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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Microsoft and Nortel's UC Alliance

Copyright © 2006 Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

July 23, 2006

Nortel and Microsoft Alliance – Unifying Enterprise Migrations to UC?

By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

As a follow on to Microsoft’s big “unified communications day” (6/26), they announced a new “alliance” with Nortel last week for joint UC product development and marketing. Such UC announcements will continue to reverberate throughout the industry and the enterprise markets until the full picture of UC impact becomes clear. Industry pundits are having a field day simply quoting the key points of the announcements, but few have jumped on what was not said during the analyst teleconference. However, simple logic can identify some practical reasons why both parties are so enthusiastic about the future.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was quick to point out that this announcement was not about simple interoperability between their current products, but rather an “alignment” of their technology strengths for future products and services to the enterprise markets. What that means is that the strengths of the two companies will be combined to support the new, user-oriented needs of converged UC technologies that are still in the process of being defined and implemented. This could include jointly developing “unified “ user interfaces for multimodal devices at both the desktop and for handheld mobile devices, as well as consolidated administration and usage management tools for enterprise IT support organizations or service providers.

In particular, it also means that enterprise business process applications will be able to exploit the flexibility of SIP-based, mobile and multimodal communications for timely notification and information delivery to people. While web-based access to enterprise information has become a lot easier across the board, reducing time-sensitive “contact latency” (not “human latency”) for people still remains a major source of business process improvement and associated enterprise value and a difficult challenge for mission critical enterprise operations.

The Missing Links For “Unified” Enterprise Migration to UC

We used to think of enterprise IP migrations primarily from the perspective of VoIP and IP telephony because it marked a major departure from legacy TDM technology. But, when convergence is involved, migrations become a two way street for both the data and the voice sides of IT, especially at the application levels. On the data side, we not only have to consolidate and integrate text-based communication applications (email, IM, SMS, etc.) with voice, fax, and video contacts, but also the integration of enterprise business process applications with proactive information delivery, notifications, and response initiation of self-service transactions (“application messaging”). From that perspective, the person-to-person UC approach of traditional voice providers alone will not cover the waterfront of enterprise business operations.

A key consideration for bringing the application development strengths of Nortel into an alliance with Microsoft is the fact that real-time software applications like telephony has no tolerance for software weaknesses. Not only does the software require both the old and new user functionality of the applications, but also demands the even more than “5 nines” of traditional telephony reliability and mission-critical service responsiveness by sales and support channels. That is what Nortel already has the experience and skills for doing that Microsoft does not; applying those strengths to Microsoft’s desktop application interfaces is a logical next step. As Steve Ballmer emphasized, this will require an “alignment” in software planning development between the two companies.

This “alignment” will also be key to the marketing strategy that UC migration will require. Both Microsoft’s enterprise customer base (email, IM, business process applications, Office tools), and Nortel’s telephony customers (PBX’s, voice mail, ACDs, IVR, conferencing, etc.) will need to plan for a graceful and practical migration to converged functionality. Until the converged directions for both areas are well defined, there will be a reluctance by customers to make any fast implementation moves. What the market in general really needs is a “unified” device-independent, migration approach for all forms of contact technologies that will be flexible enough to cover a variety of enterprise circumstances and requirements for tomorrow, not just a one-sided telephony approach for today.

“Managed” vs. “Hosted” Services

Another perspective of UC that requires rethinking is that IP-based software telephony applications will enable and facilitate “virtual” applications, rather than the hardware-oriented, premise-based servers of TDM telephony. Although both the Microsoft and Nortel speakers at the joint “alliance” announcement hyped the “managed” services potential of IP-based UC, that still assumes that CPE will be a major source of revenue, along with consultative planning and implementation support services that both Microsoft and Nortel, through their channels, would be ready to provide.

Although I listened very carefully during the presentations, I did not hear much mentioned about the increased potential for supporting “hosted services.” Not only is this important for the SMB market that isn’t interested in owning complex technology, it will also be important for larger enterprises who won’t be able to keep up with the ongoing evolution of new, software-based communication capabilities, nor want the responsibilities of supporting many distributed branch locations. Hosted services will be useful for both internal, intra-enterprise mobile contacts, as well as for federating inter-enterprise and customer communication contacts as well. For enterprises who still want more hands on control of their internal communication technologies, it may be a practical matter of initially using hosted IP applications to do a lot of “trying (and learning) before buying!”

In a follow up conversation with Alex Pierson, GM and VP of Nortel Enterprise and SMB Communications Systems, he made it quite clear that “virtual” hosted UC services would be a key offering for Nortel. The question that then remains, however, is who will lead the marketing of such hosted services, a “one-stop shop” carrier like the “new” AT&T or Verizon that can host a wide choice of competing software applications, the different developers of specific application solutions, or a combination of both?

Because Nortel is also a big supplier to the wired and wireless carriers (who are also converging their connectivity services in the form of Fixed Mobile Convergence), this is another area of strength that Microsoft must be looking for. Not only will such “FMC” carriers and Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) be able to provide cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity to individual consumers, but they will enable the enterprise to support and manage the same subscriber’s mobile business contacts as well. This is where a user’s multimodal device and network services can differentiate business contact activity and functionality from personal consumer contacts through an enterprise-controlled call server or service, such as Avaya’s Extension to Cellular capabilities on Nokia cell phones.

What Do You Think?

How will this kind of alliance affect enterprise IT organizational responsibilities for converged communications?) Will this alliance facilitate efficient planning for “unified migrations” to be done by enterprise IT? Will open-source, Linux-based, IP telephony server implementations impact convergence with Microsoft communications applications? Will the combination of Microsoft and Nortel and IP network service providers be able to deal with the new security and regulatory compliance demands of IP communications in general? Do you think that Microsoft will also partner with other large traditional telephony providers like Avaya, as well as the new, pure IP telephony providers? Will the traditional CPE-oriented telecom provider user groups transform into consolidated UC user groups dealing supported by multiple communication technology providers (email, IM, mobility devices)?

Who do you think will end up being the key sales interface to the enterprise for hosted UC services, the technology developers or the services providers? What responsibilities will the enterprise have for the variety of endpoint devices and business process applications that different end users will want? Will vertical markets require different form factors for application-oriented mobile devices or just different software-based user interfaces (visual and speech)? Should we expect Microsoft’s main competitor in the email and IM space, IBM, to make similar telephony provider “alliances” for their enterprise customers?

Let us know your opinion by sending us an email at, or by commenting to our new blog. (

Customer Voice Contacts: Smarter Call Center IP Telephony Routing

Stop Guessing! The Five Real Reasons For Migrating Your Call Center to IP


Saturday, July 01, 2006

Microsoft's Big UC Splash

Copyright © 2006 Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

June 28, 2006

UC Technology is Here - Will Microsoft Help Make Products and Services Real?

By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

By now, the world has heard how Microsoft is going to lower the software boom on IP telephony and Unified Communications (UC) by delivering its new Office Communications 2007 as the enterprise server for multimodal business communications, including its own “softphone” clients for desktop PCs and mobile devices. Aside from the flexibility of a screen-based interface and software communication functions, Microsoft can exploit it’s domination of Windows desktop applications to embed call initiation functions within business process applications. This move should be a sign that UC technology is becoming real enough for “government work!”

Microsoft’s announcement was pitched towards business end user benefits, describing feature capabilities that have long been discussed since the “unified communications” vision started to evolve from unified messaging over six years ago. Their presentation included demonstrations of how people can dynamically communicate across different modalities of contact, emphasizing the user-centric benefits of unified communications. They verbally used our term, “multimodal,” only once during the presentation, seeming to prefer “rich presence” (as a step up from instant text messaging) instead.

This formal move by Microsoft into IP telephony closes a marketing strategy loop with its domination of the enterprise text messaging market, i.e., email and instant messaging, and makes Microsoft a potential one-stop-shop for future business communications technology. Their approach has prompted Gartner to move Microsoft into a leading “ability to execute” position among the “leaders” in the new technology category of “unified communications.” However, although UC products and services are still evolving and come in a variety of flavors to match the different communication needs of the marketplace, the reality of IP telephony and its impact on UC is requiring enterprise organizations to include UC planning considerations for any new telephony implementation.

Three Flavors of Enterprise UC Products?

According to Gartner, “UC solutions offered appear to be taking one of three general approaches. One is to bundle much of the functionality tightly together in a single solution; examples of this include the Nortel MCS5100 and the Siemens OpenScape. A second approach is to take a broad existing portfolio of separate communication functions and tie them together through some shared services, such as presence, administration and directories; examples of this include the Cisco and the Microsoft solutions. A third approach is to offer common communications framework or middleware that can then be used by a different unrelated communication applications; IBM and Oracle are taking this approach. Each approach has strengths and weaknesses.”

As reported by Eric Krapf from BCR magazine, Microsoft sees the PBX as a key variable in determining the enterprise UC migration strategy.

1. Retain TDM PBXs and telephones and integrate LCS/OCS 2007 for UC functionality

2. Integrate OCS 2007 with any current IP-PBX and IP phone installations

3. Bypass the need for enterprise PBX hardware technology and replace them with a pure LCS/OCS 2007 solution

However, there are dark sides that the enterprise market is sure to think about before committing to Microsoft’s offerings.

It’s Not Your Father’s Telephone System Anymore! - Software Hell?

The move into IP telephony and its software infrastructure is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it enables greater communication application flexibility, but on the other hand, it opens the floodgates of new feature capabilities and software patches to fix software bugs. Combined with wireless mobility, it also means that communication devices for enterprise users will become more individualized by job responsibilities and personalized needs, and not as controllable by the IT/telecom department as the traditional wired desktop telephone. These issues, of course, will not be unique to Microsoft, but will be a challenge for telephony technology providers, both old and new, who have embraced the future of software-based IP telephony and converged communications.

While we expect IP telephony application servers and endpoint device software clients to be a big management challenge for enterprise IT, the new IP-based UC technology also opens the door to practical hosted and managed services. This point was mentioned by Microsoft in its announcement of their own hosted unified communication services directly to the SMB market, as well as through major enterprise service providers (alias “carriers”) like Verizon and the “new” AT&T.

Where Does Microsoft Want to Play?

Microsoft’s focus was on provisioning communication application software infrastructures, not on the hardware. They announced new partnerships with leading endpoint device manufacturers like LG-Nortel, Thompson, Polygram, Motorola, etc., while preserving its “softphone” role at the desktop. It is also positioning itself with OCS 2007 to be the contact gateway between business process applications and people, extending the Web concept of embedded information links to contacting appropriate people associated with information and business processes. This will tie automated self-service applications to live assistance for both internal enterprise users as well as for online service customers.

Microsoft is not ready to deliver much today with its announcement, but is paving the way for the near future. For that matter, no provider is really ready to deliver everything today, especially when it comes to presence-based converged communications. Not only are the necessary SIP standards not fully defined and implemented, but also the network, application servers and device clients are still being developed.

Because the bulk of the enterprise market is in “migration planning mode,” where legacy technology (e.g., PBXs, voice mail systems, desktop hard phones) will be replaced slowly and only as needed, it is essential that Microsoft introduce its UC capabilities so that it “gracefully” supplements existing capabilities that don’t have to be replaced. That is why today Microsoft is actively “partnering” with leading TDM and IP telephony equipment providers to provide interoperability for it’s unified messaging and presence-based call management solutions. When it comes time to replace a legacy PBX, voice mail system, or a “hard” desk phone, it may be a different story.

Microsoft’s "Bar Mitzvah" Speech

In discussing Microsoft’s big announcement with Gartner’s Bern Elliot, who chaired a panel discussion of enterprise users as part of the program, he likened the event as a “coming out” party for Microsoft’s entry into IP telephony. While a ”coming out” party is primarily a social event, I likened it to a Bar Mitzvah or coming of age (13) in the Jewish tradition. Its not enough to have a party and socialize with friends and family, but the Bar Mitzvah boy must give a speech declaring his acceptance of new responsibilities as a grown up man. Microsoft’s speech, delivered by Jeff Raikes and Anoop Gupta, essentially did just that. It was a commitment to the enterprise market that they would take on the responsibilities for supporting mission-critical, converged business communications, including traditional real-time telephony.

Elliot pointed out that this event served two main purposes for Microsoft:

1. Introduce their new organizational group for Unified Communications

2. Define the “area” and roadmap for their future UC product directions

He also indicated that the live audience at the Microsoft event was comprised primarily of industry analysts and potential technology partners, the people who can help drive the market towards the big changes in the future of UC.

What Microsoft Didn’t Talk About

There were a number of issues that Microsoft did not cover in detail during their two-hour show. Here are some of them:

+ As mentioned earlier, Microsoft highlighted the coming operational benefits of their UC product announcements to business users, with out getting into the gory details of exactly how enterprises will integrate such capabilities with legacy telephony. They announced a free consultation offer to customers planning to migrate.

+ As pointed out in audience questions and comments from industry analysts, Microsoft did not go into details of UC for the consumer market, although they acknowledged its importance. This will be of particular importance for customer contact applications, where the customers are consumers, and presence management technology will be critical for business processes that need to initiate contact with a consumer.

+ The need for new management metrics for both individual and group productivity was not discussed, although everyone acknowledges the difficulty in quantifying the value of such “soft” benefits. Inasmuch as none of its competitors have come up with a solution to this issue, it remains an industry challenge.

+ Enterprise consolidation of end user administration and support for all forms of communication is an obvious benefit that converged UC will enable. This was approached by Microsoft through the use of a single directory. However, it was not discussed in detail as part of a UC migration plan for IT.

+ The role that UC will play in customer contact applications and the roadmap for migration was not discussed in detail.

+ As pointed out in a question by industry consultant Don Van Doren, the functional vision of “unified” presence management was not very clear. This ties into how “federated” presence management will work, what individual end users will control, and what the enterprise and business process applications can control. It also involved issues of privacy management.

Open interoperability between the Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 client and other UC servers was questioned by one analyst as a deterrent to “universal” presence / availability / modality management that UC is designed to support.

+ Although Microsoft is targeting hosted UC services for both the SMB market and large enterprises, the question of software support for mission-critical services is not something that Microsoft is noted for.

Read some of the other reactions to the Microsoft announcement.


The Microsoft announcement puts the stamp of approval on where telephony is going within the context of multimodal unified communications. It is not a matter of “if” for UC technology implementation, but “when,” “how,” and “who with.” (Didn’t we just get done saying that for VoIP?)

I have long been pushing the industry players to provide the market with direction for their UC products and services, so that there can be good planning and graceful migrations. So, I am glad that Microsoft is not ready to deliver all the products, because, quite frankly, I don’t think most of the market is really ready to use them. However, it is not too early for enterprise organizations to get focused on their migration planning and, as I mentioned in my BCR article this month, get some objective help from the experienced consultants who have been involved with the evolution of converging communication technologies for years. Every migration will be somewhat different and there aren’t any solid “best practices” yet, but they will be starting to come soon.

What Do You Think?

Do you think that UC technology is ready for prime time? Do you think Microsoft is ready to take responsibility for mission-critical real-time telephony software? What about buying hosted enterprise services from Microsoft vs. from traditional carriers who can bundle in all kinds of vertical market business process applications? Do you think that the traditional telephony providers can do a better job of developing and supporting mission-critical voice communication application software than Microsoft, and that their partnering with application providers, endpoint device manufacturers, and service providers will provide a practical enterprise way to migrate? Will Microsoft spin off the Unified Communications group into a separate company?

Let us know your opinion by sending us an email at, or by commenting to our new blog. (

Customer Voice Contacts: Smarter Call Center IP Telephony Routing

While IP telephony and VoIP will make it easier and cheaper to handle calls from customers, I put the spotlight in this exclusive article on the most important function that IVR technology brings to all customer telephone contacts – “intelligent” call routing. Often perceived as just a means of automating specific business process tasks though self-service applications over the phone, using IVR technologies to find out why the customer is calling is really the first critical step to more efficient caller care and customer satisfaction.

Stop Guessing! The Five Real Reasons For Migrating Your Call Center to IP

Earlier, I wrote an article that “takes it from the top” and identifies the five main management reasons for an enterprise to move their call center operations to a multi-channel IP telecommunications infrastructure. Once you have aligned such business priorities properly, you can move on to the new implementation choices you now have in the “how to” phase for moving forward intelligently and cost efficiently.