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Vendors get enterprise Web 2.0 ready for primetime

In the hopes that the time is right for collaboration applications to take flight, companies are making more enterprise Web 2.0 announcements by the day.

A slew of companies have unveiled collaboration strategies or products this month -- many trying to prove that the time has finally come for enterprise Web 2.0.

Oracle unveiled its Beehive unified communications and collaboration offering at OpenWorld in San Francisco on Monday. On Friday Cisco Systems announced it had acquired open source messaging and chat company Jabber to boost its collaboration suite. And IBM used its keynote slot at Interop to launch a new social computing research center.

For partners, all the strategizing could mean that enterprise Web 2.0 collaboration applications, which have not been all that cohesive in form or lucrative in sales, are ready to take their place in the portfolio.

"We are seeing more benefit and ROI for UC adoption and collaboration," said Gia McNutt, CEO of Cisco partner SOS in Loomis, Calif. Companies are really beginning to understand the effect that collaboration has on travel and other sales and marketing expenses, she added.

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Peter O'Kelly, principal analyst at O'Kelly Consulting, agreed that the timing is right for enterprise Web 2.0 applications.

"You don't have to sell people on it anymore. People are using it in their personal lives, and then they go into work and have the equivalent of stone knives for collaboration tools," he said. O'Kelly added that generally, the architecture for these applications is better than before.

Oracle buzzes about collaboration

Improved architecture is apparently the highlight of Oracle's Beehive, which includes a collaboration server that enables email, voicemail, instant messaging and chat along with the standard coordination features -- calendars, shared documents, Web conferencing and so on.

"This is brand new, written from scratch to be Web 2.0-based," said Chuck Rozwat, executive vice president of product development for Oracle, as he shared the stage with Oracle president Charles Phillips at OpenWorld.

Phillips asked the question probably on everyone's mind: "Why do a new one?" After all, Oracle has had a handful of enterprise Web 2.0 attempts, including the current Oracle Collaboration Suite.

Rozwat said the problem is that most solutions have different management schemes and databases, and the underlying infrastructure below all the applications is different.

"You have all those things but you have also something that looks like a disease: collaboration fragmentation. They all have their own databases, own way of identifying and managing users and their own management. So from the IT and user standpoint, it can be a nightmare to coordinate what you do in IM, Web conferencing, calendar and the like. We've integrated all that together," Rozwat said.

Oracle Collaboration Suite made the same promises but hasn't exactly taken the world by storm.

What's different now is that "Oracle got it right," said partner Scott Jenkins, CEO of The EBS Group, an Oracle collaboration, customer relationship management (CRM) and database partner in Kansas City.

"The promise is true 'contextual' or in-place collaboration," Jenkins said via email. He also backed up Rozwat's contention that Beehive will let companies continue to use the Outlook mail client they're used to, will work with outside directories including Active Directory and even interoperate with Microsoft Exchange Server.

O'Kelly agreed that Beehive is a big improvement for Oracle, and he said Oracle's architecture makes it a better offering than those from Microsoft and IBM. Still, the battle will be uphill from here.

"They've got a huge credibility issue here," O'Kelly said, adding that Oracle will have to work hard to get its sales force behind this product. The good news is that Oracle has promised former Oracle Collaboration partners immediate license to sell Beehive.

IBM innovates

Oracle may have a competitive offering, but IBM's enterprise Web 2.0 Lotus Connections enables all the same applications and has been on the block for a while. Now as part of its Tomorrow at Work initiative, the company is working to integrate Lotus Connections and other collaborative software into outside business applications, said Bob Picciano, the general manager of Lotus Software, who keynoted Interop. As a first step, Lotus Connections will be integrated into CRM software from its longtime partner iEnterprises.

"They have some level of collaboration inside of iEnterprises. They believe in using the offering as a mechanism to integrate [CRM] and the social computing space. Ultimately CRM is about networking," Picciano said. Picciano added that iEnterprises' goal is to integrate into a number of applications, including and SugarCRM.

IBM's Tomorrow at Work initiative and the iEnterprise integration could be seen as an attempt to prove out the validity of collaboration or enterprise Web 2.0 in action. As part of that strategy, IBM also announced the creation of the Center for Social Software in Cambridge, Mass. Picciano said IBM will bring together government, academia, industry and venture capitalists to determine best practices and "new business models" for social networking, as well as to serve as an incubator for new applications.

Researchers from IBM's labs in Cambridge, New York, San Jose, Haifa, Israel, Tokyo and Beijing will participate in a visiting scientist program at the center. The center will also offer a corporate residency program allowing other companies to send employees to work with IBM researchers. Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters are the first companies to participate in the program. Picciano said he expects to see integrated business models emerge with companies in the financial industry, as well as in healthcare, among other fields.

As new business models emerge, and partners begin to build their own practices in customizing applications, the offering is expected to grow.

"This is a profound opportunity for partners," Picciano said, adding that those that build applications will have "a whole new set of services."

Cisco's chat focus

That Cisco's Jabber acquisition announcement came two days after IBM unveiled pieces of its strategy should be no surprise. Like many networking companies these days, Cisco is reaching into collaboration software and applications, and the Jabber buy is one way to improve its offering in a race that is growing in intensity. Cisco already has on-premise and cloud collaboration applications that include presence or location, chat, messaging, Web conferencing and collaborative workspace, among others.

Though Cisco already owns instant messaging and chat features, Jabber's applications are open source and based on Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP). They are therefore easier to integrate into email, calendaring and other business software across the board, giving Cisco a leg up in the collaboration race against Microsoft and IBM.

"Enterprise organizations want an extensible presence and messaging platform that can integrate with business process applications and easily adapt to their changing needs," said Doug Dennerline, Cisco's senior vice president of the collaboration software group, in a statement. "Our intention is to be the interoperability benchmark in the collaboration space."

Cisco executives said in August that the company would make extensive collaboration announcements that involve the Webex cloud collaboration offering this month.

Senior news editor Barbara Darrow contributed to this report.

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