IBM and Cisco will announce today at the Spring 2007 VoiceCon conference in Orlando, Florida, a joint effort to create an industrywide unified communications and collaboration platform.
The expectation is that a single open platform, rather than a potpourri of platforms offered by multiple vendors, will entice a large number of developers to design communications services for the enterprise.
In the first step toward that end, IBM and Cisco have pledged to base the new platform, called UC2 (Unified Communication and Collaboration), on Eclipse and OSGi (Open Services Gateway initiative) technologies.
In addition, both companies unveiled a series of upcoming offerings jointly developed by the two companies using an open set of APIs from Lotus's Sametime collaboration application and communication APIs from Cisco.
Among the solutions planned for later this year are click-to-call and voice mail integration to allow Sametime users to send instant messages to and from Cisco Unified IP phones. Another jointly developed offering will include federated presence information, call history conferencing, and video telephony.
The federated presence solution will take information stored in Cisco's IP network, such as availability and location, and share that information with a Sametime client.
"If you are looking at a Sametime client, you can see if the phone is not busy and if the person is in, say, building 21 on the third floor," said Barry O'Sullivan, vice president of IP Communications at Cisco.
According to Adam Gartenberg, offering manager for the UC2 Software division of IBM Lotus Software Group, the growth of unified communications services has been impeded by a lack of a consistent programming environment. On the other hand, the ubiquity of Eclipse will encourage the large Eclipse community of developers to design communications services that extend the client capabilities of ERP and CRM applications to remote users.
"The UC2 platform is extensible, allowing developers to create plug-ins or mini applications to access applications remotely," said Gartenberg.
For example, a developer might extend an expense approval application in SAP by creating an applet that makes it available in an instant messaging environment.
There is also no doubt that enterprise-level companies are eager to see what unified communications can do for them. Ray Repic, chief technical architect at Coca-Cola Enterprises, says he likes the idea of leveraging his existing technology to create incremental value. Repic already uses Lotus SameTime and Cisco's IP telephony.
"There's nothing we need to purchase," said Repic.
In addition Repic said he is eager to get it up into Coca Cola's prototyping lab.
"We need to understand how we can use voice as an application," Repic said.
As part of the announcement, Cisco also said that it will develop future versions of its Unified Personal Communicator on the new UC2 client platform.
Also planned is a certification program to certify that the solutions developed on UC2 platform meet the specifications laid out by IBM and Cisco.
However, despite the cooperation between Cisco and IBM and the stated reasons for it, analysts see Microsoft as the elephant in the room.
"The unified communications battle will come down to Cisco versus Microsoft," said Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala. Some users have held off on the technology because they are waiting to see what Microsoft will do with it, he said.
Meanwhile, Nortel Networks, which last year announced a partnership with Microsoft in this area, hasn't ended up with much of an advantage that other telephony vendors don't have, Kerravala said.
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