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IBM to reach unwired workers

Big Blue is set to unveil a Web-based messaging product aimed at giving "deskless" workers access to corporate e-mail.

IBM on Tuesday will unveil a Web-based messaging product aimed at giving "deskless" workers access to corporate e-mail.

Big Blue said its Lotus Workplace Messaging product is designed for employees who are not tethered to one location and work space. The technology giant is marketing the product at companies with factory-floor workers, retail clerks, health care workers and other employees who typically do not have access to e-mail.

Employees who use wireless devices such as cell phones, handhelds and laptops to work remotely are increasingly part of the business environment. Technology companies have rushed to connect these employees to their corporate networks. Last week, Sendmail teamed up with Hewlett-Packard and Intel to build a Linux-based e-mail server for such workers. IBM and Nokia earlier this year partnered to offer a variety of wireless products and services aimed at extending the companies' technology infrastructure to mobile devices. At the beginning of the year, Fujitsu began selling gear in North America for the mobile work force.

"We recognize the trend toward servicing a population that does not have access to e-mail and connecting them to the e-mail community in the corporate environment," said Ken Bisconti, IBM's vice president for messaging products.

IBM said this type of employee tends to send and receive a lower volume of e-mails than do traditional office workers. Big Blue has kept the price of Lotus Workplace Messaging low in comparison to other such products designed for corporations.

"The product needs to have a very low cost of ownership--both from the acquisition costs to the total cost of ownership," Bisconti said. "This is a key object of this release."

IBM Lotus Workplace Messaging is priced at $29 per person at its base configuration. IBM said its three-year license could fall below $1 per user per month.

"It's become apparent that enterprise users pressured by budget want to pay for only the functionality that they'll actually use," said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst at RedMonk. "Why purchase a full-fledged messaging and collaboration product if the users will use 10 percent of the functionality? Instead, IBM allows enterprises to pay for a fraction of the functionality at a fraction of the price."

Oracle, however, questioned IBM's strategy for releasing the new product.

"IBM has one e-mail strategy for knowledge workers and another for deskless workers. One relies on unstructured data and the other on structured data," Steve Levine, a vice president of marketing at Oracle, said in a statement. "It's confusing, and gives customers a reason to closely evaluate integration costs versus return."

IBM sees little that is confusing about Lotus Workplace Messaging. The goal, the company said, is to provide a cost-effective way to bring e-mail to those workers whose responsibilities don't require a dedicated work space for communications. Using shared workstations or kiosks, deskless workers can send and receive the kinds of communications they traditionally received in paper such as human resources updates, schedules, security bulletins and pay stubs.

IBM's Bisconti said its Lotus Workplace Messaging is the first software product delivered as part of the company's NextGen strategy, which involves rewriting its applications in Java. The product is based on the Java 2 Enterprise Edition standard.