Whereas Microsoft Office was all about individual productivity in the 90s, the company is now investing in technology such as Live Communications Server that addresses group productivity. "I don't believe real-time collaboration has taken off on the Internet the way it will," Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate VP of Microsoft's Real-Time Collaboration Group, said Tuesday during his Interop keynote.
Extending the capabilities of Communicator to Web clients gives workers -- regardless of location or platform -- the ability to immediately locate, contact, and collaborate with colleagues in real time, Microsoft says. Once deployed, users need only open their Web browser, point it to a specified Web site address and enter their credentials to access Communicator Web Access.
Security will play a role in this new world of unified communications. Each person will need something that uniquely identifies them, apart from whichever computing/communications device they are using. This is essential to promoting what Microsoft refers to as "presence." I translate presence to be the ability to reach a person, regardless of where they are. Singh Pall cited a 2003 Gartner study that indicated seven of 10 phone calls went to voice mail rather than directly to the recipient. By improving presence, you improve your ability to catch the person you're trying to reach, assuming that person isn't avoiding you. They haven't perfected a technology to my knowledge that compels a person to pick up the phone if they really don't want to talk to you.
Singh Pall even suggested creating "subject" lines that appear on phone screens, so that the recipient has a better idea of who's calling. This would probably work better than today's caller ID systems. (Incidentally, my editor has the same area code as the company that does telemarketing for my local blood bank. I unfailingly pick up the phone whenever I see that area code expecting to be asked why I continue to use the term "cyber security" rather than the preferred "cybersecurity" (one word) and spend the next five minutes being pitched on the benefits of giving blood.)
Microsoft Office Communicator is the prime example of what integrated communication should be about, Singh Pall said. And it's not as far away as you might think. "We always overestimate what can happen in three years, but we always underestimate what can happen in 10 years," Singh Pall added.
Singh Pall wrapped up his presentation with a video portraying what he referred to as "the near future." In it, a businessman is delayed by a snowstorm from getting home, the implication being that he'll miss a very important presentation he and his team need to deliver in short order. After being notified via his cell phone that his flight is in fact canceled, the businessman dials up his boss and another colleague to explain his situation. Having coordinated schedules with is team via his cell phone, he schedules a teleconferenced/videoconferenced "roundtable" meeting where he can see all of his team members and finalize their presentation. They even conference in a non-team member from another office to solicit her expertise on a particular subject. The meeting concluded, the businessman finds time to e-mail the person taking care of his dog. Seeing that this person is actually online, he uses a VoIP connection to call him and request an extension until he can get another flight. Finally, he orders a jacket and tie from a local store and is seen giving his portion of presentation from his hotel room.
"I believe a lot of us will be living that work lifestyle in less than 10 years," Singh Pall said when the video concluded. Maybe, but the video sure would have been more believable if that businessman had lost his cell connection once or twice, had to reboot his PC because his multimedia software crashed, or would have encountered a colleague who simply refused to be found (or, as Microsoft likes to say, "present").