IBM Gets Sci-Fi and Al Gore Materializes

ORLANDO, Fla. – From virtual worlds to carbon emissions, today’s keynote speeches at VoiceCon ran the gamut in outlining the business benefits of unified communications (UC). The day’s first speaker, Michael Rhodin, general manager of workplace, portal, and collaboration software at IBM, made a series of announcements related to the expansion of the company’s Lotus software. Following that speech, former vice president and ultra-environmentalist Al Gore joined up with Cisco to highlight how videoconferencing can help companies shrink their carbon footprint by decreasing the need for travel. Though Gore brought considerable clout to the conference, it was IBM’s announcements that drew the most industry attention.

Though it was alluded to yesterday in panels, Rhodin announced that IBM will invest $1 billion in its UC products, and elaborated on the places some of that money will be allocated. The majority of emphasis was placed on partnerships with the companies Shoretel (IP telephony features), VBrick Systems (video conferencing capabilities), NEC, and Ericsson. In an unexpected move, IBM also announced its virtual world product, "Babel Bridge," which operates much the same way as SecondLife. But, rather than operating as a game, Babel Bridge acts as an online collaboration tool.  Rhodin said it is currently being developed for U.S. government and intelligence agencies. IBM can now only hope Babel Bridge doesn’t suffer the same fate as the Tower of Babel.

Taking a completely different view of UC solutions, Cisco used its stage time to show off its telepresence products and underline their environmentally-friendly benefits. No small task for any tech company—unless it has Al Gore on board. Rather than flying in the presentation’s panelists from London, California, and Tennessee, each panelist spoke to the audience via Cisco’s TelePresence product. Cisco’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer Sue Bostrom made sure to note that business travel produces up to 15 billion cubic tons of polluting carbon emissions each year.

"Teleconferencing presents an option that solves a problem with traveling," Gore said. "[TelePresence is the] most realistic effort I’ve seen thus far. When you start reducing carbon, reducing travel, this is an option I think is going to play a big role. Instead of flying to Orlando, I just came a few blocks from my house in Nashville and feel like I’m in a meeting of the minds in four different locations."
Cisco chairman and CEO John Chambers and Gore both noted how companies getting rid of polluting legacy systems can also help enact green initiatives – though Chambers’ larger point was the impact TelePresence would have on the changing ways in which work is done.

"The second wave of the Internet is built around collaboration, enabled by network tools that include products like TelePresence," Chambers stated.

Despite the two speeches’ unrelated topics, the underlying message was the same: whether for business or environmental reasons, UC adopters will be able to adapt quickly to a rapidly-changing work landscape.

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