IBM launches software lab in Massachusetts, announces mobile products

'A pretty impressive mobile arsenal,' IBM exec says

To help address the explosion in mobile devices, IBM today announced new software, services and research projects at the opening of new software development lab in Massachusetts.

One research prototype, called Mail Triage, was shown as an iPhone application that can help workers inundated with e-mails to more quickly assess which ones need immediate action and which can be deleted or handled later. Other software announced at the event was devoted to helping wireless network providers manage cell phone towers and the data running through them. A beta of its Android-based Lotus Notes Traveler software was also launched.

The grand opening of the new lab, which has dual sites in Littleton and Westford, Mass., will house 3,400 IBM researchers and developers. IBM wouldn't disclose how many of them were recent hires but said the bulk are longtime employees from other facilities or people who had worked for companies recently acquired by IBM, including Ounce Labs and Guardian Corp.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick attended the opening, calling the work at the new lab the kind of "yeastiness" that can lead to great technology innovations and economic prosperity. IBM employees in Massachusetts alone have been awarded 2,950 patents since 1995, the company said.

Part of the work at the new IBM Mass Lab will focus on software for enterprise mobile computing, but some workers will work more generally on collaboration, social networking, cloud computing and analytics. They will also develop software to automate and run electronic medical record, fraud detection and energy management systems.

The new lab is one of 70 IBM software labs globally. The building in Littleton occupies renovated space that was used by former technology companies, including Digital Equipment Corp. and Compaq.

The new software and services announced includes IBM Intelligent Site Operations, available now, which is focused on helping wireless carriers manage data and physical assets at cell tower sites. The software tool will help technicians in central offices diagnose and resolve problems without traveling to a site. Pricing was not announced for any of the products.

IBM also announced today that it has extended a beta version of the Lotus Notes Traveler collaboration software to Android-based smartphones and other mobile devices. Traveler had previously been available on BlackBerry, Nokia Symbian and Windows Mobile devices, as well as the Apple iPhone and the iPad.

Another new software product is IBM WebSphere CEA (Communications Enabled Applications) Mobile Widgets, which can be added to the WebSphere application integration platform to allow businesses and consumers to bridge voice and mobile Web communications. IBM didn't provide many details but said in a statement that the software could speed up business processes, such as insurance claim filings or Web retail sales, by 25% or more.

In one example, a company's customer service agent could use the widget to help a customer on a phone call to navigate over a mobile device to a specific Web page with the needed product or other information.

The IBM Mail Triage prototype will be tested by IBM workers in about two weeks, according to an IBM researcher who worked on the project and demonstrated the application.

Once the application is opened, a single screen shows how many e-mails are "triaged" or "untriaged." Those that are untriaged are generally new e-mails that can be assigned to someone else, deferred or responded to immediately. Those e-mails that are assigned can be moved from e-mail into a company's business application, said Alistair Rennie, general manager of Lotus Software and WebSphere at IBM.

Rennie said the Mail Triage application is designed to help fast-working mobile users who need to quickly decide whether to delete respond to e-mails. Those that are deferred can easily be found on a desktop or laptop, he said.

Such software research, Rennie said, adds greater depth to a large mobile software portfolio at IBM that includes dozens of products. "I think we've really put together a pretty impressive mobile arsenal," Rennie said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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