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1/22/2007
10:00 AM
Melanie Turek
Melanie Turek
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Hey Microsoft and Nortel: Where's the UC for Me?

I participated in a Microsoft-Nortel press conference this week from my home office in Colorado. The event, held live in New York City to give an update on the Innovative Communications Alliance (ICA) formed by the two companies in July 2006. Certainly, there was some interesting news out of the event, showing that the partnership announced last summer isn’t just talk. It looks like Microsoft and Nortel are indeed working together to deliver well integrated solutions that will allow IT managers to deploy truly unified communications using best-of-breed solutions from the two vendors (and, ultimately, others built on SIP as well). I especially liked the speech-activated capabilities that let a user tell his calendaring system that he is running 20-30 minutes late for a meeting, then have that info sent to all the invited attendees.

And although it felt a bit like 2005, it was worth listening to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Nortel CEO and President Mike Zafirovsky explain the value of unified communications applications, if only to be reminded that IT executives—not to mention business execs, line-of-business managers, and end users—still need to be educated on the topic. The IT people I speak with still tell me they’re looking for reasons and ways to (cost) justify the deployment of truly unified apps—and frankly, many are still trying to figure out exactly what said apps should be (or already are). It’s easy for those of us who live and breathe this stuff every day to lose sight of that.

The good news is, most of us recognize there’s genuine value in the technology, and we love to share details on how and why with anyone who will listen. The bad news is, sometimes the technology doesn’t live up to its promise.

Take this event—it was put on by two leading vendors in the UC space (maybe the two leading vendors), and so you’d expect it to be a frustration-free experience, right? Well, not exactly. There was quite a disconnect between the live event and the one I was participating in. My Internet audio feed conked out about 40 minutes into the 90-minute call (lucky for me, I was also dialed into the call on a hard phone). LiveMeeting didn’t have the audience feedback/interaction mechanisms engaged, so I could not ask questions on the fly during the presentations or later, during the live Q&A session; nor could I chat with others during the Webinar (or get bio info on the presenters, see who else was in attendance, or look up their presence states). And remote participants couldn’t see the live demos of the new software—even though Zafirovsky ended his presentation by stressing the need to see a demonstration of the apps to truly appreciate their value.

Even more frustrating was the lack of video. We in the virtual world got the sense there was a large audience in attendance, as well as a highly-produced stage event. But we saw none of it—not even the pre-recorded video shown at the end. OK, so live feeds bring their own complexities (though the issues are hardly insurmountable), but pre-recorded streaming video? Surely we could have seen that.

What’s funny (both funny “strange,” and funny “ha ha”) is that as part of an answer to an audience question, Ballmer had this to say: “How important is video to us? Very! How important is meeting/web conferencing? Also very!” That’s great, but you wouldn’t know it from this event. Ballmer also said he wants to democratize video, and get rid of the technicians who need to stand by for video conferences—something he says he experiences even with his telecom partners, who, presumably, ought to know better.

“Boy,” he said, “is this a category that needs innovation.” Steve, I feel your pain.

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