Unified Communications: Click to talk

March 19, 2009  12:51 AM

SmartSIP Provides Exciting Possibilities for OCS 2007 R2

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

When Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 (OCS 2007 R2) was unveiled in February of this year, it signaled the beginning of the end for the PBX or IP PBX. That is just my opinion I suppose, but it at least signaled proverbial dropping of the gloves as Microsoft moves forward with plans to make the PBX obsolete.

One of the features of OCS 2007 R2 which signal the first step toward killing off the PBX is the ability to do direct SIP trunking- connecting a VoIP provider directly to OCS 2007 R2 without the need for a PBX appliance between them. This is good news, but not great news. The reason it is not great news is that Microsoft only has partnerships with two VoIP providers, severely limiting the potential of the direct SIP trunking feature.

That is where SmartSIP comes in. Evangelyze Communications,  a global voice and unified communications products and professional services organization that specializes in Microsoft Unified Communications IP telephony products and services, has developed a suite of custom tools that extend the functionality of Microsoft OCS and open new possibilities for unified communications. One of those tools is SmartSIP.

According to a recent blog post from Mike Stacy, Director of Services for Evangelyze Communications, SmartSIP “will allow you to connect OCS with virtually any SIP system – TCP or UDP.  The most common use is to connect a Mediation server to a customer’s existing ITSP, but it can also connect to other IP gateways, SBCs, IP PBXs, etc.”

The product is still in Beta now with the first release scheduled for April. Stacy’s blog post thought talks about the excitement that SmartSIP is generating in the field, and some of the innovative solutions that are possible with SmartSIP like the ability to provide failover redundancy for the VoIP connection, or saving a 350-user company over $90,000 on their unified communications implementation.

Check out Mike Stacy’s blog for more details, and check out the Evangelyze Communications site for more about SmartSIP and the other tools available such as SmartChat and SmartVoIP.

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March 16, 2009  6:07 PM

Microsoft OCS 2010 Will Eliminate PBX

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

If you have been following unified communications and the evolution of Microsoft’s Office Communications Server, it is probably not a surprise to you to learn that Microsoft intends for the next major release of Office Communications Server to entirely eliminate the need for an enterprise to have a PBX for voice communication.

In my recent Reality Check podcast on the SearchUnifiedCommunications site, we talked about whether VoIP is a necessary piece of a unified communications deployment and one of the things that was discussed on the podcast was whether or not organizations still need to invest in a PBX with Microsoft OCS 2007 R2.

The answer right now is ‘it depends’. However, according to a quote pulled from Microsoft documentation and highlighted in a recent blog post, Microsoft is apparently moving from rumor and innuendo and on to talking openly about the strategy of Office Communications Server, the next version will apparently be dubbed ‘OCS 2010’, and the elimination of the PBX from the voice communications infrastructure.

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March 15, 2009  6:03 PM

The Culture of Unified Communications

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Unified communications is more than the sum of the technology components that make it up. Unified communication is about shifting the focus and being able to implement or develop innovative communications techniques that support and enhance business processes. Unified communications is about improving efficiency and increasing the productivity of users. Unified communications is about developing new synergies by enabling collaboration and cooperation.

Unified communications is many things. Above all of those things though, unified communications is a culture. In order to realize the efficiency and productivity benefits, and in order to leverage unified communications to enhance business processes and foster new synergies, the users have to embrace the unified communications culture.

A recent CIO.com article illustrated the fact that unified communications is a journey and not just an implementation project. The article talks about looking beyond the underlying technologies and ensuring that there is a solid strategy and business processes designed to leverage the unified communications technologies.

I would go one step farther and say that end-user training is a paramount consideration for organizations that want to truly embrace unified communications. Implementing new technologies is just an expense until the users understand how to use them effectively. To ensure that your unified communications implementation yields the results you are looking for, invest in end-user training and adopt a unified communications culture to go with the unified communications technology.

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March 15, 2009  2:25 PM

Want Stimulus? Get Unified Communications

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Pssst. Over here. Keep this just between us, ok? The global economy is trashed. Shhhh.

If you haven’t heard, the United States and the rest of the world are in a recession bordering on depression. In the United States unemployment is the highest its been in decades. The stock market is the lowest it has been in years. The federal and state governments are scrambling to find solutions and turn things around.

President Barack Obama and the United States federal government have put forth a stimulus / recovery package to help get things back on track. Businesses that are looking for ways to cut costs and increase the bottom line can create their own stimulus package by investing in unified communications.

Making the move from traditional voice to VoIP has a number of cost advantages that could represent significant savings for many companies. For some companies though, one of the biggest expenses is travel. Flying people for onsite meetings involves airfare, rental cars, hotel lodging, per diem dining at restaurants, and more.

Companies can minimize, or even eliminate, those expenses by embracing unified communications and leveraging the conferencing functionality. Unified communications makes it simple to schedule and host a voice conference call. If documents or images need to be shared, a Live Meeting or similar collaboration session can be used to enable participants to see each other’s computer desktops. For situations where face to face meetings are desired video conferencing can accomplish virtually the same goal at a fraction of the cost.

Do your part to turn the economy around by investing in unified communications and creating your own stimulus package.

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March 15, 2009  1:05 PM

Reality Check: Can You Have UC Without VoIP?

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Unified communications is a hot concept that seems to be growing despite the economic woes being experienced around the globe. Even with UC being everywhere you look though, there is still confusion by some organizations exploring the idea about what UC even is.

Voice is obviously a huge component of any business communications strategy, and it plays a significant role in unified communications as well. But, is voice a requirement? Or, more specifically is VoIP a requirement for implementing UC?

Each month TechTarget’s SearchUnifiedCommunications site does a podcast on a unified communications topic titled Reality Check. I appeared as a guest on last month’s podcast and was interviewed by SearchUnifiedCommunications Associate Editor Elaine Hom. We talked about the general concept of unified communications, and we dove deeper into whether or not VoIP is a requirement of unified communications, as well as the recently released Office Communications Server 2007 R2 and whether or not organizations really need to have an IP PBX any longer.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking here.

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March 12, 2009  4:57 AM

Making a Case for VoIP

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

As a consumer I have used VoIP for almost 5 years. I have been with Vonage in three different houses in two different states separated by 1300 plus miles. While I didn’t take advantage of it when moving from Michigan to Texas (seemed like people might get confused by a ‘248’ area code in Houston), the fact is that I could have kept my phone number. The Internet is the Internet. As long as I have a broadband connection Vonage can route my call to me whether I am in Michigan, Texas, or New Zealand.

Cost is another factor. I was paying my local phone company for basic service, then paying additional money for long distance service (plus the per-minute calling charges), and adding nickel-and-dime costs for features like voicemail or caller ID. With VoIP I got everything for one flat fee. Again, with the Internet being  the Internet, it really doesn’t matter if I call my next door neighbor or a long-lost relative in Zurich. There isn’t any local and long distance. Some consumer VoIP providers haven’t gotten that memo though. My cable company offers ‘digital voice’ and charges per minute for long distance. No, thank you.

As it turns out, cost savings and number portability are also two of many compelling reasons for using VoIP for business telephony. The ability to develop custom tools and expand the functionality of voice communications to meet business needs is another great reason. Microsoft has made it exceptionally easy by letting organizations start with what they have and leverage their existing investment rather than replacing everything. Why isn’t every business moving to VoIP already?

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March 7, 2009  4:13 PM

UC Myths and Realities

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Unified communications is a hot technology. In this abysmal economy unified communications is one area that seems to be defying the downward trend and continues to grow. Even enterprises with limited and declining budgets can see the upside value in investing in unified communications and its ability to help employees work more efficiently, cut costs, and improve productivity.

That said, there are myths floating around about UC as well. Some myths oversell or overhype what UC is capable of, and some myths are at the other end of the spectrum inflating the complexity and costs of implementing UC and scaring enterprises away.

A recent article in Phone+ Magazine discusses a presentation by Duncan Potter,  vice president for world marketing of VAD Westcon, titled ‘UC: Myths vs. Realities’. Potter said “UC in general has been so overhyped, as if it will solve all the problems on the planet. We’ve tried to get it down to some hard numbers.” Take a look at the article to read the five misconceptions about UC that Potter feels are most prevalent.

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February 25, 2009  3:01 PM

Enabling and Evangelyze Forge Partnership

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Enabling Technologies and Evangelyze Communications have announced a comprehensive sales, marketing, and consulting agreement. The partnership combines the strengths of each in a complementary fashion that makes the resulting union greater than the sum of its parts.

Competitors have reason for concern, and customers have reason to be excited. The partnership extends the reach of both companies, enabling them both to expand the reach of the Microsoft Unified Communications platform and provide effective collaboration, improved productivity, reduced time to market, and increased efficiency.

The combination of established leaders to deliver these unified communications solutions is formidable. The innovative pilot programs enable organizations to test out Microsoft Unified Communications at no cost (or very little cost in some cases) to them, and custom development solutions such as SmartChat, SmartVoIP, and SmartSIP extend the functionality of the Microsoft Unified Communications platform and enable organizations to maximize the value of their UC investment even farther.

For more information, check out the official press release.

February 25, 2009  2:32 PM

Cost Savings Drives UC Adoption by SMB’s

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

ROI is generally at or near the top of the checklist when trying to determine if a given project should be approved. Of course, the project may make workers more efficient, it may improve logistics or increase the speed at which products or services can be delivered to customers, or it may just be really cool. But, where the rubber meets the road is translating that efficiency, speed, or productivity into dollars and comparing it against the initial investment to determine if it is really worth it.

Recent studies by Siemens and bMighty help to illustrate just how significant that ROI is and how quickly the initial investment can be recovered when implementing unified communications. Interestingly, the Siemens study also found that SMB’s have the same top 6 pain points (listed in the same order of priority) as large enterprises when it comes to unified communications.

Looking at the big picture and doing the math “the study says 70% of SMBs have dealt with the top five pain points, rendering an average of 17.5 hours per week per knowledge worker into “unproductive” work time. This costs an average of $26,041 per knowledge worker per year, or $5,246 per employee per year.”

Comparing that with an average unified communications implementation cost of $225 per worker, a company with only 50 employees could see cost savings of over $250,000 in the first year. The cost of deploying unified communications will vary largely depending on the vendor that is chosen and the current state of the organization’s communications and data infrastructures, but for a company of only 50 people it is almost certain to be significantly less than $250,000.

Say the company has 250 employees? Suddenly that $250,000 in savings becomes over $1.3 million. If an investment in unified communications can save a 250-person company $1.3 million per year I think the next questions should be ‘when can we start, and how soon can we get UC up and running?’

February 22, 2009  10:04 PM

Defining ROI with UC-B

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

UC-B is apparently a term coined by Blair Pleasant (and others at UCStrategies.com), President and Principal Analyst for COMMfusion Unified Communications. In this SearchUnifiedCommunications.com article she talks about how communications-enabled business processes (CEBP) will be the driving force behind the success of unified communications.

Pleasant explains that she perceive two types of unified communications: UC-U (user-oriented unified communications) and UC-B (business-oriented unified communications). “UC-U is nice to have, but it’s UC-B where the ROI really comes in,” Pleasant said.

I couldn’t agree more. One of the primary advantages of unified communications is the extensibility of the platform and the ability to create custom communications solutions. Traditionally, businesses have had to conform their business processes to the limited capabilities provided by their communications systems. Now, organizations can design business processes that maximize their efficiency and productivity and develop custom communications solutions that fit their needs.

This article mentions some development that BT has done to customize the functionality of Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 (OCS 2007) for their customers. Evangelyze Communications is a leader in this aream having developed an entire suite of products around the extensibility of OCS 2007 and OCS 2007 R2. SmartChat, SmartVoIP, SmartSIP, and others enable organizations to expand the functionality of Microsoft Unified Communications and leverage ‘UC-B’ to maximize their ROI.

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