Microsoft touts economic upside of unified communications

UC can boost productivity, save money, speaker tells VoiceCon audience.

Microsoft is pushing unified communications as a way to save money and increase revenues in hard economic times, according to a keynote at VoiceCon San Francisco 2008.

“We hear our customers say they want to know how to expand business, save money and increase productivity,” says Betsy Frost Webb, the software vendor’s director of unified communications marketing.

Businesses can cut costs by using unified communications conferencing and collaboration features to cut expensive business trips, she says. (Compare Unified Communications products) “You can use software to stay connected and cut travel,” Frost Webb says.

Integrating communication into business applications can cut the time to place orders, call together healthcare teams and enable full-featured virtual offices, she says.

To back up her point she wheeled out two Microsoft customers that have implemented unified communications via the Office Communication Server 2007. Michael Terrill, the convergence project manager at Boeing, says that unified communications implemented in home offices, for instance, can displace other services and cut costs. Using a broadband Internet connection for voice and data could eliminate the cost of a traditional phone line, he says.

“Desk phones are expensive and less strategic for collaboration than a desktop. A desktop is the most powerful communications and collaboration environment we have. I’d rather put the investment there than in fixed-function phones,” he says.

Unified communications can also expand productivity by bringing in collaboration and video tools that help work get done faster and without in-person meetings, Terrill says.

Michael Keithley, CIO of Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles, which handles actors and others in the movie industry, relies on UC to give broader communication tools – voice, video, presence, instant messaging - to its agents. “For us information is important and getting it into the hands of the agents is really important,” he says.

The firm has used unified communications elements in isolation, but is trying to integrate them more, he says, urging that businesses interested in unified communications start with presence, which can be shared among voice, video, instant messaging, e-mail and conferencing. “It’s the glue that unifies communications and makes it possible to collaborate faster. That’s the starting point,” Keithley says

He says the best approach is to seek a business value for unified communications then work backwards to implement the elements needed to support it. Deciding a rollout to the entire company for unclear benefits is a bad idea.

Frost Webb rounded out her talk with a demonstration of OCS 2007 setting up and running a conference call among workstations and traditional phones. Participants using a PC viewed a roster of who was on the call and a starburst icon indicated which member was talking.

One participant connected via a Firefox Web browser using OCS Web Access, and the coordinator of the call had the option for each participant to authenticate via Active Directory.

One participant shared his desktop with those on the call who were connected via PC.

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