VoiceCon Review: IT, Communications Can Help Weather Economic Storm

Unified communications, Microsoft, videoconferencing, cost savings, and the slowing economy dominated industry leaders' conversations in San Francisco this week.
When Microsoft first jumped into the unified communications space, many competitors questioned how successful it could be. Office Communications Server, released about a year ago, combined instant messaging, e-mail, team collaboration, and voice calling into a programmable client-server platform. With a major upgrade expected in February 2009, it appears that the software giant will be able to leverage its massive install base to be a major player in the market.

"Everyone was naturally worried about them, and it seems many vendors are figuring out how they can enhance, supplement, or work with OCS," said Krapf. "Pretty much everyone with a Microsoft shop will be trialing it sooner or later."

The interest for unified communications is definitely real. A recent Forrester Research study estimated nearly 84% of large enterprises are in at least the evaluation phase. But companies may run into difficulties deploying this, as it involves much cross-departmental work.

"Implementing a unified communications system is orders of magnitude more complex than implementing a legacy PBX or VoIP system," said Jamie Libow, communications engineering director at Travelers, during a panel discussion.

But the benefits outweigh the negatives, said Michael Terrill, convergence project manager at Boeing. The aviation company is in the middle of upgrading its large voice infrastructure, and he said the transition toward UC is greatly helped when there is a governing body with experience, patience, and the proper budget. With this in place, a company can make strategic decision on how future communication investments are most prudently made.

"Desk phones are expensive and less strategic for collaboration than a desktop," said Terrill. "A desktop is the most powerful communications and collaboration environment we have. I'd rather put the investment there than in fixed-function phones."