Communicating with Microsoft

Microsoft is certainly putting its weight behind its new unified communications suite (UCS) but the question is what relevance it holds for regional enterprises.

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By  Sathya Ashok Published  January 16, 2008

If Microsoft is to be believed, the company's unified communications suite (UCS) is pretty much the next big thing in enterprise communications.

For the first time ever, the Redmond giant held one of its globally highly popular Tech Days event in Dubai last month. And one of the major points of presentations and discussions at the event which brought together IT professionals from around the region was UCS.

Whatever hardware solution a firm might have, we can build on top of it and become a proper software base

We have a big focus on UCS and we have plans to take it further. The suite consists of four products - office communications server (OCS), office communicator, Exchange server and office live meeting. We will undertake different marketing activities to promote UCS," says Sabah Corm, senior product manager, information worker group at Microsoft Gulf.

She adds that Microsoft will be targeting enterprises and addressing their needs with UCS. While the best scenario will be a complete turnkey UCS implementation, Microsoft understands that different aspects of the suite might be applicable to different enterprises and will move them onto the appropriate solutions as needed, she says.

UCS has several distinctive features. For one, it provides much better integration between Exchange and OCS and it has the element of presence where from any application - Word, Excel, or IM - people can view the availability of the person they want to contact before attempting to reach them," says Corm.

Enterprises who wish to implement UCS do not have to replace their hardware elements. Whatever hardware solution a firm might have, we can build on top of it and become a proper software base. That is a huge advantage and enables an enterprise to move to UCS in a relatively short time," she adds.

However, if industry experts are to be believed, things about UCS are not as rosy as Microsoft is painting it to be. According to many global enterprises, presence is not really a crucial feature needed for smooth communication across the company. Many also point out that the element of presence is often already satisfied by the secure use of IM.

Moreover, Microsoft is teaming up with several hardware partners with the eventual idea of launching IP phones that will work in tandem with UCS. These are warning signs for an inevitable vendor lock-in, according to many analysts, who believe that eventually Microsoft will restrict UCS functioning or address updates to work only with hardware components of these specific partners.

When asked about these doubts and statements, Corm says, "I do not agree that most customers work with IM. Moreover the integration between OCS and Exchange provides presence information across software applications that enterprises use and work with everyday. And with Office Live, the integration of video communication is also offered.

As for the IP phones, Corm points out that this is not planned immediately, especially for the region and that the phone partners are often just indicative of a higher level of integration.

She also claims that the early success UCS elements are enjoying with customers in the region is only indicative of its potential and the true need that exists in organisations for such a platform.

There are some companies here that have already expressed interest in UCS and have started on phases of implementation and integration. We are also readying our partners to address UCS queries and to handle any implementations that come up in the region," assures Corm.

Microsoft is certainly putting its weight behind UCS. However, the enterprise segment has never been Microsoft's best market and with all the doubts surrounding UCS, one will have to reserve judgement on what the eventual outcome will be.

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