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One step closer to unified communications

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Unified communications on the desktop have come one step closer to reality, with Microsoft showing technology solutions that deliver all forms of communication to a single desktop, while making it available to users from just about any device. 

The company will release its Office Communications Server next week, but yesterday demonstrated how it fits togeher with Office Communication 2007, Exchange Server 2007 SP1 and Office Live Meeting to offer seamless unified communications.
Unified communication helps businesses streamline business communications, increase productivity and lower costs by bringing together all the various streams of communication – phone, email, fax, instant messaging and SMS – on a single device, usually the PC.
Office Communications Server 2007 delivers voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and unified communications in a way that significantly reduces costs compared to legacy systems. Together with Office Communicator 2007, it will provide communications capabilities like presence, software-powered VoIP, Web conferencing, and enterprise instant messaging. This will streamline communications, making it easier for people to collaborate and access the information necessary for informed and timely decisions.
Technology researcher IDC estimates that the market size for worldwide unified communications in 2007 is about $4,8-billion. By 2011 it is expected to increase to $14,5-billion.
Cyril Belikoff, Information Worker executive at Microsoft SA, predicts that in just three years, the average voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) solution for business will cost half what it does today, as VoIP systems move from hardware to software.
In the same time frame, he says, 100-million people across the world – twice the number of current business VoIP users – will have the ability to make phone calls from Microsoft Office applications.
“Enterprise communications is increasingly being driven by software," says Belikoff. “Microsoft’s unified communications software works across the applications and devices people know and use every day. This means that customers will save time and money by streamlining communications and improving operations through software, and not hardware.
"Additionally, partners can benefit from the open software platform because it allows for rapid innovation, increased customer choice, lower costs and a flexible foundation for future communication needs.”
Microsoft’s approach is a software platform – built around a shared directory and presence – that can streamline communications across the phone, email, instant messaging, and conferencing. Software opens the doors to a closed network-centric model, improves workplace communication, fuels new economic opportunities, expands choice, and lowers costs.
"The fact that no “rip and replace” of existing telephony equipment is required will allow many customers to benefit from what they previously thought was futuristic and cost-prohibitive technology,” says Belikoff.
“Customers will really be surprised about what is actually now possible within realistic budgets with Office Communications Server 2007. As a result, we believe that we are on the verge of broad adoption of Enterprise Instant Messaging and Presence in the next 12-18 months and adoption of Voice over IP telephony over the next three years.”
Belikoff says Microsoft’s approach has been that enterprise communications shouldn’t exclude the mobile phone, which is why Communicator Mobile comes as additional software with Office Communications Server.  With Communicator Mobile, people can use a Windows Mobile smartphone to view presence status and click-to-communicate, IM or email, almost as if they were sitting at their desks.  
“We believe people should be able to use their PCs to work from anywhere, and with these products, that includes using VoIP anywhere and on any network. With Communications Server, your desk phone goes everywhere you go, so you can take and place VoIP calls, join video and web conferences, and IM or email from anywhere you have an Internet connection with your PC.”
Areas where customers can achieve a return on their investment include reduced internal technology costs; reduced business communications costs, especially person to person voice calls and mobile devices; increased individual productivity; and increased business process performance.
Early response to the new products has been positive, says Belikoff. More than 75 000 people have downloaded the public beta to date, and top technical reviewers have been “particularly impressed” with the advanced presence features and seamless integration with Microsoft Office applications and Exchange 2007 unified messaging – which bring faxing and voicemail into a unified inbox.
Partners have been similarly enthusiastic, with 12 of the biggest global networking, telephony and gateway vendors having signed on to implement Microsoft’s specifications for interoperability, allowing Office Communications Server 2007 to work with about 90% of legacy TDM and VoIP phone systems.
A recent Harris Survey hightlights the following statistics:
* The average information worker gets 66 email messages a day;
* On average, information workers make about 36 calls per week;
* The percentage of business calls made from a mobile phone increased from 20% in 2006 to 24% in 2007;
* 80% of the time the PC is the first place information workers check their messages;
* Email is the most frequently used mode for receiving messages, and for business communications is more important than phone calls;
* 85% of information workers rate email as making their workday easier;
* On average, email comprises about one-half of total business communication and requires 25% of information workers workday; and
*  40% of information workers have mobile communications need.