IBM exec says bad economy could be good for unified communications

IBM VP tells VoiceCon crowd that use of collaboration tools could get a lift

The economy is driving business changes that unified communications can help address -- which means that end users might finally start using the collaboration tools that have been deployed in corporate networks for years, an IBM executive told VoiceCon San Francisco 2008 attendees Wednesday.

Bruce Morse, IBM's vice president of UC and collaboration, said tools that have been deployed separately need to be integrated and made simple to use. (Compare collaboration tools.)

"We need to shift the focus of unified communications from the back-end technology to the front end," he said, meaning that user interfaces need to be made simpler and more intuitive.

UC, when done right, can make it easier to find the right people to collaborate with in order to make smarter business decisions faster, Morse said. This can be done by incorporating communications into applications users are already familiar with rather than forcing them to learn new platforms. "We need to offer the same form of communications but inside the firewall," he said.

Businesses looking to promote UC should try to incorporate the useful aspects of social networking that employees are already familiar with from social networking sites but secure them for use in a corporate setting.

Technical consultants may be valuable to help piece together UC elements that customers have already bought from different vendors, Morse said. For instance he said that IBM's Sametime integrates with Microsoft's Sharepoint and Exchange, making it possible for customers to shop around for the vendor best suited to their needs.

Integration may be necessary because customers have legacy gear they can't rip out, so products based on accepted interfaces, operating systems and standards -- SIP, Eclipse, Linux, Windows -- are important. So is support for popular directories such as LDAP and Active Directory and codecs for voice and video, Morse said.

He rounded out his keynote with demonstrations of conferencing set up via Lotus Notes that used shared applications and presence to determine who was available, and drag-and-drop capabilities to bring new people into the conference.

The demonstration also showed how an instant-message chat could be used to find knowledgeable people to solve problems, and how to upgrade an IM conversation to an audio conference call with a mouse click.

On the cost-savings front, UC can reduce the need for travel so groups can work together, Morse said. It can also be used to cut telephony costs by reducing the need for calls.

Business customers are looking for ways to weather tight budgets and UC can help, Morse said. "The question is: How do you extract more business value from what they already have?"

A Microsoft speaker at the event also pushed the message of UC being a cost-saving technology. 

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