IBM and Microsoft are preparing to launch their respective unified communications products, which are designed to provide businesses with a single inbox for e-mail, voicemail and faxes.
IBM said the bolstered Lotus Sametime products would make it easier for a company to offer its employees a unified communications package that delivers essential capabilities and simplifies back-end integration - without forcing software migration or requiring rip-and-replace measures.
The central product in IBM's enhanced unified communications armoury is the Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony software, which is heavily reliant on Siemens Openscape communications technology.
Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony will allow users to manage incoming calls, see who is available to communicate with, connect with colleagues faster, and connect with a variety of back-end and legacy systems, said IBM.
IBM said its Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony product would be available in "mid-2008".
The move comes as Microsoft prepares to launch its much-hyped Office Communications Server 2007 for larger enterprises. Microsoft has developed the product alongside Nortel, already a player in the unified communications market.
Warren Barkley, group programme manager at Microsoft, told attendees at the VoiceCon conference in San Francisco last month that Microsoft was also aiming to offer unified communications as a service for smaller businesses.
Microsoft confirmed that Office Communications Server 2007 would start shipping 16 October.
Unified communications utilise voice, video and data and a multitude of applications to allow employees to communicate more easily with a range of endpoint devices. Technologies offering unified communications have been shown to be growing in popularity among enterprise users.
Worldwide sales of unified communications products increased by 21% between 2005 and 2006, reaching a total value of £191m, according to Infonetics Research.
Avaya is the leader in the unified messaging market by sales. However, its top competitors, including Nortel, Cisco and Alcatel-Lucent (in that order), are gaining fast, said Infonetics Research.