Author: Joachim Farla, e-office (Infrastructure Specialist)
The term Unified Communications is becoming the new buzz word. More and more organisations feel the need to bring order to their communication channel chaos. And that’s understandable. In the 80’s and 90’s, new means of communication overtook the world. Mobile phones were introduced, e-mail came, fax, sms and, for the younger generation, MSN and video chat. And this list is still growing fast, without any apparent unification. However, suppliers as well as users of these services realise something should be done. It’s time to connect services and hand back control of communication to the user .
Microsoft has taken an important turn in that respect. It’s now on the path of unification, music to my ears as Office Communications Server Most Valuable Professional [MVP]. Microsoft has set itself a target of releasing software that can unify all communication channels. Only one client to start up in the morning, being fed with all your communication channels. One central point from which you have control over how people can reach you. One central point to log into all Line Of Business (LOB) applications with single sign-on. And all of this combined with one client to receive e-mail and voice mails.
Although this almost sounds like Utopia, the scenario is for real. With Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, you can enter the new world of work. You are likely very eager to, as communication is getting increasingly important and you do not want to drown in what’s coming at you. We’ll have to be smarter in dealing with our communication channels, and we can. Apart from using the default functionality of instant messaging and presence, the work environment of the knowledge worker can be optimized even more. Microsoft Live Meeting 2007, for example, makes it easy to meet online with high quality picture and sound, from any place on the planet.
On the centre stage of these work environments is Voice. It’s a known fact that IT and C are getting closer. Speech and data are traditionally different worlds, separated by a huge gap. Organisations worldwide still have to bridge this gap. The old school Windows Infrastructure administrator doesn’t know anything about the Voice platform and the Telco guy knows zip about Microsoft networks. Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 connects them. Using an easy admin interface and smart tooling, it enables both skill sets to be integrated and applied. And with that, it provides you with all the necessary means to finally streamline your communication.
At Microsoft, this new way of thinking is called ‘Enterprise Voice’. It’s a combination of software controlled Voice over IP (VoIP), integration of presence in LOB applications, location-independent telephony and cost-reducing communication for your organisation. One example is Dial-in Conferencing: attending a presentation virtually because you don’t have time to get there physically. Another is Live Meeting: dialing into a meeting from anywhere in the world. Via your telephone, you can still fully attend the meeting and contribute to it, all from within your own secure infrastructure. You can also dial in via the Polycom CX5000 Unified Conference Station (Roundtable): a 360 degree camera capable of showing a panoramic view of the meeting room. Not with low quality and a small picture, but with low cost and a good resolution to make you feel as if you’re on site. This results in fewer meeting cancelations and better member participation. It reduces the travel expenses and helps you to meet in a smarter way.
The question is: can the traditional exchange with all its advanced features now be replaced by Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2? Yes it can. Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 has been specifically designed to take over these tasks. Example: integrated voicemail functionality is now offered by Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 – Unified Messaging. Voicemails are received in your e-mail box and can be played from there directly. The Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 integration offers you “click to dial”: direct number recognition by the Outlook address book allowing you to call back using one familiar interface.
There are almost unlimited applications, like message queues, workflow (the process of the call), agents (who can answer the call and put it through) and simultaneous ringing (multiple telephones). This is all default already in Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 as Response Group Service and can be configured easily, exactly the way your organization wants it to. You can also determine how to be reached in various situations. An example would be phone calls being redirected to a colleague while you’re in a meeting.
Configuring everything flexibly and profile bound from one central interface: it’s a big step forwards in the speech-data integration. The integration of the various means of communications is a fact. All made possible by the Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 R2 client.
Rather important is the availability of the Microsoft Office Communicator Mobile 2007 R2 client. This client offers the same ease of use as the desktop version and is integrated into your company network via a mobile connection. Calling from one central Unified Communications number means huge added value for every organization. The question if this can be done from your mobile phone has now actually been answered as Microsoft Office Communicator Mobile 2007 R2 offers Single Number Reach functionality. You can call a contact person from your mobile device and from your Unified Communications number. And that brings more order to the current number chaos.
Of course, all new things take time to get used to. Guiding your employees through new technology and its related behavioral changes is therefore important. However, in practice, people appear to embrace Enterprise Voice quickly and use it intuitively. They have 24/7 control over how they can be reached, using one interface, no matter if they use a mobile device or a laptop or desktop PC. It looked like this was still in the future, but with the Microsoft solutions it’s happening right now. Especially now, with working from multiple locations on the increase, Unified Communications offers a valuable solution. This can’t be stopped anymore.
Sjoert Ebben, Meriella Bos, Menno Windsma, Bas Krikke and Arjan van Eijk for supporting me by writing this article.