The familiar buddy list will soon take on a new personality,
as presence technology begins gracing corporate instant messaging and other
The promise of presence is that users can reach others instantly
regardless of location of either party, over a variety of media, including
chat, video and wireless or traditional voice. Also possible will be technologies
such as spontaneous audio- and videoconferences.
"For us, the technology has become a valuable tool,
not just for instant messaging but for things like application sharing and
whiteboard functionality," says Nicole Picciotta, CIO at Shaw Pittman,
a Washington, D.C., law firm that uses IBM Lotus' Sametime collaboration
tools injected with presence.
Many industry watchers predict that once presence technology
breaks free of its instant-messaging confines and moves further into IP telephony
and other areas, it could become an even more powerful antidote to corporate
Adding presence need not alter corporate networks dramatically.
You'll have to address the bandwidth needed to support multimedia.
You'll also need to deploy some type of server software, usually a messaging/presence
server that provides the messaging relay, security and storage for clients.
You have a choice of stand-alone presence software from companies
including Bantu, Dynamicsoft, FaceTime Communications, NotePage and Vayusphere.
Meanwhile, some larger vendors are bundling these capabilities with collaboration
tools. Examples of the latter include IBM Lotus with its Sametime software
and Microsoft in .Net Server, industry watchers say.
"The breadth of possibilities here are what makes this
pretty exciting. The technology that is now used in applications offered by
AOL or Yahoo are only the tip of the iceberg," says Jonathan Rosenberg,
chief scientist at Dynamicsoft and co-author of the IETF's Session Initiation
Protocol (SIP) standard.
A SIMPLE presence
a signaling standard for setting up and managing communications
sessions between different media, is one of two key protocols
for presence. The other is SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence
Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE), now progressing as a uniform way
to add presence to those capabilities (but not yet a formal IETF
standard). The growing support for these protocols is among
the indicators that next-generation instant messaging/presence
soon will take off, say Rosenberg and others.
One example is AOL's willingness to use SIMPLE for interfacing
its mammoth instant messaging service offering with messaging plays from other
vendors. Another is the recent designation of SIP as a call-control standard
for 3G wireless networks by major wireless standards bodies including the
Third Generation Partnership Project, Rosenberg says.
More indicative yet is Microsoft's decision to bundle
SIP support in its Windows XP operating system to enable PC-to-phone voice
capabilities, he says. This will let users build APIs into XP that would inject
presence capabilities into voice and video applications.
But instant messaging's thrust into voice communications will
not be without its challengers, says Henry Seinrich, distinguished
member of engineering at WorldCom.
"The real barrier is that legacy telecom vendors are
resisting this tooth and nail, since it would make their industry base obsolete,"
Seinrich says. He references reluctance among the PBX and IP PBX or softswitch
sectors, which he says are resistant to the idea of presence-based telephony
Yet other vendors, including Nortel, have embraced SIP. Nortel has included
SIP logic in its Succession line of application servers, which
will let service providers extend presence-based IP services to
users. Nortel also supports SIP in its Succession products for
Another challenge is habit and cultural resistance,
"There are some audio capabilities built into
Sametime, but we've not really moved away from everyday phone calls,"
Shaw Pittman's Picciotta says.
For Boston public relations firm Porter Novelli, the wholesale
swapping of phones for instant messaging has so far come only in extreme circumstances.
"When Sept. 11 struck, we benefited from the fact that we had been deploying
[instant messaging] and awareness-based tools because of our need to stay
fluid in terms of location and to reach our client base," says Bob Elloyan,
director of enterprise technology.
Several months ago Porter Novelli started a more formal campaign
to include its clients in the use of presence-infused collaboration tools.
Using Sametime, which supports SIP and SIMPLE, the firm has included clients
in online collaborative workspaces and calendar-sharing exercises to increase
the responsiveness and availability of public relations representatives. Making
those account members available in real time is the next step, Elloyan says.
The step beyond that would be to harness this efficiency to
business objectives — a move that will likely serve to further distance
presence from its instant-messaging roots, most agree.
Users such as Porter Novelli are interested in how presence
might hold the ultimate promise: competitive advantage. "Never mind
that employees have awareness capabilities," Elloyan says. "Our
clients need to know where their account team is and have instant access."
Jones is a freelance writer in Vienna, Va. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.