The new tool, called Universal Application Messaging, is part of Sprint's business IM technology. Pushing the boundaries of the traditional "chat" application, the software allows employees to retrieve information held in company inventory systems or customer databases.
For example, an employee could use IM to call up a co-worker's phone number through the company's human resources directory.
"This is the way IM is evolving. Instead of just being able to communicate with a person, somebody could also communicate with an application via IM," said Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research, based in Black Diamond, Wash.
Sprint is tackling the business market at a time when momentum is quickly building for advanced, interoperable IM systems in the workplace and on mobile devices. In April, the company announced that ita secure corporate communication technology for real-time chat over PCs and wireless devices.
Major IM network providersand , which both recently introduced corporate IM tools, are working with telecom companies to ensure that their real-time networks can be extended to wireless devices.
Meanwhile, software developers including IBM's SameTime and Akimbo have built systems to allow employees to collaborate on projects using instant messaging or to tap into corporate applications. Windows Messenger, for example, allows people to synchronize IM with MSN Money to get real-time stock quotes or other financial data.
With Sprint's technology, corporate customers can add software applications to their "buddy" lists to create a custom application control panel on their PC or mobile device. The secret sauce behind IM, analysts say, is in the "presence" technology that lets people or applications detect when another person or device is reachable.
"Presence is a far-reaching capability that will enable all types of interaction, not only people to people, but also application to application. This announcement is an important step in that direction," said Rob Batchelder, president of IM Intelligence, a consulting firm for the instant messaging industry.
"Sprint understands that there is far more to IM than just messaging," he said, adding that the company may be somewhat ahead of rivals because of its wireless network. Sprint provides local voice and data services in 18 states and operates the largest nationwide digital communications service.