Unless you have been living under a rock the past year or two, you are probably aware that Unified Communications is the hot trend. VoIP is still hot as well, and is a key component of unified communications, but the trend is evolving beyond just moving the phone system from the traditional PBX to an IP data network, and into the next generation striving to bring the web of communications tools and methods into a centralized, simplified, and manageable system. It may seem daunting or overwhelming, especially for smaller businesses. That is why Nortel developed UC 1-2-3. The Nortel UC 1-2-3 site steps you through some of the basics and explains some the benefits of unified communications to help you understand what the hype is about and what it can do for you. You can find out more by visiting the Nortel UC 1-2-3 site.
In a past life, I managed a PBX system. I was thrust into one of those jack-of-all-trades IT positions where I was basically tasked with deploying, administering, troubleshooting, and maintaining anything with a plug. From pencil sharpeners to servers, and desktop PC’s to laser printers, it was all my responsibility, and the PBX phone system was based in the server room so it became mine to manage. From what I recall, it was archaic and cumbersome. Just adding a phone line or a new user was a project in and of itself. That was a mere 10 years ago. Now, we have VoIP and Unified Communications, and all of the miraculous wonders those technologies bring with them. For small and medium businesses, Microsoft has a tool that is simply awesome- ResponsePoint. Evangelyze Founder and Executive Director Joe Schurman presented a demonstration of the power and simplicity of ResponsePoint at the SMB Nation conference in New York this past weekend. Visit the ResponsePoint site and watch some of the demos. I think it will blow you away. If you want more information about ResponsePoint, you can contact Evangelyze.
Are you a small or medium business trying to keep up with technology and leverage new tools to work better rather than harder? The title of ‘SMB’ applies to large and growing segment of businesses throughout the world. SMB’s have to be innovative and agile. Unified Communications is a natural fit for accomplishing this goal, but SMB’s also don’t have the bottomless budgets of some of their enterprise-class cousins. SMB’s need cost-effective tools and technologies that allow them to take advantage of VoIP and unified communications without breaking the bank. SMB Nation is holding two-day conferences in North America and Europe designed to educate business owners and introduce new concepts and technologies. SMB Nation East occurred in New York this past weekend, but you can still attend SMB Nation Toronto on May 3 & 4, or SMB Nation Europe, also in May. Visit SMB Nation for more information.
Over the past ten years or so, the variety of ways available to connect with an individual has exploded. I mentioned a few posts back how technology has evolved so that you can call, email, instant message, text message, voicemail, etc. to communicate. But, the problem is that there are too many now. When you want to reach somebody, you may have to pick between 3 or 4 phone numbers. As a function of unified communications, a key piece of the puzzle is to try and reduce the options down to a single phone number, which then intelligently routes to the user. Vendors are making strides toward that goal with varying strategies for how to simultaneously ring the desk and cell phone, or methods to leverage wireless network capabilities in the office, but route to cellular when the phone is out of range. I think we’re getting there. Check out Two Options for Cellular Mobile Unified Communications for more analysis of the emerging and evolving solutions for this communications dilemma.
Evangelyze, a Microsoft Gold Partner, was recently awarded the Microsoft Partner Program, Unified Communications Competency Specialization. The Evangelyze team has been working with Microsoft product, marketing, and research teams since the initial release of Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2003. By providing global readiness, training, marketing, and research, Evangelyze has been recognized as a Unified Communications leading partner and is also nominated for the Unified Communications Partner of the Year Award for 2008, to be presented at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, Texas July 7th, 2008. The Founder and Executive Director of Evangelyze, Joe Schurman, is an internationally renowned expert and speaker for VoIP and Unified Communications technologies.
Conference calls don’t always suffice for getting business done. It’s great to get multiple parties on the phone sharing ideas and collaborating on a common goal, but sometimes you need visual aids like charts, graphs, or PowerPoint presentations, and a higher level of communication that can only be achieved face to face. However, in an increasingly global business market, companies tend to have sites and branch offices scattered to all ends of the Earth. Gathering a team together for a face to face meeting can be exorbitantly costly. The airfare, hotel, rental car, and other travel expenses for each person, combined with the lost productivity during the travel time to and from the location all impact the bottom line and make such meetings cost-prohibitive in many cases.
Microsoft has introduced a new tool that may revolutionize those face to face meetings- Roundtable. Roundtable is a webcam on steroids. It captures a panoramic view of all participants sitting around the device and transmits the video feed for others across the campus or around the world to experience as if they were sitting at the table. It also tracks the active speaker in real-time and automatically switches to displaying the individual that is currently speaking. For more details about the product, and a look at how well it worked during testing, take a look at Review: Video Comes Around, from ChannelWeb.
In my last post, I mentioned that the lack of standards and platform interoperability was one of the biggest issues for early adopters of Unified Communications technologies. Microsoft and IBM are two of the biggest players in the Unified Communications arena. Microsoft is aggressively pushing for its share of the Unified Communications pie with their UCC (Unified Communications & Collaboration) tools. IBM, with their Lotus Sametime product, recently announced that they are investing $1 billion in R&D and acquisitions to strengthen their Unified Communications position. However, there are reports that an impromptu discussion at a VoiceCon Orlando session may lead to the two titans working on testing the interoperability of their products. If they manage to organize the testing, a demonstration of the interoperability may be performed at VoiceCon San Francisco this Fall.
At VoiceCon 2008 in Orlando, some of the early adopters of the new unified communications initiatives shared some of the benefits they have experienced as a result of migrating to UC. Some claim reduced communications costs, increased productivity, or faster customer service response times. According to this Network World article, one of the main issues that customers have with UC, particularly these early adopters, is the lack of standards or compatibility between different vendors. With proprietary solutions, early adopters sometimes paint themselves into a corner and may experience reduced value from their UC investment if the platform they choose does not evolve and expand the way the company needs.
Communications have come a long way in the last couple decades. People used to have one phone number. At one point, that was one phone number with no voicemail which meant you either got a hold of the person at their desk, or you didn’t get a hold of that person. Over time, that person has acquired voicemail, email, a mobile phone number, instant messaging. Suddenly, you could communicate with a person almost any time, and almost anywhere…as long as you could figure out which method to use to find them. One of the promising features of Unified Communications in general is the idea of merging the ubiquitous communications methods down to a single client- providing a means for reaching someone any time and anywhere without having to figure out which method to use, and without the receiver having to figure out which device or application to use. Nortel has taken another step in that evolution by providing technologies that bring Unified Communications to the mobile phone by leveraging dual-mode capabilities in some phones to use Wi-Fi networks when in range, and cellular networks when out of range, allowing a single phone number to function both in, and out, of the office. You can learn more by reading this TMCNet article.
Not wanting to be left out of the next big wave in network / office communications, IBM this week announced that they have earmarked $1 Billion (With a ‘B’. The one with 9 zeros after it) for internal development and key strategic acquisitions to enhance and develop their unified communications offerings. I guess they are serious about jumping in to the deep end and taking on Microsoft and Cisco for their share of the UC pie.