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Arthur M. Rosenberg

[July 26, 2004]


By Art Rosenberg

Instant Messaging Finally Making Its way Into Unified Communications

We have long been waiting for Instant Messaging (IM) (news - alert) to converge into unified communications (UC), but the lack of standards-based interoperability between the major IM service providers was a real obstacle. This was particularly disappointing because IM was actually the first real-time telecommunications modality to exploit the power of IP (define - news - alert) networking with the “intelligence” of presence. (We won’t name names, but you know who was resisting interoperability to protect their subscriber base.)

Two press announcements, one from Microsoft, (news - alert - quote) and the other from leading cable service provider, Comcast, indicate that perhaps the long wait is over and that next year will be the year of “unified IM.” The news also points to expanding the practical convergence of enterprise CPE messaging with network service providers for multi-modal communications.

Microsoft Reaches Agreement With AOL and Yahoo!

In what appears to be a landmark agreement between the enterprise provider and the service providers, Microsoft’s Live Communications Server 2005 will support inter-enterprise IM and presence information exchange. Additionally, such interconnectivity will include any group using AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), (news - alertICQ, (news - alert) MSN Messenger, (news - alert) and Yahoo!  Messenger. (news - alert) This will initially bring “federated” presence information exchange across public and private IP networks for instant text messaging, but we see it going way beyond that.

IM has become a popular real-time alternative to telephone calls for enterprise work teams, with the major advantage of using presence management and “buddy lists” to check on availability and restrict access respectively. Like the telephone answering function of voice mail, a message can be left immediately even if the recipient is not accessible for a real-time exchange. IM has proven to be most valuable for brief, ad hoc exchanges, rather than extended discussions that can take place in face-to- face meetings, over the phone, or in videoconferences. When people are accessible, text IM offers a less disruptive alternative for immediate contact and responsiveness than any form of voice communications. So, it is definitely one of the contact options that belong in the spectrum of converged person-to-person communications.

Although presence management exploited by IM started out primarily as a desktop mode of contact for text message exchange, it has even greater potential for effective communications with mobile personnel whose modality of contact can change dynamically from moment to moment. Enterprise telecommunication providers are already latching on to the concept by enabling contact initiators to be aware of a “buddy’s” accessibility status, e.g., already talking on the phone, but perhaps available for an immediate IM exchange, rather than wasting the time to initiate a voice call and getting a busy signal or being blindly routed to “voicemail jail.” This is proving particularly valuable for accessing contact center “experts” to directly support online customers or to provide backup expertise to first-level agents. IM text message exchanges can also be escalated to a voice conversation, whenever both parties feel it appropriate and are equipped with multi-modal devices to conveniently do so. However, without “open,” cross-modal interoperability along the lines of the Microsoft/AOL/Yahoo announcement, the potential of both presence and IM for the enterprise markets will remain stunted.   

Part 2

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