Convergence has seen three basic waves of change. The first wave combined voice and data traffic on backbone networks. Later, IP PABXs allowed for that traffic to be combined at the server level. The final wave, represented by unified communications, integrates voice with other communication methods and data at the application level.
Unified communications is about people-centric, rather than device-centric, communication. Too often, users find themselves tethered to multiple devices for different communication modes - computer for email, phone for voicemail and so on. In discussions with customers, we consistently hear that they want to wrestle back control of their communications and do everything from a single application or consistent user interface that is convenient to where they are at any given time. In summary, they want to choose how and when they communicate.
Obviously, this poses a key technological and business challenge for customer organisations and, by association, vendors within the wider unified communications ecosystem.
In the first instance, people-centric communications rely on the establishment of a single identity that unifies the entire corporate directory, including usernames, PABX extensions, email addresses and logons. Many administrators already have this via an existing Active Directory service, which they can extend with new server roles to enable unified messaging. Uniting all the contact information stored in Active Directory with the ways people communicate essentially creates ‘presence’ or the ability to view people’s availability to determine when is the best time to contact them. Exposing presence is one of the keys to people-centricity.
Premium beverage manufacturer Lion Nathan is one of many Australian companies to deal with such user identity issues. Integrated presence information has helped Lion Nathan IT support teams to improve efficiency and deliver better service to users.
Research published by Harris Interactive shows the average information worker spends 37 minutes per week - more than 30 hours per year - playing phone tag. These same workers receive on average 100 messages per day in up to seven different places. It is no wonder people are looking for a way to put an end to this communications chaos.
Sydney University had a similar experience. Communication was a major issue for the university’s 10,000 employees (about one-third faculty and two-thirds staff), who are spread across multiple locations in different countries. Staff and faculty members needed an efficient way to contact and share information with each other and with colleagues at other universities, but there was no easy way to do that.
Mark Finkelde, technical team lead for the University Exchange Migration Project, acknowledges that bringing all employees together under a single Active Directory structure greatly simplified the messaging environment.
It’s important to remember that unified communications is a journey. Step one is to create a single definition of the user across multiple modes of communication; step two is to use this identity to communicate the person’s presence (or availability) to other third parties; and finally, use a trusted integration partner to bring all the back-end architecture pieces together. With these things firmly in mind, organisations can effectively transcend the chaos and unlock the value of unified communications from day one.
Oscar Trimboli is director of the unified communications business group in Australia and New Zealand. In his position, Trimboli leads Microsoft’s efforts to provide business communications solutions (email, IM, VoIP, unified messaging, audio/video/web conferencing) and platform components. He is responsible for Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft Office Live Meeting and Microsoft Office Communications products and business.