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Unified Communications Magazine July 2007                                                                                                                Volume 1 / Number 1

 

 

Collaboration and UC

- Group Productivity Applications


By Richard "Zippy" Grigonis, Feature Articles

 

The whole point of collaboration is not for workers to maintain a spirit of camaraderie, but rather to achieve significant gains in productivity. One might therefore more properly refer to such technology as telecom-enabled group productivity applications. The "group" doing the collaborating could be workers in the same organization, or a logically-defined group of people at federated companies working together across organizational boundaries. The collaboration technology can be as simple as instant messaging (IM) or more complicated teamware or web conferencing technologies. UC allows participants to be drawn into a collaborative effort.

We've come a long way from the early 1990s, when Yours Truly marveled at the earliest attempts at such unified messaging/communications group productivity boosters. For example, picking up the first issue of Computer Telephony magazine in October of 1993, the miraculous new killer app vaunted on its pages was "unified messaging", embodied by the then-pioneering product called CallXpress. Today, Applied Voice & Speech Technologies, Inc. (www.avst.com) recently announced the newest and most advanced version (7.9) of CallXpress. It now includes something for businesses of every size and type: SIP integration, enhanced localization features, and the ability for enterprises to define a specific unified messaging architecture that meets particular security, storage and access needs. You can choose from among four different UM architectures based on the nature of your business and its requirements: server-based, client-based, secure and simplified. You can also mix-and-match these architectures depending on particular departmental or user requirements.

CallXpress 7.9 also provides familiar user interface emulations for Avaya Intuity AUDIX, Octel Aria, Octel Serenade and Mitel NuPoint with the Centigram interface.




Another early player was Active Voice (www.activevoice.com). Today, Active Voice's Windows-based Kinesis UC system provides advanced desktop and call control functionality, utilizing a Microsoft Exchange server so that you can access your messages through the telephone or PC. Workers now have a single point of access for all voice, fax and email. Even mobile employees can access their email and schedule information while traveling. Users can share physical telephone extensions, but can be allotted individual mailboxes. Active Voice's Kinesis is scalable and can handle organizations having many branch offices.

 

In the Year 2006. . .

Interestingly, it may be that 2006 will be remembered as the year when major vendors began a series of far-reaching unified communicationsrelated announcements that continue through the present day.

In June 2006 Microsoft announced that it was taking both UC and Real- Time Collaboration (RTC) head-on in a massive effort. Microsoft's expansive UC roadmap proved to be a user-centric plan. Their idea is to make UC and collaboration easy-to-use and to voice-enable business processes (including Microsoft Office and third-party software applications), particularly people-driven processes ("I need somebody to make a decision. I need somebody to sign off on this. I need information from an expert on what I have to show them.") that usually involve simply communicating from within the context of the work that the user is doing, which can involve a document or spreadsheet. In fact, Microsoft Business Division President Jeff Raikes has predicted that by 2010 more than 100 million people will make phone calls from Microsoft Office system apps such as Outlook, Word and Excel.

Indeed, UC in the Microsoft universe got quite a boost thanks to companies that have optimized their devices to work with OCS 2007. Microsoft recently announced a unified communications qualification program which currently lists 15 devices that when qualified will seamlessly integrate with OCS 2007 and Office Communicator. These include the Polycom CX700 IP Phone, a full duplex, hands-free speakerphone that has an embedded Office Communicator 2007 client and Windows CE interface, offers high-quality wideband audio and features a large touch-screen color display (big enough to read your personal calendar or other text). Expect it in 3Q 2007. Nortel is also well-represented with devices such as the LG-Nortel IP Phone 8540, which also has an embedded Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 client. It supports name-based dialing, presence information, a 5.7-inch TFT LCD touchscreen display and a fascinating fingerprint reader for the ultimate in secure logins - the less paranoid among us can still use a PIN, which loads user profiles, voicemail, call logs, etc.

Indeed, Nortel has gained much publicity over its grand alliance with Microsoft. Officially called the Innovative Communications Alliance (ICA), it's a four-year agreement whereby both companies will help bring UC to enterprises by integrating their respective technical abilities (Microsoft's desktop/server software and Nortel's telephony expertise) into products and sharing marketing and business/channel acumen. For example, Nortel's Call Server 1000 integrates with Microsoft's LCS/OCS, with Nortel furnishing the integration services. Nortel's hand in OCS 2007 (which should appear shortly after you read this) guarantees that it will accommodate Nortel's contact center, IVR and audio conferencing applications.

Nortel has also announced its Nortel Hosted Solutions portfolio, which enables business to partake of such next-gen applications as UC, IP telephony, automatic call distribution, contact centers, etc., without investing heavily in customer premise equipment and staff. Customers can use the services long-term or temporarily on a "try before they buy" basis, becoming acclimated to these services before making the transition to their own IP networks based on Nortel equipment. And even though the apps are driven by Nortel's Communication Server 2000, Unified Messaging 2000, and Multimedia Communication Server 5200, service providers won't have to make any large capital investment, since Nortel will take on the job of hosting and managing these solutions from facilities worldwide.

 

Other UC Movers and Shakers

Cisco's own UC initiative was also announced in 2006. It now includes the following:

  • Cisco Unified Personal Communicator that transparently integrates with applications and network services to tie together voice messaging, video, instant messaging, conferencing, and presence information. With it you can share documents, perform voicemail playback, hold voice/video conferences and use directories, all in a single interface. An integrated toolbar is used for click-to-call or IM within your Outlook contacts and email.

  • Cisco Unified CallConnector for Microsoft Office that installs a toolbar in Outlook and Internet Explorer that helps makes it possible for you to connect with callers on the first try by using presence information to determine whether they're available and how they prefer to be contacted. You can find contacts and quickly start a call, email or IM. It also lets you place or receive call on your Cisco Unified IP phone.

  • Cisco Unified MeetingPlace, an integrated voice, video, and web conferencing solution for medium-to-large organizations. It securely integrates with various enterprise applications.

  • Cisco Unity Connection provides voice or integrated messaging with advanced features such as speech recognition and personal call transfer rules. Messages can be managed "handsfree" using voice commands. Voice messages can be viewed, prioritized and listened in conjunction with the Cisco Unified Personal Communicator, an email client or web browser. The Cisco Unity Connection Phone View lets you use a Cisco Unified IP Phone display to view, sort, search, and play back voice messages. You can also use voice commands can to list and attend Cisco Unified MeetingPlace Express meetings. Moreover, you can set up a sort of personal auto attendant by defining personal call transfer rules by caller, time of day, and Exchange calendar status.

  • Cisco Unified Conferencing for TelePresence is Cisco's new solution that can link three or more Cisco TelePresence systems in a meeting. Participants can be viewed in high-def (1080p), life-sized images and heard in CD-quality, spatially-correct audio, adding a face-to-face ambiance to your online meetings.

Other companies such as Mitel (www.mitel.com) and Avaya (www.avaya.com) have also jumped into the fray (see Rich Tehrani's interview with these companies earlier in this issue).

Just around the time that Microsoft announced its own initiative in June 2006, it also revealed a collaborative effort with Siemens Communications (www.siemens.com) to accelerate the integration of technologies around Microsoft Exchange Server and Microsoft Office Live Communications Server, such as Siemens' HiPath 8000 softswitch real-time telephony, which allows enterprise customers to transition from conventional PBX and voicemail systems to OCS 2007 and Exchange Server 2007.

Siemens' own well-known UC platform is OpenScape. Recently, they released three new members of the portfolio: First, the entry-level, OpenScape VoiceLink solution that telephony-enables the Office Communicator client on the desktop, thus giving desk-bound users minicall center abilities such as receiving screen pop-ups on incoming calls and picking up calls by clicking on an icon. This SIP-imbued OpenScape VoiceLink also supports Siemens's HiPath 8000 IP PBX and analog phones. Second, a new release of OpenScape Enterprise facilitates Web Services integrations with enterprise applications, and furnishes a new toolbar client for the Windows desktop facilitating access to multimedia presence, IM, voice and web conferencing. Users can now partake of OpenScape's communications tools without cajoling the IT staff to integrate them into the apps - although the software development kit is now easier to use, if someone should want to do some integration work. Third, is OpenScape Enterprise Hosted, a joint venture with Accenture (www.accenture.com) and Ensim Corporation (www.ensim.com), wherein Siemens formulated the provisioning, billing and management software interfaces needed for quick and cost-effective deployment of OpenScape Enterprise into service provider environments.

Whatever the favored interfaces UC, it's obvious that groups of people working in collaboration will become more commonplace as UC proliferates throughout the enterprise.

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC's IP Communications Group.







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