Microsoft is taking an equity stake in contact centre vendor Aspect Software to help accelerate the the development of new solutions that will help it deliver on a multi-year strategic alliance regarding unified communications. 

The alliance calls for Aspect to design its Aspect Unified IP contact centre solution to interoperate with Microsoft’s platform for software-powered voice and unified communications and will offer it as a prime option to new and existing customers.
“Our alliance and the resulting joint solutions are designed to enhance sales, service and support capabilities for organizations of all types and sizes, across many industries. We strongly believe that the combination of Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Aspect Unified IP will redefine the way companies interact with their customers,” says Jim Foy, president and CEO of Aspect. “With this alliance and its equity investment, Microsoft recognises Aspect Unified IP as an ideal fit with its software-powered voice platform.”
Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice-president: Unified Communications Group at Microsoft, adds: “A key pillar of Microsoft’s unified communications vision is improving access to the people and information you need to do your job better and more quickly, and, with Aspect, we aim to make this vision a reality for contact centers,” said . “Contact centres demand reliable and flexible communications solutions.
"The fact that Aspect, a noted leader, is choosing to optimise its next-generation solution for Microsoft UC is tremendous validation of the strengths of our unified communications and voice over Internet protocol platform, and for the momentum behind software-powered voice.”
Aspect will begin development of the optimized solutions immediately. This year, Aspect plans to release a new version of its .Net-based Aspect Unified IP product, which delivers interoperability with Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, and which will include a powerful ask-an-expert capability using instant messaging and presence technology in Office Communications Server 2007.
Aspect is designing this feature to enable contact centre agents to find and consult with experts anywhere in a company to resolve inquiries in a single interaction.
Aspect plans to extend the interoperability of its Unified IP with Office Communications Server to include software-powered voice in subsequent releases. This solution is being designed to enable contact centers to seamlessly escalate customer interactions to different channels phone, instant messaging, e-mail or conferencing – while addressing reliability, scalability and reporting needs.
“The connection between contact centre technology and unified communications has not, to date, been at the center of the conversation,” says Sheila McGee-Smith, president and principal analyst, McGee-Smith Analytics. “The decision of Microsoft and Aspect to create this strategic alliance clearly demonstrates that the contact center plays an integral role in the evolution of software in the enterprise.
"Companies may now choose to make a choice to easily bring Microsoft UC into both their contact center and their enterprise, realizing the benefits of first call resolution and other metrics that a uniform UC strategy can deliver.”
As part of the agreement, Aspect will also build a professional services and systems integration practice for Microsoft’s unified communications software. Aspect will help customers deploy, customise and manage Office Communications Server in its contact centers and throughout its organizations for software-powered voice, instant messaging, presence and conferencing.