IBM's top 5 predictions for unified communications: Desktop computers and phones will disappear.

In his keynote address to the recent VoiceCon 2008 event in Orlando, Lotus Software's general manager Mike Rhodin gave five predictions about global unified communications. In a follow-up interview, we learned how IBM will invest up to $1 billion to help meet the changing business communications requirements.

The predictions made in Rhodin's keynote and also released in a related statement include:

1. The virtual workplace will become the rule. Desk phones and desktop computers will gradually disappear, replaced by mobile devices, including laptops that take on traditional office capabilities. Social networking tools and virtual world meeting experiences will simulate the feeling on being there in-person.

2. Instant messaging and other real-time collaboration tools will become the norm, bypassing e-mail. Just as e-mail became a business necessity, a new generation of workers has a new expectation for instant messaging as the preferred method of business interaction.

3. Beyond phone calls to collaborative business processes: Companies will go beyond the initial capabilities of IM, like click-to-call and online presence, to deep integration with business processes and line-of-business applications.

4. Interoperability and open standards will tear down proprietary walls across business and public domains. Corporate demand for interoperability and maturing of industry standards will force unified communications providers to embrace interoperability.

5. New meeting models will emerge. The definition of "meetings" will radically transform and become increasingly adhoc and instantaneous based on context and need.

A £500m investment

In an interview at VoiceCon, Akiba Saeedi, director of Unified Communications and Collaboration for IBM Lotus, elaborated on IBM’s plans. To meet the changing trends outlined in the keynote, IBM plans to invest up to $1 billion in four key areas.

First, it plans to increase spending on developing products that are both hardware and software based. Second, the company will invest in the people and tools needed to increase capabilities in technology services. Third, IBM will continue to improve its industry process expertise. And fourth, the company will continue to grow its partner ecosystem.

As an example of the IBM investment, IBM Lotus Sametime software products will be a key focus, and work is also underway on blending IBM's social software expertise into the real-time environment. The new Lotus Sametime Advanced software, available from 28 March, includes a new set of user-community tools.