Facing increased competition from Microsoft and Lotus, Centra Software is integrating its realtime communications software with Windows desktop and enterprise applications to stay ahead of the curve.
The eight-year-old Web conferencing software company, led by Chairman and CEO Leon Navickas, a former Lotus executive, will unveil Centra 7 on Monday.
Centra 7, due to ship in June, offers integration with desktop applications including Microsoft Office as well as desktop messaging, calendaring and instant messaging platforms such as Microsoft Outlook, MSN Messenger, Lotus Notes calendaring and Lotus SameTime instant messaging platform.
The one-click desktop application integration will enable users to launch realtime collaborative sessions and meetings from within the context of their work in documents, Navickas said.
The Centra platform traditionally has been used by customers such as Fidelity Investments and Progress Software for collaborative learning.
However, Centra plans to broaden use of its platform and enable integration with line-of-business applications and business processes by linking workflow automation and integration with enterprise applications such as those from PeopleSoft, Siebel Systems and Pivotal, Navickas added.
For example, the company intends to develop solutions that address marketing and selling, call center applications and document management in addition to collaborative learning, he said.
"This takes our company into broader realtime collaboration opportunities in the enterprise," Navickas said.
Centra 7 also incorporates an enhanced architecture for enabling enterprise-level reliability, scalability, security, administration and reporting, he said.
Centra's top executive said the new version will also include an additional software layer to take advantage of Microsoft's Real-Time Communications Server, which is due in fall 2003.
Centra has a professional services group with 30 employees and also works with many large systems integration partners including Accenture and EDS as well as a number of solution providers that specialize in videoconferencing applications, such as Videre Conferencing, Braintree, Mass., and Go Solutions in Clearwater, Fla.
"The enhancements in the areas of realtime collaboration and [instant messaging] will keep Centra users ahead of the technology curve," said Bill Benoit, vice president of sales at Videre. "The integration with PeopleSoft should be of high value to enterprises undertaking the enormous challenge of implementing the PeopleSoft environment."
While Microsoft and Lotus continue to press harder into Web conferencing and realtime communications, Centra said it will continue to add value by offering its solution for on-premise use as well as a hosted offering.
In addition, Centra is one of the value-added ISV partners Microsoft will highlight as part of its Realtime Communications Server 2003 launch. The company also plans to tap into Microsoft's Great Plains VAR channel to sell its solution, Navickas said.
Some wonder about the viability of Centra and other realtime companies with Microsoft's acquisition of Placeware. It's not clear how Microsoft will offer Placeware, but one source said it might be offered as a hosted service to run in conjunction with its forthcoming realtime server.
However, at least one Microsoft solution provider said that market is growing and should afford all ISVs growing opportunities.
"We have used Placeware, Centra and WebEx as virtual meeting places, and Web conferencing and these types of hosted applications offer our clients and other enterprise customers a way to quickly launch, capture and host a meeting, saving travel costs. %85 Telephony, videoconferencing and remote control of desktops has steadily improved," said Ken Winell, president of Econium, Totowa, N.J. "We originally looked at NetMeeting and Sametime from Microsoft and Lotus to attempt to tackle some of this, but found them too lacking in handling the telephone piece to make it successful. We believe the purchase of Placeware by Microsoft shows the strength and potential of the market in e-learning and Web conferencing."
Benoit said Videre's customer base isn't considering a move to Placeware.
"Videre and our clients are not considering switching," Benoit said. "Our clients look to Videre for complete solutions, and this encompasses the value-added professional services we jointly provide with Centra such as knowledge transfer, content migration, rollout and ongoing support."