New Microsoft Office Offerings Bring Enhanced Powers of Collaboration to Information Workers

Editor’s Update, Oct. 31, 2003 —
A portion of this article devoted to Lockheed Martin’s use of Live Communications Server has been updated to correct use of the company’s name and to correct the number of Lockheed Martin employees to whom Live Communications Server is currently deployed.

REDMOND, Wash., Oct., 16, 2003 — When the mosquito-borne West Nile virus reached Minnesota last year, public health officials there faced a challenge that’s becoming all too familiar to healthcare experts everywhere. In a world of sometimes sudden and baffling medical crises, these experts need to collaborate quickly and easily across great distances. In particular, the Minnesota officials needed a way to rapidly spread preparedness and post-outbreak information to doctors and veterinarians across the region, preferably without the inefficiencies of travel.

In the business world, lives are rarely at stake, but smooth collaboration among workers can make the difference in winning a contract or getting a product to market in time. At aeronautics giant Lockheed Martin, collaboration is a way of life for project teams, but company officials say it presents special challenges for team members working in different cities, or even on different continents.

The launch of the new Microsoft Office System next week will bring greatly enhanced powers of collaboration and communication to organizations with a pair of distinct but complementary offerings: Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2003 provides enterprise instant messaging, or IM, and “presence” — the ability to tell whether someone is online and available; Microsoft Office Live Meeting offers a simple, low-cost solution for Web conferencing and collaboration.

Microsoft Office System launches worldwide Oct. 21. Both offerings will form part of its family of productivity programs, servers and services.

“Collaboration isn’t just meeting with a whole bunch of people; it’s getting input, getting mindshare,” says Amit Mital, Microsoft’s general manager of Live Meeting. “It’s very difficult to put a cost on that — the brain power that you can get into a problem.”

Live Meeting Cuts Costs of Travel, Enhances Virtual Seminars

Live Meeting takes the hassle out of Web conferencing. Because it’s a fully hosted service, there’s no need to install servers in order to share content and applications.

Armed with only a phone, computer and an Internet connection, geographically dispersed participants can attend virtual meetings, trainings, presentations or other online events — be they enlistees in the war on infectious diseases, or simply trying to speed a new product to market.

For Stephanie Teasley, a research associate professor at the University of Michigan who helped deliver the seminars about West Nile virus last year, the ease of use and accessibility were invaluable. By comparison, face-to-face trainings would have added travel expense and wasted their most precious of resources — time. Even setting up teleconferences at short notice often was fraught with bureaucratic roadblocks.

In the end, Teasley and the team of West Nile experts decided to use Live Meeting — then called PlaceWare Conference Center, prior to Microsoft’s acquisition of PlaceWare Inc. this year. Teasley already had used the technology to help deliver virtual seminars on AIDS and during the 2001 anthrax crisis.

“It went very well,” says Teasley. “In terms of the technology for delivering it, it was unbelievable and really pretty darn easy.”

The events on West Nile drew up to 200 participants, she says. An hour-long virtual seminar on anthrax in 2001 drew 905 participants. A national training on anthrax drew 350 people at 48 sites in nine states.

For Teasley, who studies geographically distributed collaborations at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, the experience underscored the importance of teamwork.

“The scale and scope of the science is increasingly demanding collaboration,” she says. “Science is just too big for people to do it themselves in their labs.”

Users say Live Meeting’s familiar interface, based on the Microsoft Windows operating system, and abundant new features make for intuitive navigating, easy managing of interactivity and content, and greater flexibility in presentations. That means fewer talking heads, and more varied and interesting ways to view Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, slides and graphics, as well as give feedback via a chat feature and a question/answer manager.

Teasley says these features made the trainings more engaging and productive. During the bioterrorism seminars, for instance, many of the researchers had no experience of what symptoms to look for in a smallpox victim, something the Live Meeting presentation allowed them to observe. “That’s what we were delivering, and that’s what you wouldn’t get using your traditional (teleconferencing),” she says.

Live Meeting also offers a kind of permanence rarely, if ever, found in face-to-face events. If they want, users can store content, notes and annotations from a presentation for as long as they need. That way, the virtual conference center is just the way they left it when they return to give the same presentation again or collaborate with colleagues.

Like other forms of virtual collaboration, Live Meeting saves on the wear, tear and expense of business travel — an activity deemed less desirable than time in the dentist’s chair by more than two-thirds of business travelers, according to an Insight Express survey released last month, which queried more than 600 U.S. business professionals on their current attitudes toward business travel. (See “Business People Liken Stress of Travel to Trip to Dentist, According to New Survey Released by Microsoft,” link at right.)

At San Rafael, Calif.-based Autodesk, Live Meeting has transformed the way company consultants train resellers on its design software. Until a couple of years ago, trainers routinely spent two to three days on the road — often with work stations in tow — prior to the launch of a new product.

Then the company decided it was time for an experiment: How would its partners respond to receiving technical, sales and marketing training in two-hour increments over the Internet using Live Meeting?

The experiment worked. The company reached 90 percent of its resellers in 200-plus locations in the United States and Canada — “more than we had ever reached prior, using less money and in a shorter amount of time,” says Heather MacKenzie, event planner at Autodesk.

Even those who resisted the idea at first apparently warmed to it later, since only about 20 people showed up for face-to-face trainings designed to back up the online offerings, MacKenzie says.

These days, the company does about half its overall training using Live Meeting. For its resellers, the proportion is higher. “We back everything up online, because our resellers can’t afford to get out of the office,” MacKenzie says. “There’s a chance they’re losing sales because they’re not in the office taking calls.”

Live Meeting is well suited to such e-learning and marketing events with a virtual element, says Mital. “You actually can give people control of the new software without them even having it on their computer,” he says. “I can show it and share it with you without you having it on your end.”

That’s a more powerful way of generating leads than going out into the field, according to MacKenzie. “It extends your reach,” she says.

In addition to the ease of use, what sets Live Meeting apart from the competition is its security, reliability and scalability.

Live Meeting offers 128-bit encryption and nine layers of security to all customers. According to Mital, it also offers 99.99 percent reliability. Because of its scalability —- the system’s ability to grow with the needs of the user’s environment — Live Meeting also allows organizations to host thousands of meetings of up to 2,500 people at a time.

Live Communications Server Makes Teamwork Tighter, Communication More Secure

Company officials at Lockheed Martin say they’re always looking for new solutions to streamline communication and collaboration. To that end, Lockheed Martin became an early adopter of Live Communications Server (LCS) to experience, first hand, the capabilities of LCS. LCS is deployed to approximately 2,500 global employees.

In addition to enterprise IM with up to 32 people simultaneously, Live Communications Server enables “presence” — the visual equivalent of a dial tone that lets workers see who is online and whether they are available.

That’s especially useful at companies like Lockheed Martin, where Microsoft Office is already the standard business productivity application suite. Integrated presence allows workers to see which of their team members are online and instantly communicate with them, without leaving the particular application they are working in — for example, Microsoft Word, Excel or Outlook.

Microsoft industry partners can customize and build their own live communications solutions on the platform, including chat, video conferencing and audio conferencing.

“Live Communications Server is the collaboration backbone that enables all of the real-time collaboration features in Office to work,” says Gurdeep Singh Pall, general manager for the Live Communications Group at Microsoft.

“Customers have been asking for tools to enhance collaboration so their employees work better together, and IT departments have been asking for an enterprise-grade IM solution with encryption, logging, archiving, and easy management tools,” Pall says. “With Live Communications Server, we are meeting both sets of needs.”

Aliant Inc., another early adopter of Live Communications Server, says the platform is helping to save travel time and money. The company delivers a wide range of communications services, including telephony, wireless, Internet and e-commerce, from its home base in the four Maritime provinces of northeastern Canada.

Rick Strong, senior IT architect for Aliant Inc., uses the IM and presence features of Live Communications Server to work together on documents and PowerPoint presentations with colleagues in other locations four to five times per day.

“There’s the ability to exchange control (of applications) back and forth,” Strong says. “There’s the ability to jointly author documents.”

Strong says that what he calls the “secondary information processing” made possible by IM and presence is reducing unplanned phone calls and use of voicemail at the company. “When on conference calls or in work sessions, I quite frequently have side conversations (using IM) going on at the same time, rather than running out of meetings to answer cell phone calls,” he says.

IM and presence are available at most of Aliant’s 6,500 desktops, and soon will be available on all, Strong says. Two-thirds of employees have begun using it in the past few months, with about 20,000 instant messages being sent per day, he says.

Strong cites the increased security of Live Communications Server as a big plus. With earlier IM solutions, as with consumer-oriented services, messages between employees traveled over the Internet. “But they’re all internal now, so our security group is more at ease,” Strong says.

The ability to monitor IM traffic is vital to businesses in the financial and pharmaceutical industries that need to be able to track and archive all communications for legal compliance reasons.

Aliant plans to develop some novel, tightly integrated solutions on the platform after the launch of the Microsoft Office 2003. For example, technical support workers will be able to troubleshoot by sending an instant message. If necessary, they can request to do an application share, allowing them to assist remotely or take control of a customer’s desktop.

Also in the works at Aliant is a portal service that will allow workers to personalize their own Web sites and include their own “watch lists,” so they can see if their team members are online and available. Co-workers developing documents and presentations online will be able to see the author’s name and a “presence” indicator at the bottom of their computer screen. By simply clicking on the name and sending an instant message, the author, if present, will be able to respond and collaborate.

Demand for collaboration tools like Live Communications Server is expected to grow, if current trends continue, Microsoft officials say. The same is true of Live Meeting, which was introduced Sept. 15. The approximately 4,000 businesses using Live Meeting include eight of the top 10 Fortune 100 financial services companies, six of the top 10 high-tech companies, and seven each of the top 10 professional services and pharmaceutical companies, Mital says. They logged a combined 5 million hours of usage of Live Meeting in 2002. That number is expected to reach well past that this year, Mital says. “For the folks that realize how much meetings really cost and how painful face-to-face presentations really are, using a solution like this is just a no brainer,” he says.

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