IBM said on Monday it will invest $1 billion dollars into its unified communications initiatives in a bid to come out ahead of chief rival Microsoft as the leader in software-based UC, a market IBM executives called a "two-horse race between IBM and Microsoft."
During a live conference call from an event at its Somers, N.Y. headquarters, IBM executives outlined the vendor's vision of software-based UC solutions, which the IBM is calling Unified Communications and Collaboration, or UC2. Bruce Morse, vice president of UC software at IBM, said the $1 billion investment will be made over the next three years and represents significant growth in the resources IBM is putting toward the growing UC market.
IBM's investment is a bid to capitalize on the growing UC market, which, according to IDC will balloon from a $5 billion dollar market now to $17 billion in 2011. Microsoft, too, has been making significant investments in the UC space, releasing Office Communication Server 2007 and Office Communicator last year along with acquiring strategic companies like TellMe, a voice-recognition software maker.
According to Steve Mills, senior vice president of IBM's software group, IBM will invest heavily in research and development, fueling a host of new products to expand the company's UC portfolio, mainly around Lotus Sametime. The investment will also help build out IBM's services and consulting practices in the UC space.
Over the next year, IBM software and services will be offered to enable anytime, anywhere productivity and will expand IBMs reach across devices, from desktops and laptops to BlackBerrys, iPhones and other devices. IBM is also working to reach across all major platforms including Windows, Mac and Linux to enable office capabilities to workforces regardless of device or location.
"We're focusing on helping people be able to find, reach and collaborate with others through a unified user experience," Morse said. To do so, Morse said IBM must offer an open software platform, integration services, industry expertise and a broad ecosystem comprising a host of technology partners.
"This is about intelligent integration," Morse added.
Laurence Guihard-Joly, vice president of IBM global technology services, agreed.
"We need to bring flexibility to our clients," she said, adding that offering interoperability with the likes of Cisco and Avaya can ease phased projects. Opening the door to multi-vendor integration can enhance end-to-end project implementations, she said.
New products will include Lotus Sametime Advanced software, available later this month, which will feature community tools for users to reach out to a community of colleagues and experts instead of individuals. Sametime Advanced will feature persistent group chat and instant screen sharing capabilities.
IBM will also focus its global technical teams on unified communications and collaboration. This year, more than 1,300 IBM software developers and technical experts will contribute to the company's UC vision to accelerate software development.
Part of the massive investment will be used to grow Lotus Sametime software, which debuted a decade ago as an instant messaging and Web conferencing tool. The goal is to transform Sametime from its humble roots into a real-time business standard and an open and flexible software platform to integrate with telephony, audio and video and other business applications.
Additionally, integration with other industry-leading vendors will help IBM UC solutions blend into heterogeneous network environments, Morse said. For example, IBM and Forterra Systems are developing a solution, code-named "Babel Bridge," that could allow US intelligence agencies to use a common graphical collaboration system to communicate in a virtual, real-time environment. Another partnership, with VBrick Systems, is introducing the VBrick Lotus Sametime Video Plug-in, a product that streams live broadcasts and on-demand digital video within Sametime environments.
IBM is also continuing ahead with OEM relationships with Carestream Health, Cisco and Nortel to integrate and offer Lotus Sametime as part of their core UC solutions, extending the reach of IBM software into new markets.
Along with Lotus Sametime, IBM is working to add UC capabilities across other solutions like Lotus Notes, Lotus Connections, Lotus Quickr, Lotus Symphony and IBM Websphere portal. Additionally, IBM UC solutions can integrate with other vendors' applications, such as Microsoft Outlook and Office and other line of business applications and processes.
Mills said IBM hopes to answer the question "Can I be effective no matter where I am?," later adding that IBM's UC vision is not only about rapid connection to people and information, but connecting to those people and that information within the right context through the best medium.
"It's an incredible phenomenon in the world we live in," Mills said, later adding that UC deployments must be carrier class. "It has to be ubiquitous. It has to be on all the time. It has to be reliable."