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Is enterprise IM ready for primetime?

Messaging analysis firm Radicati Group estimates that businesses are willing to pay an average of $11.95 per user for corporate instant messaging. And while Lotus Instant Messaging (formerly called Sametime) has a healthy lead in the space, most industry watchers agree that standardized IM in the workplace has yet to take root.

One of the companies hoping for an enterprise IM explosion is Foster City, Calif.-based FaceTime Communications Inc. It makes IM management tools that offer security, authentication and archiving features. Last month, Kailash Ambwani, formerly an exec with Genesys Conferencing SA, took the reins as FaceTime's CEO. He and CTO Jonathan Christensen talked with SearchDomino.com about what it'll take to get enterprise-grade IM to take off.

FaceTime was one of the first to enter the enterprise IM space with security and archiving offerings. Now heavyweights like IBM Lotus, Microsoft and Oracle are taking IM quite seriously. Do you fear that they'll ultimately tread on your turf?
I think all of them have ambition to offer a whole solution in the marketplace. One of the things we've heard over and over again from them is in the compliance and detailed reporting and management space, they are fighting the battle on the high-level features and functionality and don't have the time or resources to understand our space. Does that mean they'll stay out forever? I'm not sure. But our job is to keep raising the bar.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Article: Instant messaging to push the workplace envelope

And what's your advice for companies?
Call us! (laughs) The interesting thing about instant messaging has to do with the community you're trying to address with the integration. If the community is external to your network, there are a number of challenges in terms of how you integrate that stuff. That's an area we're making significant investment in [by] providing a common API and platform. On the enterprise IM side, the tools and techniques are fairly immature. Embedding IM in business applications seems to be gaining some steam. What's your vision for the way businesses will use IM five years from now?
Five years from now, presence or [the] ability to IM in all of the applications on your desktop is going to be fairly ubiquitous. The challenge is which presence and which network are you connecting over? Some are going to standardize -- or [not] standardize -- on the multi-network path in perpetuity. Other IT shops are going to say we selected, [say], Jabber, and we're going to integrate through APIs across all the ERP and CRM [applications] we have. For two to three years, there's going to be a fair amount of confusion about the best or most productive ways to do this. Regulations, specifically those hitting the financial services industry, have been very good for your business. Will IM spam be the next big boon for you?

Fast fact

The Radicati Group estimates that IBM Lotus Instant Messaging has 43% market share in the enterprise IM space.

IM spam and viruses provide an urgency to deploy solutions like ours. The really big boon happens when companies realize the productivity gains they get from IM. That's starting to happen. That's the wave that presents the real opportunities, as corporations realize they can actually drive more revenue and make the company more productive by doing this. So, what is the state of interoperability?
The large public networks have proprietary protocols, and their user bases are growing so rapidly they don't have time or incentive to look at standardization on a single platform. Their business model is aimed at growing their community and increasing the switching cost to users. That means interoperability is not something that [they are] looking at seriously.

On enterprise instant messaging side, you have three camps -- Jabber, IBM and Microsoft. The IBM guys have an early lead, and they've committed to [the] SIP/SIMPLE [protocol]. Microsoft also went with an early implementation of their interpretation of SIP/SIMPLE. I don't think anybody would claim that a Lotus Sametime client and Microsoft server are going to interoperate or that a Lotus Sametime server or Microsoft server will interoperate. I haven't heard anyone commit to a time frame when that's going to happen. From a FaceTime perspective, we don't see gateway services between those things. There's sort of a notion out there that we have a vested interest in the lack of interoperability. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do see interoperability as an [adoption] accelerant.

I don't think anybody would claim that a Lotus Sametime client and Microsoft server are going to interoperate ... . I haven't heard anyone commit to a time frame when that's going to happen.
Jonathan Christensen, FaceTime CTO,

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I don't think anybody would claim that a Lotus Sametime client and Microsoft server are going to interoperate ... . I haven't heard anyone commit to a time frame when that's going to happen.
Jonathan Christensen, FaceTime CTO,

What's your response to the perception that, without interoperability, IM isn't a viable communications channel?
Interoperability would accelerate [adoption] but, even with the [limited] state of interoperability, this thing is still growing extremely fast. @1305 What's your response to the perception that, without interoperability, IM isn't a viable communications channel?
I disagree with that assertion. It's just empirical. If you look at adoption, it's exploding. The largest growth segment is in the enterprise. People are not waiting for interoperability. The user is solving it by managing their buddy list on multiple networks, as required. The PC is not like the telephone. The PC can be interoperable with any network and with multiple networks simultaneously. If you poll consumers, they say they'd be interested [in interoperability]; it'd be nice. But will they pay for it? Probably not.

On the enterprise side, with LCS [Live Communications Server] from Microsoft and Sametime [from IBM Lotus], the core usage is intra-domain communications. People are talking to their peers within that environment. That's the value proposition of the IM products today, not extending the domain to other companies. When does that happen?
Is it 12 months, 18 months or 24 months? I don't know. I don't think it's five years, though. In talking with messaging customers, it seems that enterprise-grade IM is really just being used by regulated industries.
I think that's exactly [right], which is why what I'm saying our approach is a bowling pin type of approach. We have a strong presence in regulated industries, and have identified other industries with compliance and regulatory requirements. We see these guys as the first wave of adoption for instant messaging. In terms of broader adoption, the great thing about IM is it is viral in nature. My broker who works at a financial services company uses IM, and I find that communicating with him is very efficient if I'm also using IM. I'm not in the financial services space. That's the whole point of the viral nature. We see classic adoption. This stuff is first getting adopted by industries with short information cycles and by people who have [a] need to control and manage that. Just the viral nature will drive usage in industries that are not regulated now.

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