IBM Acquires WebDialogs, Beefs Up Lotus Sametime

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Rhodin, general manager of IBM Software Group's Lotus Software, on Wednesday made several major Sametime-related announcements at VoiceCon in San Francisco, including the acquisition of Billerica, Mass.-based Web conferencing vendor WebDialogs and an OEM partnership with Siemens to license the latter's OpenScape open unified communications technology for the upcoming Sametime Unified Telephony offering that will be generally available before mid-2008.

In a self-deprecating mood, Rhodin made the quip about the contrast of Sametime's prettiness to IBM's workmanlike reputation during his VoiceCon keynote. Later, when asked how the next generation of Sametime's primary platform and Unified Telephony would be distributed through IBM's Business Partner channel, he admitted that his Lotus unit hadn't done enough for resellers in the past.

"All of our Sametime products are available to our Business Partner channel. But we believe we can do better in marketing outreach. It would be a fair criticism to say that we've primarily focused on marketing to IT departments," he said.

The WebDialogs acquisition and Siemens partnership are being billed as crucial parts of the next phase of IBM's unified communication and collaboration strategy, or UC. WebDialogs, which offers its Unyte Web and audio conferencing tools as a white-labeled service, will become part of the Lotus unit after agreeing to the acquisition late Tuesday night, Rhodin said. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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Because Unyte is white-labeled, IBM said the acquisition would present new opportunities for its channel.

"The WebDialogs services offer open application programming interfaces (APIs) that enable Business Partners to customize, brand and integrate the service into applications, products and other services," the vendor said in a press release.

Siemens' OpenScape technology will provide the back-end for Sametime Unified Telephony, said Rhodin.

"It's a natural marriage. Siemens is very good on the back-end and we're very good on the front end," he said.

Integration of Unified Telephony would be a "high value proposition" for resellers, said Al Baker, U.S. vice president of product and service management in Siemens' Enterprise Line Management division.

"Because OpenScape is open standards-based, integration is not a nightmare," Baker said.

Lotus Sametime version 8 will be released in three phases. Sametime Entry, with carryover features from Sametime 7.5, began shipping last week. Sametime Standard, which adds features like VoIP chat, IM file transfer and screen capture, will be released this fall. Sametime Advanced, which adds tools like persistent chat rooms, instant screen share and dynamic location services, will be released in the fall for an extended beta run before becoming generally available sometime before mid-2008.