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Shell's Progress On UC

The big headline out of Johan Krebbers' keynote at VoiceCon Amsteradam was Krebbers' assertion that at Shell, voice is no more important than the other peer-to-peer real-time media. In his talk, Krebbers elaborated, saying that within Shell today, if you travel, you're encouraged to use a softphone to save on international dialing; the expectation is that you'll become comfortable enough with the softphone that you'll be willing to use it when you're in the office as well.The plan is to get to the point where it's, "Hard phone only if really needed." Which is why, at the bottom of one of Krebbers' slides, there's a hard phone with a big red X over it.

That said, Krebbers added that there are locations which probably will have hard phones for the long term -- places like refineries and chemical plants where the need is for a single-function voice device.

Krebbers gave some other hints about the environment in which communications is developing within Shell. He noted that his network serves 150,000 clients and 165,000 Microsoft Exchange mailboxes in more than 130 countries. Everybody in Shell has the same desktop interface for peer-to-peer communications, an interface Shell calls My Workspace, he said. From My Workspace, users can access voice, video, instant messaging both internally and externally, and presence management. Notably, Krebbers said presence isn't something that Shell's IT leadership actively "sells" to users -- instead, the users just receive the capability and use it as their work demands. In practice, this capability is "very much appreciated" by the users, he added.

The striking thing about Krebbers' speech, both the slides and the actual talk he delivered in Amsterdam, is its contrast with his March 2007 VoiceCon Orlando keynote. At the earlier keynote, given just months after Microsoft's announcement of Office Communications Server, Krebbers was more circumspect when it came to Shell's OCS plans; he gave a fair amount of emphasis to Shell's use of Nortel IP-PBX technology to backstop OCS in delivery of voice functionality.

In contrast, the word "Nortel" doesn't appear once in Krebbers' Amsterdam slides, and he only mentioned the company once, in passing, during his talk last week -- and even then, it was to note that Shell has "some Nortel, some Cisco" IP-PBXs in its network. He was clearly behind OCS as Shell's voice platform of the future, saying that, while it's true OCS doesn't offer all the voice capabilities the incumbents' products do, the OCS feature set is good enough for many of Shell's users.

Together with the OCS Release 2 announcement in Amsterdam last week, this perspective has got to be a blow to Nortel. With Release 2, OCS can do more robust conferencing natively, meaning there's one fewer reason to add Nortel's MCS5100 to a UC deployment. Late last year, Nortel split the conferencing bridge function out of the broader MCS5100 product capabilities, enabling users who planned for OCS at the desktop to still implement some Nortel functions, namely robust conferencing. Now, OCS R2 seems set to pre-empt that requirement for the Nortel MMC 5.0 conferencing platform. (I blogged about MMC 5.0 here).

Johan Krebbers concluded his Amsterdam talk with the statement that, while Shell hasn't solved all of its challenges on the way to its new communications environment, IT execs believe they're well on their way. If that continues to be true over the next 12 months, Shell will be in a pretty enviable position.