Ringing in a New Era in Unified Communications

Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president, Unified Communications Group

SEATTLE, Wash. — Sept. 22, 2008 —Last October, Microsoft unveiled its unified communications (UC) platform. Just 12 months later, the solution is in use by more than half of Fortune 500 companies. PressPass caught up with Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of the Unified Communications Group at Microsoft, to discuss user adoption over the past 12 months and get a sneak peek into what customers can expect down the pike.

PressPass: What’s driving demand for Microsoft’s UC platform?

Pall: Businesses are purchasing UC from Microsoft because they recognize the clear-cut benefits of a cohesive solution versus one that cobbles together multiple, disparate point technologies. The seamless integration between Exchange Server 2007 and Office Communications Server 2007 provides customers with what we call “the power of one” – one infrastructure and one user experience that really gets behind and supports their business processes and drives powerful return on investment (ROI).

PressPass: Why should customers prefer an integrated product set over rival offerings that stitch together multiple systems?

Pall: Selling unified communications like a puzzle that customers need to assemble and configure themselves runs counter to the whole concept of unified communications. Our competitors are offering, in effect, an “un-unified” communications system. The risk for customers is that a patchwork system is slower to roll out, harder to train people on and more expensive to manage and maintain – resulting in a dramatically lower ROI.

By contrast, our unified communications is just that: “unified.” Deployment can be ramped up extremely rapidly with deeper reach into the organization by promoting wider user adoption. Businesses reduce costs – an all-important consideration in today’s financial climate. Our customers tell us that our system slashes their overall telephony costs by 30 to 60 percent, with their long distance charges reduced by up to 76 percent, and almost one-third sliced off their mobile telephony overhead. Those are some pretty compelling economics.

Consider the following case in point: a European university began installing Office Communications Server during the summer break in August. By the end of September when students and professors returned, instant messaging, video conferencing and voice technology were fully operational across campus. Now, professors, researchers and students can more easily communicate with each other from their office computers, mobile phones and home or dorm-room laptops. Across campus, there are richer discussions and more frequent contact through words and images without incurring higher communication costs for the university.

PressPass: How has being an actual end-user of Office Communications Server (OCS) affected your engineering strategy and vision?

Pall: I have the privilege of viewing our unified communications offerings from the standpoint of being a customer as well as through the lens of a product engineer. Today at Microsoft, 130,000 people – our employees, contractors, and partners – are using OCS in their everyday work, including over 34,000 people and counting who have been liberated from the PBX and the yoke of network-centric legacy telephony. Our IT department projects that we’ll shave $11 million off our annual telephony costs over the next two years alone.

Being a user has driven home the point that the key to getting unified communications right is ensuring that the technology adapts to your needs versus you having to adapt to the technology. There is a big disjoin between the feature checkboxes on a Request for Proposals (RFP) document and what people actually use. Regardless of where you are or what you are doing, your unified communications experience should work for you; it should facilitate and enable what you want to do and provide a gratifying user experience. Being a user has reaffirmed this conviction, which has been the guiding principle of our engineering effort since its inception.

PressPass: Does your emphasis on ‘the power of one’ mean that customers have to get their UC platform from one vendor?

Pall: From day one, we’ve had a strong focus on interoperability; it’s at the heart of our value proposition and our “VoIP as You Are” campaign. Interoperability is important because it gives customers a richer choice as to how they deploy unified communications and enables them to get the most from their current investments.

We’re working closely with partners like Nortel and Mitel and competitors, such as IBM and Cisco, to ensure customers’ interoperability requirements are met. We’re making tremendous progress already – there are now 12 companies offering 18 qualified gateway supported configurations with Office Communications Server, up from five companies with such offerings a year ago (see http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/office/ocs/bb735838.aspx).

PressPass: What can we expect next from Microsoft in Unified Communications?

Pall: Because our technology and user experience are based on one infrastructure, we’re uniquely positioned to offer a holistic approach to unified communications, connecting these exciting new capabilities with actual business processes. Essentially this gives us a license to usher in a new era in unified communications. For example, we’re exploring ways to infuse unified communications into new business applications, workflow technologies and content management.

In addition, customers should look for more focus on mobility, spanning mobile messaging and mobile telephony. They should also expect to see more comprehensive conferencing solutions than before and the ability to extend OCS telephony beyond remote and mobile workers. Finally, we’ll keep investing in technologies that reduce the burden for IT professionals, freeing up this precious resource for higher-order strategic work that drives business value.

PressPass: Is there a new release on the horizon?

Pall: In the coming months, you’ll be hearing more about Office Communications Server 2007 Release 2, which is an important release that validates our software-based approach to UC and the ability it gives us to nimbly innovate and deliver new features and enhancements quickly. It’s an agility that vendors pushing network PBX-based solutions simply cannot match. We’ll be sharing more details on this new release at VoiceCon Amsterdam in mid-October.

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