Unified Communications: Click to talk

February 1, 2009  8:41 PM

Introducing OCS 2007 R2

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Microsoft is hosting an official launch event for Office Communications Server 2007 R2, but the actual RTM code is already available. After testing the OCS 2007 R2 Beta for the past few months and deploying it internally, Mike Stacy of Evangelyze Communications recently had an opportunity to do the first real-world deployment for a customer. The implementation involved replacing an existing Shoretel PBX infrastructure. You can check out Mike’s blog for details about the project and the features and benefits that OCS 2007 R2 was able to deliver for this customer. If you’re free Tuesday, be sure to participate in the Microsoft launch event to learn even more about what R2 as to offer.

January 30, 2009  6:21 PM

Business-focused Communications Solutions

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

In a recent ITWorld.com article, Joe Schurman, Founder and CEO of Evangelyze Communications and author of Microsoft Voice and Unified Communications, is quoted as saying “What I like best about Microsoft voice and unified communications is that it includes the ability for developers to build customized, business-focused communications solutions, not just provide a telephony platform. No other voice and UC vendor can compete with this strategy.”

The article, titled Building Business-Focused Communications Solutions, goes on to talk about Schurman’s five must-do tips to get the most out of Microsoft voice and unified communications, as well as some advice on pitfalls to avoid.

January 30, 2009  6:10 PM

Five Trends That Will Drive Unified Communications

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

The battle for unified communications supremacy rages on. The players all recognize that this is a lucrative market segment that will continue to grow and they each want to claim as big a piece of the market as they can.

Networking hardware and IP telephony hardware vendors like Cisco, Nortel, and Avaya have been holding their own and occupy a pretty good chunk of unified communications real estate right now. But, as the power of software-powered voice and the ability to extend and expand functionality with custom applications dawns on the world, Microsoft and IBM will leave those companies in the dust.

Last Spring IBM published a list of the five trends they felt would drive the adoption and growth of unified communications. The list still seems valid today. Here is a summary of those five trends:

  1. Mobile devices and social networking will replace desks, desk phone, and desktop computers. More workers will operate virtually.
  2. Instant messaging and real-time collaboration tools will emerge as the primary communications methods, surpassing email.
  3. Companies will evolve beyond typical voice calls, or even basic click-to-talk functionality of soft phones and instant messaging clients and integrate new voice capabilities into innovative new business processes.
  4. Interoperability and open standards will continue to evolve and help break down barriers between disparate communications systems.
  5. Virtual meetings and conferencing functionality will radically change and transform the way companies conduct such meetings.

January 29, 2009  2:23 PM

Making Unified Communications Work For You

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

According to a recent study companies continue to adopt and invest in unified communications technologies despite the crippled economy. As this ITWorld.com article points out though, companies should also understand the potential of unified communications and design a unified communications system that works for them.

The article, written by Evangelyze Communications Founder and CEO, and author of Microsoft Voice and Unified Communications, Joe Schurman, points out that software-powered voice opens up a whole new world of opportunity. Rather than letting the traditional methods and uses of voice communications dictate business processes, companies can now create communications methods that enhance and expand upon their business processes. Unified Communications enables companies to create new innovative solutions.

Evangelyze Communications, Schurman’s company, has created a suite of products that customers can use to extend their communications capabilities and leverage the power of unified communications to improve business processes. Products like SmartChat, SmartVoIP, SmartSIP, and SmartConference demonstrate some of what is capable by extending the functionality of Microsoft Office Communications Server by developing custom applications. There are also opportunities to customize these applications for specific needs, or simply develop custom solutions specifically for unique customer needs.

The ITWorld.com article, Putting Unified Communications to Work, has some more general insight that companies can benefit from as well. Schurman offers up 4 tips for unified communications success, and the following 3 Classic Mistakes for companies to avoid:

  • Not choosing a partner that understands how to build a solution around your unique business processes. There are a ton of Microsoft partners out there that are Gold Certified, but there are only a handful that know how to create this kind of unique voice and unified communications solution for your organization.
  • Shelling out money too soon. Don’t pay yet! This is new technology, it has to be proven. Microsoft and key partners are offering free consultation and pilots so take advantage of it. If you like what you see, you can then budget a production deployment that will pay for itself within 6 months based on the amount of hard and soft cost savings.
  • Not getting business people involved. Business managers need to be involved so that you can see a clear distinction between what is just technology and what is going to support your unique business process.

January 28, 2009  3:49 PM

Book Review: Microsoft Voice and Unified Communications

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Bottom Line:
Unified Communications is one of those hot, ‘buzzword’ technologies that everyone is talking about and many are adopting, or at least exploring. However, unified communications is also a somewhat ethereal concept with no agreed upon standard for what it actually is, and a playing field that is shifting faster than customers can understand. Unified communications is important and it will transform the way companies communicate and do business so managers need to grasp how to leverage the technologies. Joe Schurman’s book provides understanding that readers need regarding unified communications today, but more importantly it provides insight into the unified communications of tomorrow so that readers can develop strategies that are effective now as well as the near future.

My Review:
Joe Schurman is uniquely suited to write Microsoft Voice and Unified Communications. Schurman has been involved in voice and unified communications technologies virtually since their inception. He has been a successful consultant, speaker, and trainer, focusing on evangelizing Microsoft solutions, for the past 15 years. As the Founder and CEO of Evangelyze Communications, a Microsoft Gold Partner and Voice Premier Partner, Joe continues to be a respected authority in the field and a trusted confidant of Microsoft.

The book is not available today. According to Amazon.com readers can find the book around the end of February. I was fortunate to be able to read the pre-publications drafts and to provide my insight and feedback on the chapter dedicated to VoIP and unified communications security.

The book opens with an excellent overview of the history of telephony and the evolution through VoIP (voice over IP) to SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and other voice protocols, the concept of Presence, and the development of what unified communications is today. Schurman then goes on to talk about the use of VoIP by the consumer market using tools such as Windows Live Messenger, an excellent look at Microsoft’s Response Point phone system for SMB’s, and a discussion of enterprise-class solutions built on Microsoft Unified Communications technologies such as Office Communications Server and Exchange Server.

The book then covers additional topics like integrating collaboration and speech recognition into the unified communications / VoIP environment, and how to customize the solution to extend its capabilities. This is an area that Schurman has intimate knowledge of as his company, Evangelyze Communications, has leveraged the extensibility of Office Communications Server to develop innovative products like SmartChat, and the 2008 Internet Telephony Magazine Product of the Year, SmartVoIP.

Schurman covers more advanced topics like securing and virtualizing unified communications and voice, and a chapter for consultants to help them understand how to sell the unified communications concept to customers.

Unified communications is a quickly evolving technology (or collection of technologies) that businesses around the world are struggling to understand and embrace. Microsoft Voice and Unified Communications is just the title that these readers need to educate themselves on what unified communications can do for them today, but more importantly to position themselves for what unified communications will do for them tomorrow.

Features and Facts:
Microsoft Voice and Unified Communications
Price: $39.99 (available from Amazon.com for $26.39)
Published: Feb 2009, Addison-Wesley Professional
ISBN: 032157995X (ISBN-13: 978-0321579959)
Pages: 288

January 28, 2009  1:16 AM

Driving Business Value With Unified Communications

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

There is an old saying in sales that customers ‘don’t buy the bacon, they buy the sizzle’. In other words, customers are less interested in the nitty gritty details of what a product is or how it works, and primarily interested in what it will do for them. It’s a sort of ‘show me the money’ mentality.

Joe Schurman, Founder and CEO of Evangelyze Communications and author of Microsoft Voice and Unified Communications, talks about this philosophy as it related to unified communications in a recent ITWorld.com article. Schurman writes “The CEO of a company wants to know if he or she is saving money and will be impressed if the solution can integrate into the company’s business strategy…”

Read Driving Business Value with Unified Communications to learn more about the direction of unified communications and how to realize the value of increased efficiency and reduced operating costs rather than focusing on the technology itself.

January 28, 2009  12:27 AM

Unified Communications Defies Economic Trends

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

You have probably noticed that the economy isn’t doing so hot. Microsoft announced the first round of job cuts in the company’s history. Tens of thousands more job cuts were announced just this week from trusted and reliable entities such as Home Depot and Sprint. Companies that aren’t cutting employees are still freezing salaries, shelving projects, and looking for ways to cut costs.

Fortunately for unified communications, investing in a unified communications project is a pathway to reducing operational expenses and cutting costs. Perhaps that explains why companies that have stopped spending on everything from travel to paper clips are still considering investments in unified communications.

A CDW survey of 766 unified communications IT professionals found that 61% of the respondents feel that unified communications allows their organization to accomplish more with less and increase productivity while reducing costs. Implementation is ongoing for 20% of the respondents, and 33% report that they are actively planning for imminent deployment projects. Combined with the 6% who reported a complete unified communications deployment is already in place, that means that 59% of the respondents either have, or are still actively pursuing unified communications even with the faltering economy.

January 28, 2009  12:08 AM

Microsoft Case Study of SmartChat

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Springhouse Education and Consulting Services offers technology training and project management consulting. Springhouse worried that some visitors to its Web site might be in too much of a hurry to use the contact form to ask questions. The company also wanted to reduce response time for customers who did make contact. Springhouse installed SmartChat—a Web-chat application developed by Evangelyze Communications using Microsoft® ASP.NET—that integrates with the company’s existing Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 environment. SmartChat uses presence awareness and automatic routing to connect customers with appropriate company representatives to answer their questions. Salespeople receiving instant messages through SmartChat see customers’ browsing and ordering history. With the new solution, Springhouse has streamlined its sales process and improved customer service. To learn more about Springhouse’s experience with SmartChat and how this innovative product can benefit your company as well, check out the complete Microsoft Case Study.

January 27, 2009  4:08 PM

Unified Communications, Step by Step

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

In the February 2009 issue of Redmond Magazine there is a feature article I authored on unified communications. The article, Unified Communications, Step by Step, discusses strategies for implementing unified communications. It talks about the modularity of unified communications components and taking the project one phase at a time, and covers a few specific scenarios as examples of how to approach a unified communications deployment. The concepts are fairly vendor-agnostic, but the scenarios and examples are Microsoft-centric such as how to build on Exchange 2007 SP1 or OCS 2007 to add unified communications functionality one step at a time.

January 26, 2009  6:27 PM

Avaya Muddies the UC Waters

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Unified communications is a hot technology. It is all the rage and businesses around the world are scrambling to understand what it is and what it means for them. Will unified communications deliver value? I suppose that could depend on how you define unified communications. As of yet, there is no agreed upon standard per se for what components make up unified communications.

It is generally agreed upon that unified communications should ‘unify’ different types of communications. Ultimately, a single client with a single inbox that can be reached from any communications source would seem to be the goal. Unified communications may mean combining email and voicemail, establishing presence, instant messaging, online audio/video conferencing, and more.

Avaya is one of the big players in the UC market. Their marketing use of the term ‘unified communications’ for their Unified Communications for Small Business product line may be confusing to businesses trying to understand UC though. The product line does integrate some unified communications functionality, but is primarily unified telephony- delivering a converged method of making and receiving phone calls combining office phones, mobile phones, and PC based softphones.

The communications bundles offered by Avaya are solid products and certainly have the potential to provide value for customers. I’m just not sure that the term ‘unified communications’ applies to all of them and think it is unwise of Avaya to muddy the waters and confuse customers about what unified communications really is.

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