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Jumpstarting Mobile Collaboration

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"Mobile collaboration" as an industry buzzword probably peaked about two years ago, but only now are the infrastructure, the networks, and the applications coming together to make it possible at the enterprise level.

For remote healthcare company Intellicare, managing a team of telephone nurses, all based out of home or remote offices, led to the realization that real-time collaboration was of paramount importance.

"Our nurses needed a way to communicate instantly with one another," says Intellicare CIO Jeff Forbes. "They had no way to do that while on a call with a patient -- and the last thing you want to do is put somebody who's really sick on hold."

Intellicare, which provides telephone triage to hundreds of physician's offices and healthcare organizations nationwide, discovered that nurses were collaborating post-consultation: "A nurse would get off the [patient] call, call another nurse and ask her questions," explains Forbes. "We realized that what we want to do is give them that capability at the point of service, not after the fact."

Intellicare installed Lotus Sametime, a suite of collaboration and messaging tools from IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), that allows the nurses to confer in real-time without putting a patient on hold. This week IBM released Sametime 7.5, which extends the reach of the platform by integrating it with Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s popular Outlook and Office programs, and by offering direct connectivity to mobile devices including BlackBerries, Nokia smartphones, and Windows Mobile devices.

The new version of Sametime builds on previous mobile collaboration efforts by providing a desktop-like experience on mobile devices, says IBM senior offering manager for real-time collaboration Adam Gartenberg: "The goal is to allow people to get at these presence and messaging capabilities wherever they are, so they can have real-time collaboration without being tied to the desktop."

Along with Microsoft's own Web-hosting and collaborative-tools suite, Office Live, the Sametime 7.5 release could help jumpstart a product sector that was much ballyhooed a few years ago but has been stuck in neutral because of bandwidth limitations, difficulty of use issues, and customer wariness.

"The market for technologies that help employees work together on-the-go may be huge on paper," said a silicon.com special report two years ago, "but out on the street, the opportunities look small."

That's now changing, says Gartenberg. "We're not the only ones to realize this is a prime target and a key area for growth," he says. "Customers are really excited to see the capabilities we'll be delivering [with Sametime 7.5], letting them be productive on the road, and be as close on their mobile device to the desktop you can."

"We can't wait" for the mobile functionality of 7.5, which will be available in the third quarter of this year, says Forbes. Intellicare is in the process of rolling out BlackBerries to its executive team and its salesforce, and sees tremendous benefits down the road in equipping the field nurses who work for its contractees and partners with smartphones. This will be increasingly helpful as the U.S. population ages and chronic care eats up a larger portion of the national healthcare budget.

"Our goal is to combine telemedicine with nursing, feet on the ground, to keep people healthy, improve their quality of life, and keep them out of hospitals," Forbes adds. "The chronic care programs we've developed allow us to coordinate with field nurses, and as we deploy and test out Sametime with the BlackBerry network, it just gets more exciting. We see the laptop as basically getting in field nurses' way."

According to Gartenberger, IBM is working on Sametime upgrades that will allow more fruitful collaboration beyond pure messaging, including joint viewing of files, live videoconferencing, and other sophisticated tools now available only on the desktop.

"We definitely will look to have that kind of mobile access in future versions. We're working on that now, and figuring how we're best able to deliver those tools."

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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