SAN FRANCISCO—Microsoft is taking on both the challenges and opportunities that exist around the current unified communications platform and product lineup.
To do this, the Redmond software maker is introducing voice technologies to its current lineup, developing new products and expanding the unified communications features its current products provide, as well as offering services itself and in association with its partners.
In a two-hour presentation at an event here in San Francisco on June 26, Jeff Raikes, the president of the Microsoft Business Division, presented his vision for Microsofts unified messaging strategy and product roadmap of the future.
“This new world of work has people at its core, and they are assisted by the software we provide to simplify the way they work together, especially across organizations and countries,” he said, adding that communication choices have expanded, leading to communications chaos.
“There are also just too many devices out there, and workers do not have enough time to deal with the complexity associated with all of this. This wealth of devices and connectivity is also putting strain on IT administrators,” he said.
The PC environment had seen a lot more innovation from a software perspective than the desktop phone, and PC innovation has improved the richness of that experience, Raikes said, noting that significant challenges and opportunities lie ahead in the unified communications field.
The complexity of the user experience remains a big challenge, with research showing that the average organization has 6.4 types of different communication devices and 4.8 communications applications, resulting in infrastructure islands, he said.
The real opportunities for unified communications lie on the productivity front, around collaboration and better business results, while meetings remain an area of great opportunity and challenge, he said, noting that the virtual meeting experience “should and could” be even better than actually being present at that meeting.
Raikes then gave a demonstration of the Microsoft Office RoundTable, an audio-video collaboration device with a 360-degree camera, expected to be released in the first half of 2007, that, when combined with Office Communications Server 2007, delivers an immersive conferencing experience that extends the meeting environment across multiple locations.
to view a slide show of Microsofts technologies of the future.
Meeting participants on-site and in remote locations will get a panoramic view of everyone in the conference room as well as close-up views of individual participants as they take turns speaking, he said.
RoundTable would revolutionize the meeting experience, Raikes said, adding that unified communications is essentially connecting workers seamlessly, where they have a single identity stored in a single directory and in a way that is rich, contextual and standards-based.
“Microsoft is uniquely positioned given our existing deep investments in communications across our products, and today we are showing the significant additional investments we have made to make this even more convenient and integrated, personal, intuitive, flexible and trustworthy,” he said.
Under the banner of a more personal and intuitive experience, the communication has to be based on presence and have a richer and more intuitive experience, so that a call can be initiated and automatically connected so the user does not have to set it up and then have all participants dial in.
Mobile communications will also be far more seamless, Raikes said, adding that this experience will be consistent across all devices and put the user at the center of their communications experience.
With regard to making unified communications even more convenient and integrated, he said this has to be convenient and in context, integrated with collaboration tools, and on a rich, standards based platform that allows a broad partner ecosystem.
“Microsoft Office is increasingly becoming the platform where all this takes place,” Raikes said.
Flexile and trustworthy unified communications mean there has to be breakthrough software and service economics as well as a flexible, integrated and efficient infrastructure where users have a single identity stored in a single directory, thereby reducing complexity and increasing efficiency within the organization.
“This has to be a trusted, secure and reliable platform,” he said.
Raikes also announced some new products and Microsofts latest unified communications product roadmap.
This includes Office Communications Server 2007, Office Communicator 2007, and the next-generation of OfficeLive Meeting, which will all be available by the second quarter of 2007.
Anoop Gupta, the corporate vice president of Microsofts Unified Communications Group, joined Raikes on stage to demonstrate seamless call management and an innovative soft-phone experience, placing a call from within a document to show a PC-to-phone call experience.
This new unified communications experience would also be accessible anywhere, on any device, and a consistent experience will be provided across the PC, Web and mobile devices, he said.
Gupta also showed some of the unified messaging features in Exchange Server 2007, demonstrating how Outlook voice manager allows users to dial in and access their calendar and then make changes that are transmitted to all the other meeting attendees.
The next version of OfficeLive Meeting will also support multimedia like video and Flash, Gupta said, adding that the goal of the new unified communications strategy is to provide a consistent communications experience that leverages the customers existing enterprise infrastructure, making it simple to manage and lowering costs.
“This is all about making communications more personal, intuitive and connected,” he said.
Microsoft also announced new business alliances with HP, Motorola and Siemens.
HP will be providing hardware devices and systems integration services for new and enhanced products based on Microsofts unified communications platform.
For its part, Motorola will deliver mobile devices and network hardware based on Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator Mobile, while Siemens will advance the transformation of telephony, audio-, video- and Web-conferencing, instant messaging and e-mail into a single unified communications platform, Raikes said.
Rob Rasmussen, the vice president of consulting and integration at HP, took to the stage and said that as a service company there are tremendous opportunities for HP to take this unified communications package to its customers.
“We are also very excited about the ways in which some of these new communication experiences and technologies can be integrated into real-time business processes,” he said.
Next up was Bob Gentile, the general manager of enterprise software at Motorola, who said seamless mobility is the top priority for the company.
He said he welcomes the new capabilities in Microsofts new unified communications vision, saying that Motorola will be able to take these and run with them.
But Microsoft could not drive this unified communications vision without new innovation in telephony, Raikes said, announcing that new software would be embedded in a new generation of IP phones.
“We are working with LG-Nortel, Polycom and Thomson to bring out a set of phones that will bring the Office Communicator experience to the next generation of IP phones,” he said.
In conclusion, Raikes said that while Microsoft offers scheduling and e-mail, Web conferencing, presence and availability, enterprise IM and remote call control today, it will be significantly expanding these capabilities over the next year.
He also told attendees that they could lay the foundation for unified communications today by having a single user identity stored in a single directory, and letting them have presence and instant messaging, messaging and scheduling.
“You can then begin your evaluations of the future by evaluating the Exchange Server 2007 beta, he said.