VOICECON - IBM buys Web conferencing vendor WebDialogs

IBM has acquired Web conferencing service provider WebDialogs

IBM has acquired a Web conferencing service provider, it announced as part of a flurry of unified communications moves on Wednesday.

IBM will make WebDialogs part of its Lotus division and add its service to the Sametime family of products, giving customers a software-as-a-service (SAAS) option for Web conferencing, the company said. WebDialogs will also be integrated with Lotus Notes and Lotus Sametime software.

The company has already closed the deal to buy privately held WebDialogs. Financial terms were not disclosed.

IBM chose Wednesday, in the middle of the VoiceCon conference in San Francisco, to make several advances in its unified communications strategy. It announced that Sametime, its enterprise instant-messaging software, will expand into a family of products. Also Wednesday, IBM said it will license parts of Siemens's OpenScape software to add several unified communications capabilities to the Sametime family.

Cisco Systems and Microsoft are moving aggressively into unified communications, which combines all forms of interactive voice and data communications with presence technology that tells the world how a person can be reached in real time. IBM has taken a different approach, not building its own phone-switch replacement or a full range of communications tools, but ensuring compatibility with third-party products.

WebDialogs' service was the easiest to use, said Michael Rhodin, general manager of IBM Lotus Software, at a news conference at VoiceCon. It works like an extension of audio conferencing and doesn't require a lot of special settings on participants' PCs, he said. It also needs no support from a company's IT department, according to IBM.

"We were going for a simplicity play," Rhodin said. "We will use it as a way for us to extend our reach." The service should appeal to small and medium-sized businesses as well as to some of IBM's traditional target, large enterprises, he said.

WebDialogs provides the underlying service behind Web conferencing services from AT&T, Sprint Canada and other large service providers. Its service has open APIs (application programming interfaces) that let third parties customize the service and integrate it into applications, products and other services.

Earlier this year, Cisco acquired Web conferencing company WebEx, and on Tuesday Microsoft executives said that company plans to offer its unified communications capabilities as a service or have a third party do so.

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service

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