LiveOffice Mixes IM with Web Conferencing for SMBs

By Christopher Saunders | Posted January 23, 2004

LiveOffice has become the latest player in the instant messaging (IM) arena to add support for audio and Web conferencing to its offerings.

Best known as a provider of managed Web sites, outsourced enterprise IM, and more recently externally facing "click-to-IM" applications, targeting small- to medium-sized businesses, Torrance, Calif.-based LiveOffice is positioning its new product — IMConferencing — as a way for smaller firms to employ multiparty Web conferencing.

Integrated with its hosted enterprise IM service, LiveOffice's IMConferencing enables users to initiate one-to-many audio conferencing and application-sharing sessions from within the IM client — giving meeting participants the ability to view PowerPoint presentations, co-browse Web sites, or collaborate on documents, for instance.

The service provides audio conferencing using PC-to-PC calling — participants can chat using their computer's multimedia capabilities, while the host controls speaking or listening privileges. But for mobile participants — or those without PC speakers or microphones — IMConferencing also enables participants to join via offline telephony. The system can be configured to automatically dial meeting participants, or to generate an "800" number for toll-free call-ins.

In addition to ad hoc escalations of IM sessions to "reservationless" multimedia conferences, IMConferencing also supports scheduled meetings. Hosts use the systems' Web-based Meeting Manager to arrange future discussions. At the appropriate time, Meeting Manager invites guests, populates the host's calendar with participants' availability information, sends reminders, and makes telephone calls, if necessary.

While LiveOffice IM already provides for person-to-person file exchange, IMConferencing also integrates file hosting into users' contact lists, enabling meeting participants to download files made available by the host.

The service also provides for logging and auditing: after each session, IMConferencing create a transcript of IM chats and shared files. Those sessions are available to IT staff or compliance officers through a Web-based interface. Future versions of IMConferencing will include call and screen-sharing playback logging support.

Yet LiveOffice has its work cut out for it. For one thing, a number of larger or more established firms are working to integrate IM and Web conferencing. Microsoft, for instance, has outlined plans to more closely link its IM offering, Office Live Communications Server, with Office Live Meeting. WebEx offers integrated IM and conferencing in connection with Yahoo's enterprise product, Yahoo! Business Messenger. FaceTime Communications, a player in the enterprise IM compliance and management space, has teamed with Latitude, which was acquired by Cisco Systems on Jan. 12, to layer conferencing escalation on top of public IM. Session initiation protocol (SIP) telephony player eDial recently joined the fray, as have WiredRed and others.

Additionally, LiveOffice's product itself faces some shortcomings. For one thing, all of a meeting's participants must be either using PC calling or telephone connections — there's no PC-to-telephone bridge. LiveOffice said a future release of the product will support this feature, as well as videoconferencing, which is already offered by several competitors.

Despite those hurdles, LiveOffice is confident that its solution will find fans among small businesses. For one reason, at $50 per seat per month and $0.17 per minute for telephone charges, the service is designed to undercut larger rivals' pricing.

Executives also said the firm expects to see success in upselling to its current client roster of small- and medium-sized firms.

"We've got this existing customer base, and they're used to paying us monthly," said Steve Uhring, vice president of sales and marketing at LiveOffice. "They are getting more tech-savvy and they see more opportunity to use this kind of stuff with [their customers] ... [And] by keeping our focus on that small-to-medium business market, we'll be able to keep off the screens of the WebExes and other big boys out there, but still be able to pick up our share of business."

Adapted from InstantMessagingPlanet.com.

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