Avaya, Microsoft Ask If You See the Future in UC

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The number of workers operating remotely across the U.S. enterprise landscape is a massive figure -- and growing rapidly, according to Louis D'Ambrosio, president and CEO of Avaya. As enterprises in every industry focus on slashing budgets, increasing employee productivity, and keeping everyone connected, D'Ambrosio kicked off VoiceCon 2008 stressing the paramount role unified communications (UC) solutions will play in the technology space, catering heavily to those remote workers. Becoming a truly indispensable part of a company's infrastructure means that UC must cater to that organization's needs -- something that can only be achieved, D'Ambrosio told attendees, by "democratizing" a UC solution.

"If we are going to democratize UC, we need to make sure we focus on the roles people play and the places where they work," he told the crowd. "It's easy to deliver products for roles and locations only, but much harder to deliver fully integrated architecture solutions."

That focus on integration -- bringing together two solutions to create a greater value than the sum of their parts -- within a company's existing architecture set the tone for the rest of the day's keynote speeches. In addition, both D'Ambrosio and another keynote speaker, Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of Microsoft's UC Group, stressed the need for vendors to provide technology that is interoperable. Using open standards and APIs, both say companies need to build up a product base that functions in tandem with legacy systems. Avaya names Microsoft, Cisco Systems, and Cognos as its key supported vendors.

Of course, both companies also made sure to mention recent product announcements and partnerships. While Avaya stressed its collaboration with video service providers Polycom and Tandberg, Microsoft announced a strategic partnership with Aspect Software regarding Internet Protocol (IP) telephony solutions. Through that deal, Microsoft will invest in Aspect's Unified IP contact center technology, and integrate its Office Communications Server (OCS) into Aspect's IP products. Microsoft OCS, which was released just five months ago, also maintains the company's partnership with Nortel -- Singh Pall says that alliance has generated 600 customer wins to date.

James Foy, president and CEO of Aspect, noted the important role of UC within the contact center space, especially as a tool for agents. "Agents don't have all the answers," Foy says. "They go to individuals in an informal way that can't be measured, and there are 100 million issues resolved outside the contact center." (Last week, in advance of VoiceCon, Aspect announced a new UC strategy, -- emphasizing that any successful UC plan starts with a customer-centric focus.)

And, not one to be outdone, Microsoft also announced OCS' compatibility with Polycom and Tandberg video systems. Video's role in teleconferencing figured prominently in both speeches, as UC solutions catering to remote workers will be a crucial part of telecommuting, according to the speakers. "Putting video in the hands of every information worker is how we will change and improve the market -- HD video conferencing for anyone, anywhere," Singh Pall says.

While the speeches presented somewhat similar viewpoints -- the companywide deployment of UC solutions, video's integral role, effective and strategic partnerships, and interoperability -- they also spoke directly to the conference demographics when closing their speeches. Singh Pall put it in different words: The telecommunications manager's role should extend beyond the dial tone, and into the "business zone." D'Ambrosio stressed the same point, but made a point to boost the telecommunication manager's self-esteem.

"We are in an economic slump," he says. "It's in your hands to make the right decisions. CEOs don't know how to do this. When people look back five years from now and talk about the woes of this economy, they will say it's this group [IT directors] who got us out of this tech slump and helped leverage our economy."

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