Cisco and IBM on Wednesday will announce a partnership designed to encourage the development of software that ties together voice, instant messaging and other communications services.

The companies’ “Unified Communications and Collaboration” platform will give programmers access to some of the code that powers applications such as IBM’s Sametime instant messaging service and Cisco’s voicemail and IP telephony management services.

The goal is to encourage the creation of software that would allow users to chat using IBM’s instant messaging service while calling or checking their voicemail using Cisco’s business telephony service, for example.

“Rather than having four or five clients [or software programs] running on your desktop …there is increasing demand for a single client or maybe two clients that offer multiple functions,” said Rick McConnell, head of Cisco’s Unified Communications group, which is spearheading the project.

“IBM is very strong in collaboration software, and Cisco is strong in voice and video communications,” said Mr McConnell. “By combining forces, we can capture the best of both worlds.”

The companies plan to use the new platform to develop their own software, but it will also be made available to third-party programmers who want to create custom applications.

Cisco, which is the world’s biggest maker of data networking equipment, estimates that the combined market for voice, teleconferencing, instant messaging and other communications services could be worth up to $35bn a year.

Its push to offer services that combine voice, video and instant messaging is part of a broader move to bring telephony, instant messaging, e-mail and other forms of communication together over a single IP network.

Cisco hopes to benefit as forms of communication formerly handled over land lines migrate to IP networks. It is the world’s biggest maker of the switching and routing equipment that directs data across such networks.

Cisco and IBM said their the collaboration platform would be available in the second half of this year, with an early release for developers planned for the second quarter.

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