Collaboration and communication drive user frenzy over unified communications package

Solution provider Allstream met feverish demand for its collaboration platform for unified communications that lets customers improve time to market.

MTS Allstream Inc. hit the jackpot when it set out to deploy unified communications for internal use and, simultaneously, as a service offered to its customers.

The Canada-based solutions provider needed a collaborative communications platform to let geographically dispersed employees do their jobs just as though they were sitting at their own desks. Also, cell phone costs were through the roof because of high international calling rates and all too frequent hour-long conference calls.

It turns out Allstream wasn't the only company needing to solve its communication problems. The solution provider claims this quarter it's seeing a "monster level of adoption" of its Allstream Collaboration Suite (ACS). Allstream customers are in Canada as well as several other international locations.

"[Demand] is not just huge. It's beyond huge," said Angela Hlavka, vice president, strategic solution development, for MTS Allstream. She also noted that demand is currently outpacing supply. "We are using every resource in our whole group; we are buried in orders and wondering how it is we are going to make it happen."

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Read about a VAR that gained a 30 percent productivity boost by using UC.
Hlavka attributes the recent surge in adoption to the simultaneous completion of several sales cycles that Allstream's customers were undergoing for the past six to mine months. Moreover, because several more customers are in the pipeline, she doesn't expect demand to let up any time soon.

Allstream Collaboration Suite is based on several Microsoft real-time collaboration technologies, which are integrated in a hosted platform. The technologies included are hosted Microsoft Live Meeting, which makes it so you can collaborate with others on a project without leaving your desk; hosted Microsoft Live Communications Server, which provides secure instant messaging, audio/video conferencing and application and document sharing capabilities; hosted Microsoft Exchange; and hosted Microsoft SharePoint, which facilitates team-oriented Web sites for information and document sharing.

The Allstream suite also includes journaling and archiving; dual-factor security with antivirus and antispam protection; non-stop mail; information rights management; enterprise BlackBerry services; and support for Microsoft Windows mobile-enabled devices.

Delivering a business benefit to Allstream's stream of customers

ACS has already delivered key benefits to Homes by Avi. For instance, team members can now talk to each other -- face to face -- without ever getting on a plane. All the while, it brings people closer and fosters that in-person feeling that they weren't getting via phone or email. Staff members conduct video conferences with people in the company's show homes and sales centers, without ever leaving their offices. Homes by Avi has even been able to improve technology support with a feature that gives support professionals access to every employee's desktop computer, no matter where that employee is physically located.

Another ACS user, a hotel called Delta Calgary South, has contained its operational costs by updating its aging Exchange-based architecture and outsourcing a collaborative platform that would offer more than basic email functions. With access to a fully-mature Voice over IP service (VoIP) network, the hotel has minimized its per-minute telephony costs and it can now redeploy its IT staff away from mundane operational tasks toward other pressing technology needs. Hotel staff can now also securely access a full range of messaging functions, including email and instant messaging, from a single, easy-to-use interface.

For its part, leader of the pack Allstream needed to address issues raised from being such a geographically dispersed company. The company had bought several companies during the dot-com era with a variety of international locations.

"Travel and telecom are our biggest expenses. So if we're using a cell phone, it is expensive," Hlavka said.

Allstream now uses Live Meeting to conduct a conference that costs nothing because it is pc to pc, whereas employees had been paying about $5 per minute on each cell call.

The suite offers application sharing, video and audio to video at no cost. Furthermore, if part of the team is traveling in Europe, but some are located back in Canada, the presence in Instant Messaging (IM) reveals where that person is and what time they will be available.

"The presence information and timeliness has moved up our deliverables considerably, reduced travel cost and decreased time to market for our customers," said Hlavka.

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