Thanks to Lotus? groupware blitz in Florida and Nice over the past two weeks the industry is pretty well groupwared out - which was a shame for Teamware, which held its Winternet customer conference in Finland this week.
It was a shame because the company demonstrated some interesting projects surrounding agent technology for the Internet and personal digital assistants, as well as having some good messages to get across to the groupware world. But, like the timing of its conference, it is constantly in the shadow of Lotus, Microsoft and Novell - something that will be difficult to change.
This is partly to do with its heritage. Teamware was originally set up by ICL and inherited many of its problems, such as lack of brand awareness outside the UK. Even Fujitsu?s acquisition of ICL a few years ago did little to raise Teamware's image, apart from gaining it market leadership in Japan and a sizeable portion of the market in the surrounding areas. In the UK its customer base is mainly in the public sector, a legacy from the days when government agencies were encouraged to buy from then UK-owned ICL, but even that is waning.
Managing director Jukka Norokorpi admits Teamware has a lot of image building to do. ?We are not yet fully global and the visibility of our brand is not as high as it should be,? he said. However he has ambitious plans to break into the US where, although Teamware has two offices, it is not well known. Norokorpi believes that only when it has achieved significant presence in the US will he know that Teamware has arrived.
However, he is keeping his route into the US very close to his chest. To help in its plan Teamware was spun off as a separate business unit a year ago. This has enabled it to develop groupware and messaging products that support third party platforms as well as ICL and given it a separate identity.
Teamware Group has 410 employees with offices in the UK, Finland and Sweden. It has sales operations in continental Europe and south east Asia with research and development being done in the UK and Scandinavia. But clearly US penetration is a prized goal.
?It is good that it has dropped the ICL brand because in the US there are two impressions of ICL - some people wonder what ICI has to do with it while others believe ICL only sells retail systems,? commented Clive Longbottom, workgroup technology analyst at the Meta Group.
?But there is still a big market in Asia Pacific, especially in Japan where PCs are only just taking off. The same goes for China,? said Longbottom.
He believes Teamware has some good technologies and is well positioned to be a viable player in the groupware world especially as it evolves to embrace Intranets. The company?s products fall into three areas - workflow, Intranet-based groupware and extranets to enable companies to do business with partners over the Internet. The flagship products are Teamware Office, a modular set of applications for email, conferencing, group scheduling and document management; and Teamware Flow, a workflow package.
Teamware Office 5.1 will be available at the beginning of March with added Intranet-based functionality. It will support X.400 mail messaging protocol plus access to other LDAP-supported network directories. The client side has also been extended to support POP3 and IMAP4 interfaces on browsers and personal digital assistants.
More interestingly, the company is putting agent technology into a range of client systems. At Cebit next month it will demonstrate a Web-based tool for the combined Nokia 9000 GSM phone and personal organiser unit. Called Comet. this software monitors incoming and outgoing calls and changes to Web site.
Teamware is also working on what it calls a ?virtual intelligent personality? - a Web client that can filter emails and action them on behalf of the user. For instance it can automatically pass on emails that may be best handled by another person. The user is given a personal Web site so others can easily find their details. The functionality will be offered by yet to be specified Internet service providers from April.
If Teamware can prove it has the technology could it really make a name for itself in its own right? ?It has to pitch its strategy as an alternative to Lotus - not as a competitor,? said Longbottom. It may be in a strong position in UK public sectors but in Germany and France it will need to target the market through distributors, he continued.
He believes Teamware should target small to medium businesses or the home market where the penetration could be greater than pitching large corporates. This would also fit in well with some of the consumer and multimedia hardware Fujitsu is pushing. Whatever route it takes the ICL and Fujitsu brands will never be far away.
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