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IBM, Forterra Using Unified Communications in Virtual Worlds to Solve "Tower of Babel" for Intelligence Agencies


IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Forterra Systems are working to solve an age-old problem that challenges U.S. security and costs taxpayers millions. Forterra plans to develop a futuristic unified communications solution code-named “Babel Bridge” that could allow U.S. intelligence agencies to use a common graphical collaboration system to instantly communicate within a virtual world.

To meet this challenge, IBM and Forterra have entered into a teaming agreement under which Forterra will integrate its On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment (OLIVE™) 3D platform with the IBM Lotus® Sametime® software and the IBM Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC2™) platform. The new system would give online collaborators instant insight through the display and discussion of multiple data forms in parallel including documents, graphic displays, and human expertise via anytime, anywhere connectivity through the Internet or a mobile phone.

It is frequently noted by leaders of U.S. government agencies -- even those charged with protecting the nation in military and intelligence roles -- that their agencies often are hampered in their efforts to work together by the use of different communications systems and procedures, evocative of the language barriers erected by the biblical “Tower of Babel.” The ability to instantly share information for planning and real-time action in support of U.S. interests, including the War on Terror, has become a leading objective of many government agencies.

This Forterra solution, including IBM technology, is being designed to build greater collaboration and real-time information sharing between analysts and operators within and between government agencies. The integration between Forterra’s virtual collaboration application with IBM Lotus Sametime software carries the potential to become the primary collaboration platform used throughout the intelligence community, and with other branches of the government.

Imagine an example in which intelligence agents are training to take down a terrorist cell. The mission requires cooperation from MI5, the FBI and local operatives on the ground. Through OLIVE’s virtual reality capabilities, the agencies are able to recreate the location of the terrorists and rehearse the mission. By integrating UC2 capabilities into the virtual reality model, the team instantly knows which experts are available and their location to harness the necessary resources in real-time to gain the necessary approvals for any changes as the rehearsal is taking place. They can also share and integrate into the training new information from operatives in the field such as streaming video, images from drone planes and audio files.

“The value of Unified Communications and Collaboration does not come from singular features like click-to-call,” said Bruce Morse, Vice President, IBM Unified Communications and Collaboration. “The true value of UC2 is realized when multiple collaboration capabilities are well integrated within a business task or process -- like bringing several organizations together to share, review, approve and take immediate actions for national security. Managing communication and collaboration effectively within business processes can make all the difference between the success and failure of critical projects.”

Under the terms of the integration agreement, Forterra will deliver plug-ins to the Lotus Sametime platform and integration to the IBM Lotus Notes® calendar that allow easy access, scheduling and launching of meetings in the virtual world. Forterra will also embed key services, such as presence and location information, document, whiteboard, and application sharing, from the Lotus Sametime platform into the virtual world to enable faster, more effective communication and collaboration within the context of a situation or a meeting.

With integrated location information, any meeting that requires the most appropriate experts can be instantly initiated at the click of a button, pulling all the relevant resources into the virtual world meeting. Integration with the IBM Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony offering will allow any landline PBX, VoIP, or mobile phone caller to join a virtual meeting. In addition, IBM and Forterra have entered into negotiations for Frontera to resell Lotus Sametime software through an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) model with its virtual world solutions focused on its top business processes which include collaboration, training, product lifecycle management, and operations management.

Forterra announced in September 2007 a strategic investment and technology advancement agreement with Washington, DC-based In-Q-Tel (IQT), the strategic investment firm that works to identify, adapt, and deliver innovative technology solutions to support the mission of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC). IQT historically makes investments in new technologies that meet current and future Intelligence Community needs and also exhibit the potential for broader commercial appeal.

“Member agencies within the U.S. Intelligence Community and private sector organizations have distinct but also overlapping challenges in monitoring global or regional situations and then pursuing real-time analysis and problem-solving,” said Steve Bowsher, Executive Vice President of Investments at Washington-based investment firm In-Q-Tel. “We believe secure virtual worlds integrated with unified communications and collaboration will enable users to engage the right subject matter experts within and between organizations to analyze complex situations. The goal of unified communications products that provide a crucial, distributed collaboration platform for both the public and private sectors offers the potential to help the agencies of the U.S. Intelligence Community collaborate more effectively with one another, with other federal groups, with state and local law enforcement, and with international partners.”

“Forterra is thrilled with the work program and relationship that In-Q-Tel awarded our company last year,” indicated Dave Rolston, CEO of Forterra Systems. “Our relationship with IBM and forthcoming integration to Lotus’ leading UC2 technologies enable us to deliver critical functionality that builds on that strategic investment. We are committed to meeting the requirements of both public and private sector organizations for an easy-to-use, trusted, secure collaboration platform, and we are confident that this announcement allows us to take the lead in meeting the demands of a new market trend. We feel this program will develop the advanced collaboration capabilities that are just starting to be in high demand with our commercial customers, which is an important end goal for In-Q-Tel as well.”

The integrated Forterra solution will deploy behind and through firewalls so enterprise IT departments can achieve the security needed to conduct private, by invitation only, or public discussions and document sharing.

Forterra Systems is a venture backed software company providing online distributed virtual world technology for the corporate, healthcare, government, and entertainment industries. The company’s investors include Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), Sutter Hill and private investors. “IBM’s Venture Capital Group facilitated Forterra’s introduction into IBM’s ecosystem,” said Erel N. Margalit, founder and managing partner of JVP. “The result is that we were able to quickly integrate Forterra’s breakthrough platform with IBM’s deep technical and business prowess to bring to market an unprecedented and innovative set of new workplace collaboration tools.”

“Babel Bridge” is part of Forterra’s ongoing efforts to build enterprise ready 3D Internet solutions. The solution is planned for development beginning in the second quarter of 2008.


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