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Enterprise Connect: Microsoft Boasts Lync UC Successes

The software giant trots out early customers, including LA Fitness and Revlon, to demonstrate cost savings and productivity gains from replacing legacy PBX systems with its software-based Unified Communications server.

Unified Communications is allowing Microsoft to go beyond hand-waving when it comes to return on investment, Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of the Office business productivity group said in his keynote at Enterprise Connect in Orlando.

Collaboration applications often have to be justified on the basis of productivity improvements like minutes saved on a given task, he said, but with UC "it's cold, hard cash." Customers are achieving concrete savings by replacing specialized PBX hardware with a software-based communications server, and by eliminating conference call fees because that function is part of the software, he said.

Lync 2010, which was released in November, is the successor to Microsoft Office Communication Server, and one of the most talked about products at Enterprise Connect -- in terms of enterprises evaluating it and other vendors either integrating with it or competing with it. Lync gives users an onscreen contact list they can use to launch instant messages, voice and video calls, and conferences, and collaborate on documents through Microsoft Sharepoint.

To substantiate his claims of savings, Koenigsbauer brought out customers from LA Fitness, Revlon, and Dallas Neurosurgical and Spine.

"We've reduced telecom costs by over $650,000 a year," said George Bedar, CIO at LA Fitness. "We don't have toll anymore, and we don't have conferencing fees -- we have our SIP trunks, where we just pay a flat rate, and we're all set."

Bedar said his company began its move to Office Communications Server about a year ago, finishing its rollout in December, and has now almost completed an upgrade to Lync for 20,000 users. LA Fitness is also taking advantage of the integration Microsoft announced this week between Lync and Polycom videoconferencing equipment.

Productivity gains have followed along with the cost savings, Bedar said. "Conferencing in Lync is so easy, and there are so many ways doing it, that our managers are taking advantage of it much more often than they did before. We believe that drives consistency in how we operate."

Further, LA Fitness is improving key business processes by adding Lync capabilities to applications IT has developed using Microsoft.NET technologies. For example, if a process requires an executive to sign off on a purchase, he can immediately initiate a conference with the person who submitted the requisition. "He can ask questions, make changes, and get it done," Bedars said.

David Giambruno, CIO at Revlon, said Lync is helping his company do business more effectively in 100 countries around the world, cutting down on the hassles of travel and getting product samples through customs.

"How fast we can create products and get them to market really drives our business," Giambruno said. Now, more meetings are held online, and products are held up to the camera as part of the discussion. "We've increased our project throughput by 295% -- now, that's driving value for the business."

Dallas Neurosurgical and Spine, a specialty medical practice, is using Lync to allow doctors to do remote consultations and be more effective when traveling.

Koenigsbauer said next steps for the product include the delivery of Lync Online as part of the Office 365 cloud service, as well as support for mobile clients beyond Windows Phone 7. "We have a strategy that says best and first on Windows," he said, with clients for iPhone, Android, and Nokia to follow. He did an onstage demo of an iPhone client and also showed how an Xbox client that's currently in development will allow video collaboration "from the boardroom to the family room."

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