Product enhancements and a worldwide distribution agreement signal a move to ramp up Web conferencing.
The downturn in the economy, increased energy costs, and emphasis on green technology in order to reduce our collective carbon footprint on the environment are all coming together in a perfect storm that is propelling collaboration solutions. IBM Lotus may be headed for the eye of the hurricane.
IBM last week announced a new version of Lotus Sametime Unyte (V8.2) that features network acceleration enhancements, support for Firefox 3.0, improved alerts for meeting organizers, the ability to share or publish PDF and ODF files in addition to PPT, DOC , and XLS files. It seamlessly integrates with Lotus Notes and Lotus Sametime instant messaging, allowing users to join a Web conference with a single click of a button. Did someone ask about video? You can show the Webinar speaker's video image using Sametime Unyte just by hooking up a Web cam and clicking a button on the Unyte interface. It's easy, and it solves one of the main issues I have with online meetings, since I would prefer to look at a person occasionally rather than be held to watching a PowerPoint slide or spreadsheet for an hour or so.
For those who have used, or heard of, only WebEx or GoToMeeting for online meetings (and there are many others), Lotus Sametime Unyte is IBM's offering in this product category. It's a comer, however, and offers low cost, simplicity, flexibility, and good support, according to customers who have signed up. The latest version has mere refinements over earlier releases largely because the product has already been well-developed and is stable. But those refinements are intended to broaden its appeal to a world market. What users report they like about Lotus Sametime Unyte is that it's simple to operate and that it works. The interface has nice, big icons that you can understand, and you don't get snarled up unable to get into your meeting because you can't get the client software to download. For anyone who has missed a meeting because their security settings have prevented the download of their online conferencing software, they will find Sametime Unyte to be a relief.
IBM is in the process of a worldwide expansion of Sametime Unyte, figuring that first, if U.S. companies ever want to dig their way out of the recession, they are going to have to do more business abroad; second, companies in emerging markets are growing faster than those in the U.S. anyway and will want to buy and sell products with other firms around the world; and third, the technology and energy issues are so intimidating that people just don't want to--or can't afford to--hop on a plane or jump in their cars anymore in order to attend a meeting when they can just as easily attend online at almost no cost and without burning a bunch of gasoline and jet fuel.
"Sametime Unyte delivers the reliability businesses expect from IBM while offering the inherent ease of access and pricing associated with cloud services," said Sean Poulley, vice president of online collaboration services at IBM Lotus.
To expand the market for Lotus Sametime Unyte to a global audience, IBM has contracted with InterCall to deliver Sametime Unyte's meeting capability to InterCall customers worldwide. "At a time when companies are becoming more environmentally aware and focused on reducing travel expenses without slowing their growth, IBM's new partnership with InterCall shows how we're helping businesses 'go global' at a minimal cost," Poulley said.
IBM is referring to this agreement with InterCall as an effort to meet a "groundswell of demand for cloud services," but in fact what it amounts to is the world's bean counters reining in the budgets of sales people and telling them to figure out a less expensive way to move the company's products than making an expensive on-site sales call. And, by the way, while you're at it, tell management and human resources that their budgets are cut in half too and they're going to need to figure out a way to do training and hold staff meetings without wasting everyone's time and money "moving about the country."
InterCall has its own Web conferencing service and is the largest conference service provider in the world today. It serves more than 400,000 individual conference leaders in some 40,000 organizations around the globe with a full complement of audio, Web, and video conference services. InterCall has five call centers and 26 sales offices in the U.S., and its global reach extends into Canada, Latin America, the UK, France Germany, Australia, New Zealand, India, and beyond. To support this, Sametime Unyte now is available in nine languages to appeal to users throughout the world.
One of the things that I think confuses people about the IBM Lotus products is that the word Sametime is used in both the instant messaging online conferencing products--Sametime versus Sametime Unyte. It's a blur for anyone who hasn't yet used the products, but I suppose it represents the integration that is worth noting. Let's say you're already in a Unyte online meeting and someone who hasn't yet been invited wants to join. You can easily create a link on the fly and paste it into a Sametime instant messaging window, and bingo, the new person can join the meeting without getting their own emailed invitation. Having a Web-based solution has its advantages, and I personally have missed important meetings because my client software from "another vendor" got snagged up in my security blockers and I couldn't download the client software in time. You fumble around wondering if you're the village idiot because you can't get into a meeting that everyone else has already joined. Using Unyte's Web-based service to attend a meeting is a lot simpler, though you still will need to download software if you want to share your screen as a presenter.
Because the software is marketed by IBM, a lot of people might think it's expensive. That is a misperception, and if you go to the Lotus Sametime Unyte Web site, you will find that you can actually hold an online meeting with someone across the globe for free. Unyte has three basic services designed for three different markets: Sametime Unyte Share for one-on-one application viewing, Sametime Unyte Meetings for unlimited Web conferencing for three sizes of groups all the way up to 999, and Sametime Unyte Events, which features a host of features for holding training seminars and commercial Webcasts. Let's say you just want to share your desktop with your boss? Sametime Unyte Share allows you to do it for free. This is not a 30- or 60-day trial; this is just free. It's ideal for personal use or for businesses that only need simple, one-on-one application viewing or straightforward desktop sharing. If you want an expanded feature set, it's only $30 a year. This is perfect for a consultant. When you get up into 10 or 25 users, the price goes up, but it's still only $450 per year for a host plus 24 viewers. I've gone to a lot of seminars at COMMON and other conferences that have fewer than 24 attendees in the room. Unyte Meetings allows you to try it for free for 14 days with up to 15 people in a group. If you like it, it's $48 per month for that number and $99 per month for up to 999 attendees per meeting.
Having used online meeting software for in-company gatherings as well as Webcasts directed at outside audiences, I can attest to the controls and user interfaces being a bit tricky to use and intimidating. IBM Lotus has worked hard to make its conferencing software very user-friendly, and, for those who have the current version of Lotus Notes, it's integrated into the desktop. Try it for free, and you may be launching online meetings on the fly tomorrow and thereafter.