within their networks.The Gateway logs IM conversations, integrates with corporate LDAP servers to authenticate employees and to provide company-specific usernames, and restricts users' IM permissions (permitting only certain workers to IM externally or share files, for instance.) Following an upgrade to the public AIM client, the Gateway also will provide for SSL-based secure communications within the enterprise. Foster City, Calif.-based IM management player FaceTime Communications provided the technology underlying the system.Now, Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP will promote the Enterprise AIM Gateway as part of its business services unit, which is chiefly centered around hosting or deploying Microsoft Exchange for corporate customers.The agreement also will allow HP to build Enterprise AIM functions into other enterprise applications that it markets through the unit. Such a move isn't surprising, considering that the ability to marry enterprise applications with IM and the ability to detect "presence" -- when a fellow user is online and available to chat or collaborate -- is widely considered one of the next hot applications for IM technology.
HP hasn't fully fleshed out the sort of uses it has in mind for AIM as part of other applications. Tom Tillar, manager for the Americas in HP Services' Next-Generation Networks unit, envisions applications that the company develops for healthcare, manufacturing and hospitality clients benefiting from the addition of IM and presence.
"We think this solution could be easily applied to those areas," Tillar said. "For instance, we're trying to create an intelligent hotel that has wireless applications and messaging and a portal for communication around the hotel. Instant messaging may be great application inside a bigger application like that -- so maybe you'll see messaging between a hotel desk and housekeeping, or between desks and restaurants."
The deal between America Online and HP continues a recent history of collaboration. The two technology giants have been working together since the late 90s, typically with the computer hardware manufacturer providing servers and other Internet infrastructure to AOL in return for ads on its online service.
For HP, the deal bestows new, sought-after capabilities to its HP Services unit, which can now address burgeoning corporate demand for products to manage internal IM use.
"Messaging is the circulatory system of today's enterprise," said Rene Schuster, HP Services' vice president and general manager of consulting and integration. "By teaming with an industry leader such as AOL, coupled with HP's strengths in IT infrastructure services, HP is able to offer an unmatched portfolio of messaging services critical to our customers' ability to effectively communicate internally as well as with customers and business partners."
"We see a great many of our customers in the enterprise have instant messaging activity going on ... and there's a lack of a formal approach to it," Tillar said. "The enterprise business markets tend to ... ignore it and just sort of let it go on because it was brought in by employees. In some cases, IT managers have tried to crack down on it, and ... they've gotten their hands slapped, with VPs saying 'don't turn off IM, I need this.' So we know it's out there -- we think the demand and activity is very high."
AOL, in turn, gains a major supporter of its enterprise IM offering. While FaceTime currently offers the Enterprise AIM service, HP brings far wider contacts among the sorts of businesses where enterprise-class IM vendors would love to gain a foothold. Clients include telcos including Cable & Wireless , financial services providers like Commerzbank, pharma companies such as Pfizer , and industrial giants including Lockheed Martin ."HP is a leader in providing collaborative solutions to enterprises and understands that having instant access to colleagues for quick exchange of information is a real advantage in today's business environment," said Bruce Stewart, senior vice president, AOL Strategic Business Solutions. "By teaming with HP, a wide range of businesses can take advantage of highly integrated, enterprise-centric instant messaging applications that enable enterprises and employees to become more nimble, efficient and productive."
The agreement also gives AOL a head start in the battle for market share. In addition to AOL, Yahoo! and Microsoft's MSN are fielding enterprise products designed to build on the popularity of their free public IM clients. Meanwhile, the three public IM vendors are also competing with IBM's Lotus Sametime, an early mover in the enterprise IM space, as well as a host of smaller players, including WiredRed, divine, and Jabber, Inc.Christopher Saunders is managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.com.
Which IM solution is right for your business? Join us at the Instant Messaging Planet Spring Conference and Expo, Feb. 24 and 25 in Boston. Meet with vendors and attend valuable sessions like "Deploying Enterprise IM" and "Public IM: Good Enough for Your Business?"