America Online is developing a version of its instant-messaging service for corporate environments, boosting the service's security, collaboration, and I.T.-management features.
In conjunction with online meeting company WebEx Communications, AOL's AIM Pro is scheduled to ship within the next few months.
AOL's AIM, a widely used instant-messaging service, was initially designed for consumers. But because of its popularity, many companies have adopted the technology as well.
The development of a workplace version will help I.T. departments manage and secure the applications, as well as keep logs of chat sessions to comply with governmental requirements.
AIM Pro is scheduled to be available in two editions, with one geared toward small and midsize business customers and the other more appropriate for larger enterprises.
The WebEx partnership is not AOL's first foray into the corporate environment. About four years ago, the company entered the enterprise server market, noted IDC analyst Robert Mahowald.
But after two years, it exited that market after disappointing sales and lack of strong partnerships kept the company from being able to meet its goals. This time around, the company has a much better chance of meeting its goals, Mahowald said, because it has a different type of target.
"The chances are good for AOL to succeed here because its definition of success won't be the same as it is for Microsoft or even Yahoo," he said. "What AOL wants is wide use of business clients connected to its worldwide user base, and to make money off that."
The model is different from its competitors, Mahowald noted, and could give AOL an edge over its rivals.
Another reason that AOL might succeed this time around is that its partnerships will have more of a role going forward, Mahowald believes. "They're really starting to get their feet wet about the kinds of partners they choose, and how they monetize their leadership," he said.
Also working to AOL's advantage is the changing enterprise environment. When the company was in the market a few years ago, most I.T. managers banned instant-messaging services from their networks out of concern for security and employee productivity.
But instant messaging has become an increasingly used tool, especially in certain industries like the financial sector and publishing. Because of its collaboration acumen, messaging likely will find even greater use in the future, Mahowald noted, especially as companies like AOL tout the security components of their services.