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Melanie Turek
Melanie Turek
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Convergence Market Continues to...Converge

Convergence continues on the collaboration front—within vendor organizations, and among various PC-based and mobile clients. That’s good news for IT executives who want to be able to offer their end users seamless access to real-time communications and collaboration tools across the enterprise, regardless of where those employees are or what kind of devices they’re using.

News of the upcoming availability of Microsoft Office Communicator Mobile for Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005 should be welcomed by IT managers and the mobile workers they support, who will now be able to access the vendor’s real-time communications application from just about anywhere. Considering 78% of companies support PDAs, according to Nemertes’ latest benchmark research, the client could ultimately gain traction (though that traction will be limited, as PDAs penetration hovers at under 5%.)

Companies that deploy the Communicator Mobile client with Live Communications Server will be able to give their workers on-premise IM and presence on Windows Mobile-based devices using Wi-Fi networks, remote access to Live Communications Server systems over mobile phone networks, and remote access to enterprise collaboration resources from Wi-Fi hot spots or home networks. That means road warriors will be able to set their presence and call-routing preferences from their handheld device or cell phone, and IM their co-workers on the fly. (It’s worth noting, however, that they still won’t have mobile access to an IP-based real-time communications dashboard; Mobile Communicator does not include audio or Web conferencing, for instance.)

Meanwhile, Avaya has announced that its IP telephony software, Avaya Communication Manager, supports Nokia Series 80 smart phones, letting workers access the same enterprise communication capabilities found in the office—including call conferencing , transfers, call recording, and abbreviated dialing—all levering the corporate IP network. That, too, should let users maintain a telephone “persona” regardless of where they are or what telephone they’re using.

Separately, Microsoft has teamed up with cellular operators, including Vodafone and Cingular, to deliver push e-mail, so users can receive e-mail when it hits corporate servers instead of getting it when they synchronize with those servers. The service eliminates the need for a separate mobile server or additional license payments and is designed to give customers faster access to all Outlook data. Microsoft acknowledges the move is part of a broader effort to extend PC apps to mobile devices.

This news, especially, changes the mobility game a bit, too. It allows IT executives to look at mobile devices as a platform for enterprise applications, allowing for more convergence, rather than as a single service. It also means they can choose devices based on application support, rather than the cellular network it can access. But new capabilities also require new training—and care when it comes to choosing the right device for the right application.

All of this movement comes on the heels of Microsoft’s recent corporate reorganization. Last month, the vendor merged its Exchange and RTC business groups to form the Unified Communications Group (UCG). That, too, highlights a key trend in the messaging and collaboration market: Real-time communications applications are poised to become the messaging focus of the future. IT executives want all-in-one applications that combine e-mail with VoIP, conferencing, instant messaging and other presence-driven applications: Nemertes’ latest research shows that while only 2.5% are currently using real-time communications dashboards (RTCDs, applications that enable a variety of communication from a single interface), 27.5% are evaluating them, and 22.5% have plans to deploy them over the next three years.

Microsoft doesn’t have that yet—Communicator doesn’t yet offer integrated, IP-based conferencing out of the box, for instance—but the new group could help it get there. UCG will be part of Microsoft’s Business Division and be led by Anoop Gupta, current corporate vice president of the RTC group. The reorganization follows a similar one by Cisco in the summer of 2005, when the vendor created the Unified Communications business unit by merging its conferencing and unified messaging product groups.

In both cases, the groups are better aligned to compete against telephony vendors such as Avaya and Nortel that have long been working on integrated RTCD applications; and against IBM, whose Lotus division is in a remarkably mature position, development-wise, especially compared to Microsoft.

Microsoft isn’t dropping its development of Exchange, of course, but it is re-focusing the e-mail server and Outlook client to be part of much broader RTC initiatives going forward. Expect that to affect upgrades (i.e., what types of server and application software are bundled together) and pricing in the years to come.

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