Web Collaboration becomes Hot

All of a sudden, Web Collaboration has become hot – very hot. What is Web Collaboration? it is web technology that allows users to work on projects simultaneously with colleagues and partners and share information regardless of their location or device.

First, Cisco shook-up the landscape with the acquisition of WebEx for $2.9 billion in March 2007. WebEx was the leading web conferencing platform with more than 2 million registered users and more than 27,000 business customers. Next, Google snapped up Web conferencing technology owned by Marratech in April 2007.

Soon afterwards in August 2007, IBM purchased WebDialogs, an on-demand (hosted) Web and audio conferencing software maker and communications services provider with more than 500,000 users worldwide. WebDialogs adds a missing software-as-a-service element to the Lotus Sametime family and gives IBM a web conferencing offering for small and mid-sized businesses and for departments within larger organizations. IBM will integrate the WebDialogs Unyte service with its collaboration portfolio, including Lotus Notes and Lotus Sametime.

Then on October 1, AT&T, the largest telephone company in the U.S., announced plans to acquire privately held Web-conferencing provider Interwise for about $121 million.

With this deal, AT&T gets IP-based conferencing systems to its range of enterprise solutions, and can speed up development of collaboration products. Interwise offers VOIP (voice over IP), Web and videoconferencing services for on-premises, hosted, and for hybrid on-site and hosted services deployment. The deal strengthens AT&T’s enterprise business, which has strong hosted audio conferencing but lacks on-premises services.

This is a crowded market – Cisco’s WebEx leads the market, followed by Microsoft with LiveMeeting. Citrix Online ranks third. Then there’s IBM, Google, and AT&T. Beyond the big names, there are dozens of smaller, independent players such as Centra and Adobe.

The real reason for this acquisition spree in conferencing is that companies are looking to:

  1. Fill the gaps in their Unified Communications portfolio. Unified Communications links business processes with presence information, e-mail, voice mail, instant messaging, and conferencing to facilitate efficient communications.
  2. Unified Communications vendors are clearly recognizing the need to offer software as a service delivery mechanism.

Unified Communications is the ‘big thing’ for this year and next. Look for more and more news in this space, particularly as Microsoft enters the on-premise voice environment (i.e. IP-PBX)