Yesterday, Microsoft announced its intent to buy Parlano, maker of the MindAlign group chat software that eases collaboration among far-flung team members and provides support for the specific needs of Wall Street firms, including Chinese walls and security features. MindAlign is used by Wall Street firms such as ABN Amro, Cantor Fitzgerald, Deutsche Bank, Nomura, Putnam Investments and UBS."Given the way trading operations have become so global and there are so many different specialists across different asset classes and desks, they need a solution like group chat to distribute information broadly across all these teams and geographies and as a virtual team, respond to that information, formulate an action and execute,"says Jeff Schultz, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Parlano."As a result, group chat has become mission critical within financial services." Schultz says several of his Wall Street customers want to expand the use of group chat beyond virtual teams in trading, sales training, IT and research organizations and move it out to the rest of the enterprise. For instance, marketing teams, investment banking teams who need to coordinate among each other and with the trading organization, and wealth management groups are all potential users of group chat. "Our customers are telling us that as their clients become more wealthy, they need more complex investment strategies that often involve a wealth manager having more insight into what's going on in, say, the foreign exchange markets or the equity markets," Schultz says. "Many of these banks are considering using group chat to better tie those wealth managers to the trading floor."
Microsoft plans to make this acquired chat software more ubiquitous and extensible. It will make a Microsoft-branded version of MindAlign available in the first quarter of 2008, and sometime after that, integrate the group chat software into Office Communications Server. When that happens, existing MindAlign server license holders will be given an Office Communications Server, so they will receive Microsoft instant message and presence tools as well.
This acquisition is a step in Microsoft's "unified communications strategy" in which it hopes to provide integrated communication tools that, with the use of presence awareness, will allow anywhere, anytime communications via a variety of channels - email, instant messaging, videoconferencing, audioconferencing, web meetings or, now, group chat. "We think that in five to ten years the idea of dialing somebody blindly will be a quaint notion, because the power of presence awareness integrated with a shared directory enables a whole new unified or streamlined communication experience," says Clint Patterson, director of public relations in Microsoft's Unified Communications Group. At a launch event in San Francisco October 16, Microsoft will roll out Office Communications Server 2007 (which will include some Live Meeting capabilities for on-premise audio and video conferencing for companies who want to deploy those at the server level) and Office Communicator 2007, along with Microsoft Roundtable (a video and audio conferencing device). At the same event, Microsoft will launch new versions of its hosted anti-spam, anti-virus Exchange Hosted Services and an update to Exchange Server."Microsoft is betting big and investing heavily in voice over IP and unified communications," Patterson says.
One question Patterson won't answer yet is whether or not MindAlign will continue to run on Blackberries. (Communicator Mobile runs on Windows Mobile phones.) "Today we're focused on trying to close the acquisition," he says. "As to what mobile platforms we'll support, we'll come out with more information after we bring the two teams together and develop that joint road map."