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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bill Gates Leads Microsoft Into UC and IP Telephony

Copyright © 2007 Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide

October 20, 2007

Bill Gates Grabs the Multimodal Torch of UC

Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

Microsoft’s highly promoted Launch of it’s Office Communication Server 2007 in San Francisco last week was well attended and well documented in the technology press. There should really have been no “new” surprises, since Microsoft has been well publicizing and testing its strategic unified communications (UC) technologies directions for quite a while now, and it has long acknowledged that they are far from being completely finished.

So, the big deal really is about how seriously they are ready to move into the traditional small and large business telephony markets with UC software vs. hardware. Perhaps the biggest indicator of this serious thrust was having Bill Gates take the lead for Microsoft in publicly challenging the diminishing role of hardware-based PBXs and their proprietary desktop telephones in providing voice communications to business organizations and application processes as part of the new, converged world of flexible, “multimodal” unified communications.

Microsoft is not merely saying they have new and better software products that will handle IP telephony and voice messaging traditionally supplied by the telecommunications industry, but emphasizing that they are also supporting the new paradigms of multimodal “presence” management, and more intelligent, “contextual” contact initiation within an enterprise. However, they are still working on making standards-based “federated” presence for telephony available across both enterprise and consumer boundaries to enable what I have dubbed “transmodal communication” to provide increased flexibility and efficiencies for individual and business process productivity.

All this is in addition to reducing the basic costs of implementing and supporting traditional business telephony needs. Inasmuch as Microsoft is already perceived as a leader in the increasingly dominant use of business text messaging (email, IM), it is now moving help to drop the UC shoe on the future role of IP telephony and voice and video conferencing.

Simplifying UC Complexities for End Users

Because extending the capabilities of telephony under the umbrella of multimodal UC also increases the procedural complexity of business communications, Microsoft has focused on the goal of simplicity for its converged UC software products. Keeping the user interface simple is dependent on exploiting both visual interfaces and speech recognition, and both forms of communication interaction were demonstrated during the launch program, including both self-provisioning management and operational usage features. The bottom line of Microsoft’s UC launch was not merely to focus on IP telephony capabilities, but as Bill Gates repeatedly mentioned, to support the flexibility of “multimodal communications.”

Although he didn’t use my term of “transmodal communication,” Gates and other Microsoft speakers frequently described just that in the many examples given of coming UC flexibility. That is where end users can dynamically escalate from one form of business contact to another (asynchronous messages to IM to phone calls to multi-party voice and video conferencing), as the specific communication situation requires. So, come on Microsoft, say it!

UC Migrations And Partnering

By now it is pretty obvious that multimodal UC is not a single, simple “application” within a single enterprise or enterprise location, but rather the seamless interoperability of all forms of business contact and information delivery to people. That means it covers a variety of business communication needs, different business application and communication servers, using different kinds of endpoint devices, and across different kinds of networks. Making all this work efficiently and effectively will mean adding new capabilities, features, and functions, in addition to slowly replacing old, proprietary technologies that TDM telephony is noted for. This, in turn, requires serious partnering, at both the hardware and application software levels. Partnering was a big highlight of the OCS Launch, and you can read all about that in the press write-ups and Microsoft proclamations.

One of the effects of Microsoft’s strong push into the telephony side of UC is that it will be polarizing the industry in terms of interoperability and with other technology and service providers all taking positions relative to both UC in general and specifically to Microsoft relationships. As technology developers move into UC offerings, there will be a lot of overlap and choices, including the options for CPE, hosted and managed services. This overlap will show up particularly in the reseller channels, where the biggest battles will take place for the large SMB market that is ready to get rid of archaic key systems and is ripe for what UC and mobile devices have to offer in the way of services.

As we have pointed out repeatedly, migration to UC will be able to exploit hosted services as a cost effective way for business organizations to selectively “pilot” applications and learn what UC can do for their specific, high-value business processes. Forget “best practices” – just do it to find out what works best!

The Microsoft UC Software Pie

Besides Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007, Microsoft showed off it’s other UC software applications, including:

Microsoft Exchange Server 2007

Microsoft Exchange Hosted Services

Microsoft Live Meeting

Microsoft Roundtable (videoconferencing)

Part of the Microsoft UC Launch agenda was also to identify the strategic operational role that UC could play in some selected vertical industries, i.e., Financial Services, Manufacturing, and Healthcare.

Other Comments About The Microsoft UC Launch

I was planning to quote other sources of objective and interesting comments about the big Microsoft Launch, but there were so many that I decided against it. However, I do want to point you to the practical observations of the UC Strategies team that attended the Launch event and who had the opportunity to talk to various customers and partners who were exposed to Microsoft’s new technology.

What Do You Think?

You can contact me at: or (310) 395-2360.

My Take on Microsoft’s Approach to UC Migration

I authored a recent white paper describing UC ROIs and practical approaches to enterprise transition planning that highlight Microsoft’s UC product positioning for simplifying the challenge of evolving to UC. Rather than start with replacing existing wired desktop phone systems, the UC evolution can start with adding IM/presence management, unified messaging, mobile devices, and IP softphones. You can download a copy of the white paper by going to the UC Strategies web site at: