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May 24, 2007

Developing a Microsoft Partnership Presence: Q and A with Mitel

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Associate Editor


Earlier this week, Microsoft (News - Alert) Corp and a group of other leading companies in the telecommunications industry launched a new unified communications initiative designed to help businesses better leverage the technology investments they’ve made.
Toward this end, 12 of Microsoft’s partners have developed expanded plans to increase their support for Microsoft’s Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007. These companies have decided to adopt interoperability specifications laid out by Microsoft so that their unified communications-related products will work seamlessly with OCS.
To find out more about this broad industry initiative and what it means for the cost-effective adoption of voice and data network convergence solutions, TMCnet spoke with a representative at one of the companies Microsoft is partnering with.
Stephen Beamish (SB), Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Alliances at Mitel, spoke about his company’s relationship with Microsoft in the past, what this expanded partnership means, and how OCS 2007 is impacting the communications landscape for developers, enterprises and small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
TMCnet: How long has Mitel been partnering with Microsoft?
SB: About three years now. At the start of the partnership, Mitel created a SIP/CSTA gateway. This gateway allows you to make phone calls from the Microsoft Office Communicator client out to the PSTN.
Why the significance of this announcement three years later? What a lot of Microsoft partners have done is to create a CSTA gateway—and that’s where they’ve remained. Really, that’s what Microsoft is looking for in a partner. But, from the beginning, Mitel embraced the whole concept of where Microsoft was going with unified communications. We firmly believed that we could do, and provide our customers with a lot more, than just a gateway. So, we started to develop presence-based applications—meaning, we took the presence capabilities of Microsoft and enabled it into our core solutions.
Right away, we started making that differentiation in the market, and we have stuck with that vision. Microsoft has now come out with this new OCS (Office Communications Server 2007) we are now going to continue along the path of expanding upon that enhancement with presence. Whereas, you’re going to see a number of Microsoft’s partners just continue providing a SIP/CSTA-type gateway.
Since Mitel first partnered with Microsoft, we’ve worked very closely together and shared a common vision. As Microsoft becomes more efficient and more sophisticated with their unified communications solutions, Mitel will as well. The end result is that both Mitel and Microsoft customers benefit.
TMCnet: What are some of the projects Mitel and Microsoft have worked on together in the past?
SB: In year two of the partnership, Microsoft expanded their team. It was originally called the Real-time Collaboration (RTC) Group. Then it became the Unified Communications (News - Alert) Group, and in the process inherited the Exchange Group. Mitel has done development on the Exchange side as well, not just OCS. Mitel provides a direct SIP connection to Exchange UM. Our IP-PBX, the Mitel 3300, connects directly to an Exchange box. A lot of other vendors require a gateway in-between. With Mitel’s SIP capability, you don’t need that gateway.
TMCnet: What is the significance of Microsoft’s Office Communications Server 2007? It seems like a lot of vendors are really responding to what’s been changed with OCS.
SB: You’re seeing a lot more people jump on the OCS wagon because they’re realizing now how important Microsoft is as a player in unified communications. A lot of lot of people may have thought that Office Communicator was all about instant messaging when, in fact, that’s just an element. OCE is about much more than that; it’s about presence. Now others are really starting to understand how much of an influence presence has in the market.
The kind of sophistication built into Office Communicator 2007 involves a lot more emphasis on presence icons. Typically the most common question when somebody IMs someone else is, “Are you there?” Presence has improved significantly with OCS 2007 because people really paid attention to the icons. Now, you see a different shade of color that signifies you’re there but you have not touched your PC for several minutes. This gives you, in real time, an understanding of what someone’s availability is.
Microsoft has made it clear that presence is what it’s all about, and their development on that side has been significant.
TMCnet: How is Mitel responding to the release of Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007?
SB: We are doing a significant amount of work with OCS 2007. Unfortunately, we can’t really give much detail because of the agreements we have with Microsoft. But, it’s fair to say that when updates and new products come out you will continue to see, as you have previously, Mitel creating solutions that build on the OCS solution.
In this announcement, Mitel has made a renewed commitment to support and work closely with Microsoft and its OCS 2007 solution. One part of this is our role as a preferred alliance partner of Microsoft in its Microsoft Technology Centers (MTCs). These centers (there are 17 around the world) are where Microsoft brings customers in to demonstrate solutions. Mitel is the preferred voice partner in all 17 MTCs. Microsoft is putting OCS 2007 into every one of those centers and it will be Mitel’s responsibility to continue providing applications that leverage functionalities of OCS.
TMCnet: Mitel recently announced direct SIP integration of its flagship PBX (News - Alert) to Exchange 2007 Unified Messaging. How does this development relate to the unified communications work Mitel and Microsoft have done together in the past?
SB: Exchange 2007 Unified Messaging is in the same family as OCS. A customer might have OCS but might not have the Exchange UM. But, typically what you will see is a lot of devout Microsoft customers using both the UM and the OCS pieces.
The reason Microsoft brought the two teams (Exchange and OCS) together into a Unified Communications Group is that Exchange 2007 really does play a part in unified messaging. Here’s an example: I can be walking down the street and realize that I won’t make it to group of meetings I scheduled from 12:00-3:00, then use my mobile device to call into my voicemail (UM on Exchange), and tell the system to delete the meetings and send notifications to people I invited. I can do that all through voice into Exchange 2007. If you look at my calendar at the same time, you’d see the meetings disappear and an e-mail created and sent out. That is the power of Exchange 2007.
The significance of Mitel in all this is really not so much enhancing that capability but rather supporting it. In the past, to demonstrate this capability, Microsoft had to install a gateway in every one of its 17 technology centers. But with Mitel’s technology, those gateways can be eliminated. Finally, Microsoft could have that connection and be able to reduce the cost of the hardware needed.
Mitel’s vision of unified communications is to simplify things not only on the customer side but on the hardware side as well. As well, our technology simplifies the entire system at Microsoft’s centers. If there is some sort of issue with a product they can quickly determine whether it comes from the Exchange side or from the Mitel 3300 side. In big organizations that can result in a significant cost reduction.
TMCnet: How is Microsoft using Mitel’s technology to further its own unified communications initiatives?
SB: In all the Microsoft technology centers, the company brings in a significant number of customers to help them understand unified communications. Customers come in and use what they call the Envisioning Center, which creates an office environment; here they’re run through demonstrations. These demos all use Mitel products, including our Mitel Navigator communications device and Mitel 5340 phones. A Mitel, presence-based application runs on the 5340 phones. They demonstrate that as well. Then they make a phone call from Office Communicator, using the Mitel 3300. To demonstrate unified communications, Microsoft is using Mitel as a voice partner.
Roughly a year ago, Jeff Raikes (president of Microsoft’s business division) made a big announcement in San Francisco about unified communications. As part of the presentation, Microsoft used a Mitel 3300 during a demonstration broadcast live around the world. Microsoft is obviously very confident in Mitel’s solution. When the company  announced its partnership with Cisco at VoiceCon this year, they used Mitel phones at their booth and the Mitel 3300 to demonstrate the solution. Same thing when they announced the Avaya (News - Alert) partnership, and a number of others: it was Mitel products they were using on the show floor. These examples show the strength of the Microsoft-Mitel partnership. They also show Microsoft’s confidence in the Mitel solution.
TMCnet: How does Mitel’s relationship with Microsoft differ from similar partnerships between Microsoft and other vendors like Cisco, Avaya and Nortel (News - Alert)?
One of the things we’re doing that’s different is we are presence-enabling Mitel applications. Why is that significant? Let’s use a scenario. There’s a Mitel customer who has a contact center solution using our technology. They decide to go with Office Communicator 2007, but have previously never used it. When they deploy Office Communicator, the presence capability is ported right into the contact center solution. Their investment is multiplied because they can use presence icons in the Mitel contact center solution. Vice-versa, if a customer is already an Office Communicator client and they decide to go with Mitel, they can feel confident that their investment in Microsoft is portable into the Mitel solution.
Microsoft is careful not to publicly state that one partner is more advantageous than another; that’s the responsibility of creating partnerships. But, the fact that you see Microsoft using Mitel solutions for their technology centers is where you’ll see differentiation. You won’t see Avaya in the technology centers. You won’t see Cisco in the technology centers. We really believe in the Microsoft and Mitel vision.
What is that vision? In a Microsoft environment, when there’s a screen pop it would be from the Office Communicator client. Perhaps there are other vendors who might want to use the underlying infrastructure of Microsoft and put their own client on top. That’s not Mitel’s solution. We do have another solution that we use in different environment (for example if a customer is using Lotus Notes); that’s our Your Assistant product. But in a Microsoft environment we stick to a Microsoft unified communications solution embedded with Mitel.
TMCnet: What are some of the projects Microsoft and Mitel see ahead as part of their partnership?
You’re going to continue to see more of what you’ve seen before: Microsoft has strength in what they do, and Mitel has strength in its area, which is the small to medium-size business (SMB) market. We will continue to work in those markets and port the capabilities and solutions from Microsoft to enable abilities that our market will be able to benefit from.
In the SMB market, where Mitel is very strong, our customers will be able to benefit from the solutions that Microsoft creates. You’ll continue to see more sophistication, more development, and more applications that fit not only Microsoft’s horizontal market but also the vertical markets Mitel serves. Both parties are very pleased with the state of the relationship.
TMCnet: What else should people know about the partnership between Mitel and Microsoft, and about Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007?
Mitel stated its vision early; we have long believed in the whole unified communications space. At the end of the day, Mitel is really focused on business process improvements. We want to create solutions in response to customers saying, “I have this challenge, I need to be able to work more collaboratively, to work in ways that will create competitive advantages.” We stay true to that vision of working in an environment and leveraging the strengths of our partners, like Microsoft, to create a really strong solution for our customers that makes it easier for them to do business.
Based on the strength of our partnership and the growth that we have with Microsoft, we’re only going to get better. Combined, I really do believe that we’ve got a very unique opportunity to solve a lot of business problems and challenges. Our goal is to create innovative solutions that enable people to work more productivity.
To learn more about Mitel’s presence solutions, please visit the company’s TMCnet.com channels, IP Presence and IP Telephony.

To learn even more about presence, check out TMCnet’s White Paper Library, which provides a selection of in-depth information on relevant topics affecting the IP communications industry. The library offers white papers, case studies and other documents free to registered users.

Mae Kowalke previously wrote for Cleveland Magazine in Ohio and The Burlington Free Press in Vermont. To see more of her articles, please visit Mae Kowalke’s columnist page. Also check out her Wireless Mobility blog.

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