Until recently, Microsoft was not a serious contender in the real-time communications dashboard arena. They would tell you otherwise, of course—and many other analysts would, too—but the reality is Microsoft had a PC-based presence server (Live Communications Server), an IM client (Communicator) and a Web conferencing service (Live Meeting).
A week after VoiceCon 2006, however, and my how things have changed. If you didn’t know better, you might think Microsoft was a *voice* vendor, the way the press releases were coming out of Redmond during the show. Deals with multiple telephony vendors effectively promise to give Communicator soft phone capabilities—and turn the client into a real-time communications dashboard from which users can launch online and telephony chat.
Mitel announced the general availability of the Mitel 3300 Live Business Gateway providing seamless integration between the Mitel 3300 IP Communications Platform (ICP), legacy communications solutions, Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005 and the Microsoft Office Communicator 2005 integrated communications client.
Microsoft announced it will work with Cisco to provide collaborative real-time capabilities for businesses through the integration of Microsoft Office Communicator 2005 and Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005 with Cisco’s Unified CallManager solution. The product is due in August 2006.
Avaya and Microsoft announced the intent to develop open standards, SIP-based interoperability between Avaya MultiVantage Communications Applications and Microsoft Office Communicator, the unified communications client for Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005.
These and similar partnerships change the collaboration game significantly, because they make it a real possibility for companies to rely on Microsoft for a complete collaboration solution. Prior partnerships with the same and other telephony vendors integrated LCS capabilities into the telephony vendors’ products; now, an IT executive can deploy LCS and one of these partner tools, and effectively use Communicator to allow end users to collaborate online and on the phone. Microsoft is wise to partner, too, rather than try to build its own telephony solution—IT executives are more likely to trust the voice vendors they know and love with such a mission-critical application, and it gives them lots of choice in the matter, too.
Microsoft has long supported the SIP and SIMPLE protocols, and now that move is finally bearing some fruit, as other vendors take advantage of the standards (even Cisco, which long avoided full SIP support, is on board). And Redmond will keep pushing its SIP extensions for Live Communications Server, which are due the second half of this year and will allow third-party developers to integrate LCS capabilities into solutions based on IP-PBX, IP/video phones for wire-line and wireless, SIP proxies, Wi-Fi phones, handsets and other devices.
This is all good news for IT executives, especially those who have been waiting for news from Redmond before settling on an enterprise-wide collaboration strategy. Nemertes research shows that while fewer than 5% of IT executives specifically say they’ve delayed collaboration rollouts until they heard more fully-developed plans from Microsoft, those few are thought leaders—that is, we consider their actions indicative of the market overall. What’s more, when asked whether Microsoft’s plans would impact their collaboration decisions, far more IT executives said yes—and almost a quarter of them say they value SIP precisely because of what it means for Microsoft integration.
What’s more, Microsoft’s moves in this area could actually drive Voice over IP adoption within some enterprises. That’s because a third of companies with convergence projects say collaboration was or is a driving factor for those implementations.
As one IT executive at a manufacturing company put it: “If you talked to me three months ago, we were ready to go forward on our pilot. Now, we’re waiting. What changed is when Microsoft [got] into this area…. We’re a big Microsoft shop. My director of IT is a huge Microsoft fan. That might be his turning point—he’s very reluctant to go VOIP. For me to sell internally would be difficult.”
The upshot is that Microsoft is finally showing its teeth in this arena—and we expect more partnerships to come, making the Microsoft option even more attractive. IT executives have a viable choice with the software vendor today. Telephony vendors that had the RTCD world to themselves for the past two years are about to see that change—significantly. And VoIP projects will continue to be driven by collaboration—and, suddenly, by Microsoft as well.
Melanie Turek is Senior Vice President of Nemertes Research.
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