Merger adds IM to SAAS communications

Apptix's acquisition of WebMessenger gives it many of the tools it needs to create a SaaS-based package of unified communications tools

Apptix isn't a name currently on the tips of many enterprise IT buyers' tongues, but the company maintains that its May 7 buyout of IM specialist WebMessenger will help it grow into a provider with much to offer to larger customers.

Today, Apptix makes a lion's share of its revenue off of hosted e-mail, voice, and collaboration services marketed to SMBs under a variety of brands. With 150,000 existing subscribers at 1,400 customers, the vendor has specifically focused on providing hosted versions of Microsoft's Exchange and SharePoint products.

However, through the addition of WebMessenger -- for US$7 million in cash and stock -- and its mobile IM technology, Apptix executives said they plan to create a package of unified communications tools, delivered via the SAAS (software as a service) model, that they contend will eventually appeal to customers of all sizes.

Like many other SAAS vendors, Apptix is hoping to translate demand for hosted applications -- software systems run off-site by the vendor and accessed via a Web interface -- into a future marketing services to enterprises just as has done in the CRM space.

With market watchers predicting significant growth in the area of unified communications, which integrate voice and data applications into a single package, over the next few years, Apptix will be well-positioned to offer a unique set of hosted tools to businesses large and small, said Amir Hudda, chief executive at the company.

"We believe that smaller companies will lead adoption and enterprises will follow once the model for hosted communications services has been further established," Hudda said. "In next five years, we will see a company bigger than for on-demand business communications; whether or not it will be us remains to be seen, but someone will cash in as trends in business communications and mobility continue to converge."

By adding Los Angeles-based WebMessenger and its package of mobile IM tools that integrate with all the popular public and private instant messaging platforms, Apptix has added a crucial piece, the executive said. The software will help establish users' presence when they are a logged on to their devices, giving workers the ability to find each other rapidly and share information by any means necessary, he said.

In addition to bringing IM to Apptix's existing array of tools, WebMessenger also offers the firm new mobile search and VoIP product capabilities, said Hudda. WebMessenger already markets applications for users of Skype for IM and conferencing and enterprise search for Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices.

The acquired company's IM products mesh with public systems supported by AOL, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, along with IBM's Lotus Sametime and Microsoft Live Communications Server for private corporate networks.

Unified communications is a market that makes sense for SAAS based on the complexities facing companies that try to meld together such tools on their own as well as the costs of trying to support a wide range of different mobile platforms used by various types of workers, Hudda maintains.

"Presence is rapidly becoming the building block for mobile connectivity; it's at the heart of where business communications applications are coming together to support both the desktop and mobile devices," said the CEO. "We already have the core building blocks in place, but we needed to be a more [intellectual property] rich company, and this deal gives us a lot of the pieces we needed."

When Apptix brings its first hosted communications service to market before the end of 2007, the system will initially offer e-mail, voice mail, IM, voice conferencing, and Web conferencing tools, he said.

At least one market watcher agreed that Apptix has positioned itself strategically for future growth as the market for unified communications emerges.

While the sector itself is still relatively immature, and it remains to be seen what types of applications large companies will buy first, or if they will pursue SAAS strategies in the space, the firm is doing a good job of adding compelling pieces, said Mark Leavitt, analyst with IDC.

Apptix already has ties to many platforms popular with enterprises in the form of its SharePoint, Exchange, and BlackBerry capabilities, and adding other technologies like Sametime and the public IM clients could bode well for the future, he said.

"Unified communications is still coming together as a lot of the applications have been separate to date, how they come together and who will do the work, and just how many of these systems will be hosted, still needs to be resolved," Leavitt said. "But Apptix has positioned itself well for hosted e-mail and collaboration thus far and tied itself to some brands with strong customer loyalty, and the acquisition adds some needed technologies."

Leavitt said that many larger vendors, such as Microsoft and IBM, as well as carriers including Avaya, are currently working to meld together many of the same technologies now owned by Apptix. The smaller company will face competition from all of those firms eventually, but it could build a base of customer in the SMB space and try to leverage that presence into enterprise deals, said the expert.

"At the end of the day it will be about how the worker is able to communicate most effectively and whether or not there is a single interface, who exactly will provide the back end and what parts of these systems are hosted will be left up to IT and issues of cost."

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