AOL introduces business tools for IM

America Online is cozying up to the corporate citizenry of its massive IM user network with new on-demand business services for Web and voice conferencing.

AOL on Thursday launched AIM Business Services, created through partnerships with voice conferencing vendor Lightbridge and Web conferencing provider WebEx Communications. The new services were built on AOL Instant Messenger and can be launched from the AIM Buddy List feature with a only a few clicks, according to Ed Fish, senior vice president and general manager of desktop messaging at AOL.

Tens of millions of people in the workplace and at home already use AIM as a communications hub, Fish said.

"What we've done is to think about AIM as a new front door for communication services," Fish said. "Users are using (AIM) to initiate conversions, but those often escalate to a teleconference, a telephone call, or a Web meeting."

The new on-demand services leverage AIM's presence-awareness capabilities and the familiarity of the Buddy List to let users escalate an AIM chat to a voice conference or an online meeting for document sharing and collaboration, Fish said.

The AIM Voice Conferencing by Lightbridge service is designed to simplify the process of gathering workers for a conference call. The service places toll-free telephone calls directly to participants. Initiations can be sent to any participant via AIM to a PC or handheld device or cell phone. SMS text messages can also be used to invite mobile users.

AIM Web Meetings by WebEx is a presence-enabled Web meeting service that lets users connect to multimedia online meetings directly from their AIM Buddy List.

WebEx and AOL worked together for about nine months to integrate their respective networks, according to Praful Shah, vice president of strategic communications at WebEx.

The back-end integration between WebEx's MediaTone network and the AIM network included stitching together security services such as authentication and billing mechanisms, Shah said.

"Corporate WebEx users now can use the AIM client as a hub to go into a WebEx meeting without extra costs," he said.

AOL also offers optional security services for AIM, including encryption, digital certificate support, and an identity service model for authentication against corporate directories, according to Fish.

The AIM Business Services are targeted at small and midsize business, home office workers, and large corporate customers, AOL's Fish said. The services are available at http://www.aimatwork.com and will be offered to new users as an option the first time they log on. First-time users will be sent to a secure site to register and will need a credit card for billing purposes. Participants who are invited to meetings by a host don't need to pay, according to AOL officials.

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