Global Crossing Pushes Unified Communications Envelope

The company deployed Microsoft Office Communications Server to nearly all of its 5,000 employees, with nearly 20% of those workers making voice and video calls via the software.

J. Nicholas Hoover

October 15, 2008

4 Min Read
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Unified communications, which promises integrated communication modalities and the integration of business process apps and communications technology, is finally starting to catch on in a big way. But while most companies are just in the planning or early deployment stages, network service provider Global Crossing is on the bleeding edge.

"Communications and business processes aren't just complementary," Mike Fuqua, Global Crossing's senior VP of global information systems, said in an interview. "Communications is a strategic element, and unified communications is transformational."

Global Crossing has deployed Microsoft Office Communications Server (software that Microsoft is touting, at least partially, as a replacement for traditional phone systems) to nearly all of its 5,000 employees. Nearly 20% of those employees have headsets and Webcams to make voice and video calls via the software, and the rest can use the software for features like instant messaging, presence, and Web conferencing.

All new employees receive the hardware, and many Global Crossing employees no longer even have phones on their desks, instead only using the Microsoft software and their headsets. The chief operations officer holds weekly staff meetings with his global team via videoconference, and OCS can show only video of the person talking rather than a 16-way split screen. But that rollout is only the first step.

Ever since Global Crossing began rolling out Office Communications Server's predecessor, Microsoft Live Communications Server, two or three years ago, Fuqua saw the key to success as integrating communications functionality into Global Crossing's business applications, including Microsoft Outlook and an application that tracks sales workflow. When employees log on to the sales workflow app, each step of the sales process is annotated with the name of the employee handling that step and an icon that shows whether the employee is available for a chat. With a click of the mouse, employees can launch instant messages, phone calls, or video calls with fellow employees.

Now Global Crossing has begun to integrate similar features into "a lot" of other applications, Fuqua says. In doing so, he's found a pattern. Communications sessions are usually launched whenever there's a problem with the process. "When an order gets slipped up or information doesn't seem right, the first step is to start a line of communication," he said.

With UC in place, Fuqua estimates Global Crossing is seeing about 15% to 25% improvement in the time it takes to fix problems.

Global Crossing is testing an application that will use OCS's presence capabilities to help remediate customer problems. The company's customer portal will be upgraded so that when customers experience problems with their service, they can log in and see both contact information on who to call in the case of a problem as well as presence information that can tell the customer which contacts are at their desks.

"They see an alarm, and the first question is who they're going to talk to," Fuqua said.Another Global Crossing app that takes advantage of OCS is a kiosk at the entrance of several of the company's largest sites. When visitors arrive, they enter their names and the names of the employees they're coming to see. OCS sends an instant message to the potential hosts notifying them that they have visitors, and it can transmit video to the hosts as well. The app will send the notification to hosts regardless of whether they're at their desks, logged in on another computer elsewhere, or using a mobile device. The hosts can then open up either an instant message session or audio path to the kiosk to chat with the visitors, or can choose to accept or reject the visitors.

Once accepted, pictures of the visitors are grabbed and temporary passes are printed at the kiosk. "It really saves time and money from having to have a receptionist or a security guard," Fuqua said.

Global Crossing also is testing the use of what it calls M-Bots, or mobile bots. When salespeople or other mobile workers want a piece of pertinent information like recent sales data on a customer, they can send a quick message to a chat bot that responds with a list of options on what kind of information to return. The bot is actually interfacing with back-end sales systems or other systems and communicating data via instant message.

What's next is even further out. Global Crossing is looking into using CAD applications on Microsoft Surface multitouch computers to design its networks, and bringing OCS into the picture to share designs via OCS's whiteboard feature and to discuss the designs with fellow employees and customers.

"Unified communications is going to open up scenarios that you and I can't imagine today," Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft's unified communications VP, said in a recent interview. Global Crossing isn't just imagining those scenarios, it's actively implementing them.

To further understand the unified communications market, InformationWeek has interviewed more than 300 companies to get their take on UC and VoIP. Download the independent report here (registration required).

About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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