Blogger: Mike Gotta, Principal Analyst
The announced acquisition of Parlano is a strategic move by Microsoft. The addition of persistent group chat to the Office Communications Server (OCS) platform is a clearly reinforces Microsoft's Unified Communications strategy (which is somewhat obvious) but it also sets the groundwork for integration with Office SharePoint Server in ways that augment what Microsoft is doing in the area of social networking.
The UC Perspective
While Microsoft does have group chat capabilities within OCS, the sessions are what people typically expect - multiple people invited into a "room" where they can IM back and forth. When people end the chat session, it disappears. Parlano has taken this concept and extended it by adding "persistency". Group chat rooms can last for quite some time. The historical context delivered offers tremendous value to certain types of information and knowledge workers. Organizations can setup multiple channels of persistent real-time chat spaces. The solution may not be widely known of in the large enterprise market but the concept is popular within financial circles (which happens to be a strong install-base for Parlano).
Because of Parlano's experience in that particular industry segment, the company has developed a collection of XML-based compliance adapters and functions that help enforce "ethical walls" between groups that might have a conflict of interest within an organization. These security and compliance services are a "hidden gem" for Microsoft.
Parlano also recently demonstrated the ability to add video calls from within persistent group chat applications. I would imagine that persistent video and audio features are on the roadmap as well. As Microsoft advances Parlano's rich media persistency, you can imagine additional synergy with the conferencing services within OCS as well as with RoundTable and Office Live Meeting. More broadly, I would expect some integration between the technologies Parlano offers with Microsoft's SharedView efforts as well.
The Social Networking Perspective ("Twitter For The Enterprise"?)
While persistent group chat might not be commonly known within the enterprise, it is popular in the consumer market. Twitter is perhaps the most well-known example of persistent group chat (but takes it to a level of visibility and transparency well-beyond what we might think of for a "group"). Still, there are some intriguing integration possibilities for Microsoft to pursue by taking Parlano's technology and applying it within SharePoint’s "My Site" feature. For instance, on a worker's profile page, the persistent group chat sessions that a person is a member of could be displayed. When persistent group chat is combined with functions delivered by Microsoft’s future Knowledge Network software, customers should expect some level of social network analysis and correlation based on user interactions within these sessions. When SharePoint is used for external applications, there are clear customer service and community-building aspects to persistent group chat that could also be explored.
Questions To Keep In Mind
- It appears that Parlano will be implemented as a new server role. Infrastructure planners should keep that in mind when designing enterprise pools. It is not clear right now how Parlano will participate in the OCS Focus/Focus Factory architecture over time.
- Parlano has its own compliance services. Audit strategists should closely examine how OCS implements compliance/records management and compare/contrast that support with what Parlano delivers. It is likely that the initial integration by Microsoft will require some extra steps to consolidate information. It may also require more work by administrators to define controls across the two products that define monitoring and tracking features to log certain user interactions and conferencing activities.
- Communicator/OCS has a hook to Outlook to store personal chat history. It is not clear whether Parlano's persistent group chat will connect to Outlook to support a similar capability.
- Security and network teams might want to look at federation and perimeter network design issues. For instance, it's not clear how external users "proxy in" to a persistent group chat session.
Persistent group chat has also been a strategic focus for IBM as well. At VoiceCon Fall 2007, IBM discussed how it will deliver a range of real-time community applications (see this post by Adam Gartenberg).
Microsoft to Acquire Parlano
REDMOND, Wash. — Aug. 30, 2007 — Today Microsoft Corp. announced it has agreed to acquire Chicago-based Parlano, maker of MindAlign, a leading application for enterprise group chat. Microsoft expects to add Parlano’s group chat functionality as a new feature of Microsoft® Office Communications Server and Microsoft Office Communicator, Microsoft’s server and client software for presence, instant messaging, conferencing and VoIP.
Founded in 2000, Parlano offers group chat technology that enables people to carry on topic-specific, multiparty instant messaging discussions that persist over time. Parlano’s software is used by companies in a variety of industries, including financial services, call centers and technology, to conduct ongoing business-critical conversations.
Currently, Parlano’s MindAlign application integrates with Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005 and Office Communications Server 2007.
After the deal closes, Microsoft will add the group chat functionality to Office Communications Server and Office Communicator, and plans to offer group chat as part of the standard client access license for Office Communications Server 2007 Software Assurance customers. Current Parlano customers, many of whom already use Microsoft unified communications software, will have increased access to the breadth of Microsoft unified communications software.
Financial terms of the acquisition were not announced. The deal is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2007. Following the closing of the acquisition, members of the Parlano team are expected to join the Unified Communications Group at Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., campus. Parlano is a privately held company and was represented by Revolution Partners and Bell, Boyd & Lloyd LLP.