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Microsoft Users Highlight VoiceCon

Microsoft's entry to the communications market has changed the way enterprise decision-makers look at their choices for the future, so it made sense that the software giant brought a couple of customers along with its own keynoter on the first conference day of VoiceCon San Francisco 2008, for a discussion of how the enterprise should organize and prioritize for the changes that Unified Communications will bring.Betsy Frost Webb, Microsoft's general manager for Unified Communications marketing, talked up the need to focus on the organizational impacts of UC, then brought out two enterprise end users who are living through those impacts: Michael Terrill, convergence project manager at Boeing, and Michael Keithly, CIO at Creative Artists Agency.

Terrill stressed the importance of having a steering/governance body that includes representatives from at least the following organizations: Messaging, Desktop, Security, Legal, Telecom, Data. "Make sure you really build an inclusive team," he said. Patience is critical on everyone's part as they learn to deal with differences in terminology, language, acronyms, and the like.

Keithly had an interesting take on the inclusion of traditional telecom folks in the new endeavor. Telecom had been part of Facilities, but made the transition to IT. Previously, for the telecom team, "Dialtone was the only thing that mattered," he said. "We embraced them, took them under our wings." Now, he said, those telecom people feel very much a part of the IT team, they make more money, and are happier.

Both users have been pretty aggressive in their adoption of UC. Terrill laid out the following time line that Boeing has experienced:

• 2006--IT did a market survey to consider suppliers
• 2007--Concept and feature demos
• 2008--Rollout to 200 users on Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007

Keithly noted that CAA, the well-known Hollywood talent agency, which employs 1,000, always has "tried to push the envelope on technology." He said presence is critical feature for his company -- not surprising when you picture the image of the ultramobile, ultraconnected Hollywood talent agent.

Terrill, for his part, said mobility and virtual workforce/home worker considerations lead him to see traditional desktop telephones as "less strategic," and he hopes to be "investing less in those fixed-function appliances." The one stumbling block: Those users, many of whom represent a "cultural challenge" as they remain attached to their traditional devices.

The concluding advice from both men was to have a clear vision of where you want to go with UC. Terrill's recommendation was, "Think through what your overall strategy is," and Keithly added, "It's all about business value."

Betsy Frost Webb brought out Eric Swift of Microsoft for an OCS Release 2 demo of audioconferencing, and then she concluded by rattling off some statistics: More than half of the Fortune 500 have licensed OCS; 1,000-plus customers are using Roundtable, Microsoft's snazzy 360-degree, tabletop-based videoconferencing endpoint; and Microsoft has 2,000 partners in its UC ecosystem. She also asserted that there are "companies that are bypassing an entire generation of PBX technology" to go straight to OCS. This would have been maybe the most newsworthy item of the whole speech--if she'd given any details.Betsy Frost Webb, Microsoft's GM for Unified Communications marketing, talked up the need to focus on the organizational impacts of UC, then brought out two enterprise end users who are living through those impacts