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Getting the message

This article appears in the issue June 2002 [Volume 11, Issue 6]


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By Judith Lamont, KMWorld senior writer

Messaging is being enhanced in groupware applications, and is extending its reach through new applications in instant, mobile and unified messaging.

With an installed base now over 90 million users, Lotus Notes continues to dominate the collaboration and corporate messaging market. The release of Domino 6.0, scheduled for the third quarter of 2002, will focus on reducing the total cost of ownership for its platform. Examples of savings are shown in Domino’s ability to operate with fewer servers per user and to integrate easily with IBM’s other software products such as the DB2 database, WebSphere e-commerce and Tivoli security software products. Domino 6 also will run a set of services based on J2EE, which will provide the ability to leverage Web services architecture.

Beginning several years ago, Lotus began segmenting its user groups to provide for differing Notes interfaces, depending on the user’s requirements. Lotus Notes is the original desktop interface; iNotes is a browser-based interface and Mobile Notes is designed for wireless messaging.

“We provide for differing user needs,” says Ed Brill, senior manager, messaging and collaboration for IBM Lotus Software, “while providing a consistent back end.” The browser interface can operate in a disconnected environment, so browser-based software tools such as product configurators can be used offline, providing greater flexibility for mobile workers. Among the typical users of Lotus Notes are financial and government organizations, according to Brill, because of the product’s security features and reliability.

A browser-based collaboration tool from Intraspect allows users to set up project-based workspaces that form an enterprise repository for structured and unstructured data. Each workspace has a unique e-mail address to which communications and attachments can be sent. Information can be seen from within the context of a particular project, and e-mail threads are captured so that the sequence of discussion of a topic can be seen. Users can search for information within a workspace or across different workspaces. An e-mail also can be sent automatically when a new piece of information is placed in the workspace. In order to facilitate collaboration around customer information, Intraspect partnered with Onyx; the Onyx CRM application shows up as a button within Intraspect.

“One of the strengths of Intraspect,” says Bob Schoettle, VP of marketing, “is its simplicity, both from an implementation viewpoint and from the user’s viewpoint.” The basic product can be installed in just a few weeks, and customization--for example, in different departments of an enterprise—takes only a little longer. Users can set up their own workspaces with no intervention from the IT department. Schoettle also emphasizes the cost-effectiveness of Intraspect. “With many products, licensing is just the tip of the iceberg—installation can cost many times the licensing fees,” he states. “With Intraspect, installation costs typically are lower than those for the licensing.”

Instant messaging (IM) offers immediacy in communication, as well as the important element of control—only those individuals authorized by the user can transmit messages. In addition, presence awareness allows a group of users to know who is online. However, applications for instant messaging in the corporate environment have not been universally embraced. In fact, the time lag between early adopters of instant messaging and those still on the sidelines of messaging has been quite significant.

“Some organizations have been benefiting from instant messaging for five to seven years,” says Alan Mazursky, president of The ARM Group. The ARM Group produces services and software for the legal and investment banking markets, as well as QuickFlash instant messaging software. “The investment banking industry responds well to the ‘in your face’ nature of instant messaging, but overall, the technology has not been incorporated into business applications as much as the industry had hoped.”

Some reports indicate that employees use public networks for business purposes when corporate IM is not available. In fact, instant messaging on public networks showed dramatic growth last year. Jupiter Media Metrix, a market research company specializing in Internet analysis and measurement, reported in November that usage at work for the three leading instant messaging applications (AOL, MSN and Yahoo) more than doubled when usage in September 2000 was compared to usage in September 2001. Measured in minutes, the increase was from 2.3 billion minutes in September 2000 to 4.9 billion in September 2001, a 110% change. The number of unique users of instant messaging applications at work increased 34%, from 10 million in September 2000 to 13.4 million in September 2001.

It is not clear that usage at work was always business-related, and the impact of the attacks on 9/11 may have had an effect on these figures. Besides lacking security, ad hoc use of public networks also does not provide a way to save message threads that might become a valuable record of previously tacit knowledge. However, eventually acceptance in the consumer market may translate into an increased number of business users on private, secure networks.

IM Scribe from Cordant addresses the issue of documenting instant messages by extending the capabilities of MS Exchange2000 Instant Messaging to include archiving of instant messages.

“Instant messaging is the only real-time communication mode that works,” maintains Sonu Aggarwal, co-founder and CEO of Cordant. Telephone call attempts often deteriorate into rounds of phone tag, and e-mail is not actually real-time. “Knowledge-intensive questions need interactivity,” says Aggarwal, “and we see instant messaging increasingly becoming part of transactional systems such as CRM and other applications.”

Aggarwal expects that process to take several years to become prevalent, but believes it will add immense value to the applications. IMScribe's archiving ability enables financial services firms to comply with SEC regulations (including SEC 17a-4 and NASD 3010) for electronic communication. Cordant also plans additional products to extend the value of instant messaging in the business environment.

Lotus Sametime, which was the first corporate instant messaging solution, provides secure transmission through its 128-bit encryption. It can also save instant messages, employing business rules that determine when to log an interaction. The U.S. Navy uses Lotus Sametime and Lotus Domino for real-time, mission-critical and secure communication via satellite to ships at sea. Called "Collaboration at Sea," the application connects the Atlantic and Pacific fleets to enhance collaboration and coordination of their efforts around the world. British, Canadian and German fleets also use Sametime's instant messaging, application sharing and e-meetings capabilities to share warfare planning, scheduling, logistics, weather and medical data in real time.

Mobile messaging moves along

Another area of messaging that is just now achieving major inroads into corporate America is mobile messaging. A variety of technological factors have contributed to its slow uptake in the United States. First, cell phone use grew much faster in Europe and Asia, perhaps in part because the wireline telecommunications infrastructures in some locations were less extensive than in the United States. In addition, Europe and Asia standardized on the Global Systems for Mobile communications (GSM) technology, allowing interoperability among cell phone systems. The prevalence and interoperability of cell phones allowed for quick adoption of short messaging services (SMS) designed for display on the small screens of wireless devices, while historically in the United States, users of one cell phone service have not been able to automatically send messages to users of another service. However, that lack of interoperability is likely to be alleviated by the middle of this year, presenting the potential for greater adoption of SMS in the United States.

MobileSys

"Enterprises have many large, expensive applications set up to send out messages based on specific sets of circumstances," says John Spinale, chief strategist and VP of product management at MobileSys. "In the past, IT departments set up their own private systems to send messages to pagers, but this is hard to transition to a large scale, particularly as the number of applications requiring access to SMS expands across the entire company." Instead, MobileSys sets up a centralized messaging application called the Command Center that aggregates messages before they go wireless. The center also provides an audit trail of the messages, and can apply business logic to wireless alerts before they go out. For example, a message might be routed to one person at a certain time, but to a different person at another time, while mission-critical messages are often escalated if the core issue is not resolved.

Some vertical markets have adopted wireless technology relatively quickly. According to Spinale, field service technicians—for example, people who are repairing telephone equipment or reading meters—are among the early adopters. Those workers are not accustomed to the data-rich desktop environment and therefore are comfortable with the more limited options provided by mobile systems.

Many government and educational organizations are Linux-based, and VirtualTek offers a mobile messaging option for those organizations through its JoyDesk Web-based office suite. JoyDesk, which is also used as a hosted service by small to medium-sized companies, includes e-mail, wireless messaging, calendar and other collaborative functions. It also provides SMS instant notification and synchronization to handheld devices. JoyDesk can be used to manage the flow of incoming information—for example, by sending through as SMS messages any e-mails that are flagged as “urgent.”

As with instant messaging, mobile messaging has found early applications in some arenas and slow acceptance in others. The telecommunications industry is one for which acceptance would logically be expected. BellSouth International is using JoyDesk for SMS messaging and other functions, and Qwest is using wireless e-mail for its Qwest.net customers. Alex Choe, president and CEO of VirtualTek, offers some insight on why broad acceptance has been slow. “The industry has not sufficiently educated the public on what mobile messaging can mean in their lives,” claims Choe, “and how easy it can be to use, despite some terminal device limitations.”

Message alerts can also be delivered as a result of triggers in business intelligence tools. MicroStrategy’s Narrowcast Server, for example, can send out messages triggered either by transactional systems that report an event or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems that are set to send a message if a resource threshold has been reached. The MicroStrategy Narrowcast Server can deliver alerts via e-mail, pager or cell phone. Its XML-based architecture formats the message appropriately for a wireless device, HTML-based interface, or text-to-speech voice system. Using MicroStrategy’s BI tool, message triggers also can be sent in response to more complex questions that reflect analytical processes.

KeySpan, the largest distributor of natural gas in the Northeast, uses MicroStrategy technology to project how much gas will be needed, based on historical data, weather conditions and other factors. Marketers who sell gas to users can log into the KeySpan extranet to view the data and project how much gas should be distributed. MicroStrategy Narrowcast Server sends an exception report to the gas marketers and the operations department that controls the distribution valves if projections differ from actual usage so that distribution can be adjusted.

Unified messaging

At present, most users do not have an integrated view of their e-mail, voice mail and fax messages but must access them through different interfaces. Yet from a business viewpoint, it makes sense to be able to organize all messages through a common system. Unified messaging is designed to let users view and manage, from the desktop or mobile devices, messages received from all sources. According to the Radicati Group, the unified messaging market will increase from $453 million in 2001 to $8 billion in 2005.

Lotus announced in January 2002 an agreement with Captaris, and Cisco Systems to develop unified messaging systems for use with Lotus Notes. These agreements, in addition to a previous one announced with Avaya (avaya.com), will enable users to access multiple message types in their Domino mail files. Messages can then be shared with project members over various channels (e.g., computer, cell phone), aiding collaboration.

Oracle also provides a unified messaging solution, through its Oracle9i Application Server. Users can access and manage e-mail, voice mail and fax messages stored in an Oracle database. Messages can be accessed from a variety of devices, including computers, phones and handheld devices. The telephony features of Oracle9iAS Unified Messaging are built on the ECTF (Enterprise Computer Telephony Forum) standard, allowing the platform to support other ECTF-based applications. Oracles9iAS Wireless supports mobile services including e-mail and SMS messages. It contains an alert engine that can provide event-based or time-based alert services.

Judith Lamont is a research analyst with Zentek Corp., e-mail jlamont@sprintmail.com.


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